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Gophers rally to force OT before Meyers finishes the job

Trailing 2-0 and 3-1 before a hostile crowd, the Minnesota Gophers kept chipping away and finally put away defending national champion UMass in overtime to advance to their regional final.

Minnesota vs University of Massachusetts, UMASS, NCAA
Minnesota star forward Ben Meyers popped a shot past UMass goalie Matt Murray in overtime as the Gophers rallied to beat the Minutemen 4-3 in their NCAA tournament opener on Friday, March 25, 2022 at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass.
Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics

WORCESTER, Mass. — In the run-up to Friday’s NCAA first round meeting between Minnesota and UMass, Minutemen coach Greg Carvel joked that he had no interest in seeing Gophers star Ben Meyers on the ice. For good measure, he added that if Gophers coach Bob Motzko would take freshman wunderkind Matthew Knies out of the lineup as well, it would be appreciated.

Then they got on the ice, and Carvel’s worst fears came true. The Gophers trailed throughout, until Knies got a power play goal in the third period to tie the game, and Meyers scored the winner in overtime, lifting the Gophers to a 4-3 win over UMass and a chance to earn a Frozen Four trip.

Follow the 2022 NCAA men's hockey tournament coverage on The Rink Live for previews, recaps, photos, information and more as the teams play for a national championship in Boston.

After trailing 2-0 and 3-1 in front of a boldly partisan pro-UMass crowd, the Gophers survived and will now face Western Michigan on Sunday with the winner advancing to the Frozen Four in Boston.

“I felt we grew in the game and I'm really proud of our group because we battled tonight,” Motzko said, after his team advanced to the regional final for the second consecutive year. “The only way you beat UMass is you’ve 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.”

The Gophers (25-12-0) got a first period goal from Ryan Johnson and one in the second from Tristan Broz to keep the Minutemen from pulling away as UMass took 2-0 and 3-1 leads. On their second power play of the game, in the third, Knies knocked down a UMass clearing attempt then popped a shot over the shoulder of UMass goalie Matt Murray to forge the tie.

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Justen Close had 20 saves in the win for the Gophers, who are seeking their first Frozen Four trip since 2014.

Trailing 3-2, the Gophers got a power play, and done what they have done often with an opponent in the penalty box. Knies knocked down a UMass clearing attempt near the right faceoff dot, dropped the puck to his feet then got a rising shot off that found the net.

“They have an advantage on us in that they have some really high, high-end players,” Carvel said. “That goal that Knies scored, that’s ridiculous. He looked like Auston Matthews. He grabbed the puck, dropped it at his feet and it’s in the top shelf. What do you do?”

After chances in both ends of the ice in overtime, freshman Aaron Huglen, who was recently placed on the right wing with Knies and Meyers, dug out a puck behind the UMass net and centered it for Meyers, who scored on a rising shot to end it.

“I thought we played really well in the overtime. We had our chances,” said Minutemen captain Bobby Trivigno. “They had their chance and they buried it … Tonight was one of those nights when our effort was there.”

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Gophers coach Bob Motzko admitted that he had been wanting to add Huglen to that line for a time, but with the Gophers rattling off nine wins in a row, he was hesitant to mess with the lineup. After a loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament’s title game, the coach re-set things slightly.

“We were on a winning streak in February. I didn't change lines but I kind of wanted to give them some size,” Motzko said, praising Huglen for his growth as a rookie. “He's really strong now and all that was the reason that we slid him over there, when we finally lost a game. We hadn’t lost in a while till last week and you know. Right now looks like a good decision.”

The Gophers suffered the classic double whammy in the first period when Johnson was called for cross checking. Before Minnesota could get control of the puck and force a whistle, the Minutemen sent Matt Murray to the bench for an extra attacker and sent a shot through traffic and past Close. There was a lengthy review of the play, as a UMass attacker’s skates were in the crease but officials ruled he did not impede the goalie, and the goal stood.

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Less than a minute later on the power play, a shot went off Wait’s skate and slid past Close to double the UMass lead. Again the play was reviewed, and again the goal stood for a 2-0 Minutemen lead.

“I think the message was that there’s a lot of game left,” Meyers said. “Obviously it was unfortunate, but one goal happened 6-on-5 and then the other goal happened when they were on the power play so we felt like we could really do some damage 5-on-5 and we stuck to that and I don’t think we took another penalty the rest of the game.”

The Gophers finally answered in the final two minutes, with some puck luck. Johnson’s shot from the right circle was stopped by Murray, but the rebound deflected off a UMass defender and over the goal line to pull Minnesota back within one after 20 minutes.

Minnesota's Jackson LaCombe checks Massachusetts player
Massachusetts forward Cal Kiefiuk (7) goes airborne after a hit by Minnesota defenseman Jackson LaCombe (2) during the Worcester regional Friday, March 25, 2022 in Worcester, Pa.
Contributed / University of Minnesota Athletics

The momentum didn’t last long, as the Minutemen re-established a two-goal lead early in the second, with Lebster netting his second of the game. But the Gophers made a late push, evening the shots on goal and getting another on the scoreboard when Broz tipped a cross-ice pass by Jaxon Nelson to make it 3-2 after two.

Earlier in the day, Western Michigan got its first-ever NCAA tournament win, beating Northeastern 2-1 in overtime to reach the regional final.

Minnesota 4, UMass 3, OT

UMass 2-1-0-0—3

Minnesota 1-1-1-1—4

First period — 1. MA, Reed Lebster 8 (Cal Kiefiuk, Ryan Ufko), 14:09, (ea). 2. MA, Garrett Wait 13 (Ufko, Bobby Trivigno), 15:05, (pp). 3. MN, Ryan Johnson 3 (Ben Meyers, Matthew Knies), 18:02. Penalties — Johnson, MN (cross checking), 14:09.

Second period — 4. MA, Lebster 9 (Kiefiuk, Anthony Del Gaizo), 1:24. 5. MN, Tristan Broz 6 (Jaxon Nelson, Rhett Pitlick), 17:09. Penalties — Cedric Fiedler, WM (hooking), 5:17.

Third period — 6. MN, Matthew Knies 13 (unassisted), 13:17, (pp). Penalties — Colin Felix, MA (interference), 1:11.

Overtime — 7. MN, Ben Meyers 17 (Aaron Huglen, Nelson), 8:31. Penalties — None.

Shots on goal — MN 5-10-5-4—24; MA 6-9-4-4—23. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (23 shots-20 saves); Matt Murray, MA (24-20). Power plays — MN 1-of-2, MA 1-of-1. Referees — Ryan Hersey, Nick Krebsbach. Linesmen — John Grandt, Tyler Liffrig. Att. — 6,002.

Gophers celebrate vs. Minutemen Worcester regional
Minnesota's Matthew Knies, left, Ryan Johnson, Ben Meyers and Jackson LaCombe celebrate Johnson's goal late in the first period Friday, March 25, 2022 against Massachusetts in Worcester, Pa.
Contributed / University of Minnesota Athletics

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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