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Rinkytown blog: Brock Faber switches to offense mode for the NCAAs, and other notes from the Front Range

Freshman defenseman Brock Faber is best know for frustrating opponents by preventing them from scoring. In his NCAA tournament debut he elected to help his own team score, and tied a U of M program

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Minnesota's Brock Faber (14) and Ryan Johnson (23) celebrate after a Gophers goal during an NCAA West Region semifinal on Saturday, March 27, 2021, at Budweiser Event Center in Loveland, Colorado. (Zachary BonDurant photo)

LOVELAND, Colo. — Eight months ago, before he had ever donned a Minnesota Gophers sweater, defenseman Brock Faber was drawing raves for preventing others from scoring.

Seth Appert, who coached Faber at the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, called the Maple Grove product the best shutdown defenseman of his age in the world. That assessment came after Appert matched Faber up against some of the top forwards from Russian, Swedish, Canadian and Czech teams in international play, and watched him frustrate opponents consistently.

Just 10 days ago, the handful of fans at the Big Ten title game in Indiana got to see Faber’s “pest work” firsthand, as he stuck by Wisconsin star forward Cole Caufield anytime they were on the ice together, and got the Badgers’ goal-scorer so worked up at one point that Caufield slammed his stick on the boards on the way to the bench.

But that was the conference playoffs. In his first NCAA tourney appearance, someone apparently switched Faber to “offense” mode. The Gophers scored seven goals versus Omaha on Saturday to advance to the regional final versus Minnesota State Mankato, and Faber set up five of them, tying the U of M program record for most assists in a game and tying the NCAA tournament record for most assists in a game.

He did it by going to the net, as he did on Mason Nevers’ first goal of the game. He did it by shooting from the point, as he did on the goal Jack Perbix tipped on the way to the Omaha net, and he did it seemingly every way in between.

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“He’s a Swiss Army knife. He does it all,” said Nevers after the game. “He’s a rock for us back on defense and right as you need him on offense he’ll be there. He’s always in the right place at the right time, making smart plays, and never gets away from his game. He’s definitely a backbone on our team.”

Gophers coach Bob Motzko generally doesn’t talk about prospects before they arrive on campus, but raved about Faber signing a national letter of intent (along with Nevers and blueliners Mike Koster and Carl Fish) around Thanksgiving 2019, excited at the prospect of adding some young talent to a Gophers back end that had been a concern on previous teams.

“He was a beast,” Motzko said of Faber after the Omaha win. “He found some points. He hadn’t had many points, but if you take that away he was still probably one of the best players on the ice, defending. He does what he does. He’s one talented hockey player.”

A win on Sunday and a trip to the Frozen Four would be the second big hockey event of Faber’s 2020-21 season as he, Ryan Johnson and Jackson LaCombe all won gold medals for Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Canada in early January.

No Colorado complaints from Ranta

As a draft pick and touted prospect for the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, Gophers forward Sampo Ranta is likely getting a look at his future home rink at the Loveland regional. The top Avalanche farm team, the Colorado Eagles, play their home games at the Budweiser Events Center, where the regional is being played, and many expect Ranta to sign a pro contract when this Gophers season ends, whenever that may be.

Ranta acknowledged before the trip out west that he might be getting a look at his future home, but said he was completely focused on his present with the Gophers, not his future with the Avs, for the trip to Loveland. There was some grousing about the ice at the 5,000-seat rink — which, incidentally, would be a perfect home for Division I hockey at Colorado State University, which is a dozen miles away — but after a goal and an assist versus Omaha in his first game there, Ranta had no complaints about his future office.

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“I didn’t think it was too bad,” Ranta said of the playing surface. “At the end of the period it got a little snowy, but I thought it was good. I have no complaints.”

Ranta was picked by the Avalanche in the third round, 78th overall, in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Birthday present for the Gopher coaches

Motzko and Gophers assistant coach Garrett Raboin were born on the same date, 24 years apart. So on March 27, 2021, Motzko turned 60 and Raboin turned 36. On the day Motzko turned 57, he accepted the Gophers job, and three years later got his first Gophers NCAA tournament win on his birthday.

After beating Omaha, he said that was only the first of the birthday presents that he and Raboin expect this weekend.

“It’s a two-parter. This is just the first part,” Motzko said. “It’s Rabs’ birthday too, and when we’re both playing this time of year, it’s great. When we can win one game and get to the next night, it’s awesome. We’ve got our work cut out for us."

Motzko also noted that the biggest adjustment in the NCAA tournament, after playing the condensed Big Ten games all season, was the extra time at the end of the first and second periods. The Big Ten limited intermissions to 12 minutes and had just one media timeout per period. In the NCAA games the intermission break is 18 minutes and there are three media timeouts each period.

“We are not used to 18 minutes between periods,” Motzko said. “This was crazy tonight, with the timeouts. We did not do this in the Big Ten and our games were averaging two hours ... but we’re learning to deal with that too."

Motzko wary of his friend with the Mavericks

Motzko and Minnesota State Mankato coach Mike Hastings have known each other since they were students at St. Cloud State and are good friends away from the rink. Hastings has been at MSU for close to a decade after a stellar run with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers. Although they have not played each other since Motzko’s first month on the job with the Gophers (a Mavericks sweep in early November 2018), the U of M coach was quick to note the challenge his team faces in the regional finale.

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“Winningest team in college hockey over the last four years. Mike and I went to college together and we’re very close friends,” Motzko said. “What he did in the USHL, he’s doing it in college hockey. He’s a tremendous coach and I told our players it’s going to be one of the toughest games we’ve ever played.”

Motzko added that he did not watch MSU's opening game with Quinnipiac, and was solely focused on the Omaha meeting.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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