Worcester, MA – Late game heroics saved the Minnesota Golden Gophers season and ended the Massachusetts Minutemen’s. After spotting the Minutemen a two-goal lead in the first period, Minnesota tied the game with 6:43 left in regulation on a slapshot from freshman Matthew Knies. Then would knock-off the defending National Champions 4-3 at 8:31 of overtime on a Ben Meyerssnipe in front of goal. The Gophers advance to face-off against the Western Michigan Broncos on Sunday at 4:00 pm EST.
The Gophers skated onto the DCU Center ice as the number two seed in the Worcester Regional, fifth overall, wearing their home whites. The 6,002 in attendance reminded them that the number three seed Minutemen were the “home” team.
It couldn’t have helped matters that the Gophers’ starting lineup was introduced first or that the public address announcer repeatedly referred to Massachusetts as “your Minutemen!”
“We walked into exactly what we knew what we were getting into,” said Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko. “We knew we needed time to get ready.”
“What a well coached hockey team that is,” added the fourth-year Gophers coach. “They (Massachusetts) play with great grit and determination and structure and it took us the first ten minutes (to get going).”
“We got caught on the delayed penalty, they pulled their goalie and then the power play,” said Motzko. “Take that minute away and I felt we grew in the game and I’m really proud of our group because we battled, we battled tonight. The only way you beat UMass is you got you got to match that grit. We like a little prettier hockey, but we’ve got to learn to win games like that. We’re growing as a team.”
Reed Lebsterput the Minutemen on top 1-0 at 14:09 of the first period when his shot from the slot fluttered into the Minnesota net. The goal came while the Minutemen had an extra attacker on the ice with a delayed penalty on the Gophers. Ryan Ufko passed the puck from the blue line down low to Cal Kiefiuk on the right face-off dot. Kiefiuk one-touched the puck to Lebster; because the puck was on its edge, it had the knuckle puck effect.
Former Gopher Garret Waitcapitalized on the ensuing power-play against his old school at 15:05 when an Ufko slapshot from the point was stopped by Gophers goalie Justen Close (20 saves) and caromed in off of Wait’s skate to make it 2-0 Minutemen.
The Gophers pulled one back when a Ryan Johnson slapshot from the top of the right circle was padded away by Massachusetts goalie Matt Murray only to deflect off the leg of defenseman Colin Felix and into the Massachusetts net at 18:02.
The Minutemen made it a two-goal lead again early in the second period when Lebster had a put-back of his rebound coming from behind the Gopher goal. Kiefiuk and Anthony Del Gaizo picked up the helpers on Lebster’s second goal at 1:24.
Minnesota cut the deficit to one at 17:09 when Tristan Broz deflected a cross-ice feed from Jaxon Nelson at the side of the Massachusetts net. Nelson and Rhett Pitlick assisted.
A penalty on Ufko led to a man advantage for the Gophers at 12:27 of the third period.
Matthew Kessel’s clearing attempt went right to Knies at the top of the left circle. Knies quickly settled the puck and blasted a slapshot past Murray to tie the game 3-3 at 13:17.
“They have an advantage on us in that they have some really high-end players,” said Minutemen head coach Greg Carvel. “Like the goal that Knies – that’s ridiculous, you know? It looked like Auston Matthews, he grabs the puck, drops it and its into the top shelf. But what do you do, you know?”
“The game-winning goal by Meyers, he just out battles, out wills our guys,” added Carvel. “In games like this, the difference makers make the difference.”
“We came out playing really well. We had it two to nothing and they get a goal off a shin pad, it happens. Their difference-makers were the difference. I don’t feel like we lost momentum in the game,” Carvel continued. “If you would have asked me just how our team played, would I be happy with it? One hundred percent. I thought we played a really good hockey game and played well enough to deserve the final way to win.”
With 11:29 remaining in overtime, freshman Aaron Hugelinshielded the puck from Massachusetts defenseman Aaron Bohlinger below the goal line while trying to shake the defender. Hugelin shoveled a pass to Meyers just outside the top of the crease before beating Murray top corner blocker-side for the game-winner.
“He’s (Hugelin) a really smart player,” said Meyers. “I thought he played great all game but then obviously to set up that play at the end was just a great play by him. I thought the line played well tonight.”