Before heading into hibernation, Logan Cooley plays the hero in Gophers' OT win over Huskies
Playing his fourth game in five days, Minnesota Gophers star rookie Logan Cooley had just enough left in the tank to score the overtime winner as his team salvaged a split with St. Cloud State.
MINNEAPOLIS — It is bears, not gophers, that tend to hibernate in the winter months. But after winning a bronze medal at the World Junior tournament this past week, then rushing back to Minnesota for a pair of games versus St. Cloud State, then scoring the overtime winner to beat the Huskies on Sunday, Minnesota Gophers star rookie Logan Cooley said he will be settling in for a long winter’s nap sometime soon.
He has definitely earned it.
In the rematch of this two-game, nonconference series between neighborhood rivals, Cooley set up a goal by linemate Matthew Knies in the third period, then — with the puck on his stick in overtime — waited and waited and waited until Huskies goalie Jaxon Castor was down and had left a good portion of the goal undefended to pop the game-winner into the upper-right corner.
The end result was a 2-1 win by the Gophers, and a split of their weekend series. The Huskies won 3-0 in St. Cloud on Saturday night.
But seriously, WHO ELSE?! pic.twitter.com/fkhU9rMZx0— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) January 8, 2023
“I didn’t want it to go to overtime, because I couldn’t even feel my legs anymore,” Cooley joked, admitting that fatigue was a factor as he was playing his fourth game in five days, counting the World Juniors semifinal loss to Canada on Wednesday, the bronze medal win over Sweden (in overtime) on Thursday, the travel back to Minnesota from eastern Canada on Friday, the loss to the Huskies on Saturday and the win on Sunday.
Justen Close had 21 saves in the win, as the Gophers improved to 16-6-0 overall. Chase Brand had the lone goal for the Huskies (15-5-0) who got 28 saves from Castor.
“Jaxon played really well,” Huskies coach Brett Larson said, after Castor blanked the Gophers on Saturday and frustrated them for long stretches on Sunday. “He gave us a chance all weekend. When we needed him to stand up, he stood up big, and that was huge for us.”
The win capped off a week full of challenges off the ice for the Gophers, who not only needed to rely on the goodwill of the travel gods to get four players — Cooley, Jimmy Snuggerud, Luke Mittelstadt and Ryan Chesley — back from the international tournament, but had their schedule rearranged by the snow that hit the Twin Cities, and had eight players sickened with what they suspect was food poisoning.
“With what happened to us this week, it affected our game but it didn’t affect how hard we played,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko. “We had eight guys down with, we think, food poisoning. No excuse, that’s why I’m mentioning it because our guys just sucked it up … Adversity, you’ve got to handle it, and I give our guys a ton of credit.”
As for Cooley’s need for some rest, Motzko said that he plans to lock up the equipment of all four World Juniors players for the next day or two to make sure they take time to recover.
See you again in the spring, maybe
There was talk this week by both coaches about making sure this in-state rivalry continues. Large, raucous crowds were on hand in both St. Cloud and Minneapolis, and with two offensively gifted teams playing on the larger Olympic-size ice sheet, some expected a run-and-gun set of games.
Instead, they played the lock-down defensive hockey where every inch of ice is a battle that is more commonly seen in March and April, during the NCAA tournament. With Larson leading the Huskies to the NCAA title game in 2021, and Motzko taking the Gophers to the NCAA Frozen Four last spring, both coaches know how to win that style of game. And both contended that what they saw over nearly 125 minutes this weekend was almost prep work for the kind of games they expect to play when the college hockey field is whittled down to 16 teams.
“Two teams defended really well and didn’t give up much. I think because both teams skate so well, there’s not a lot of room out there … It was almost like a playoff-type feel,” Larson said. “If both teams play like that, they’re going to have a chance.”
Motzko noted that unlike the NHL, where teams play best-of-seven series in the playoffs, the NCAA postseason is a one-and-done affair, and weekends like this one are important lessons in that brand of hockey for his freshmen who weren’t part of the playoff run in 2022.
“You’ve got to be ready to play games like that. They play a stingy defensive game now … They’ve got guys that can hurt you,” Motzko said, praising his total team defensive effort. “We really held them to not much all weekend, and they held us to not much all weekend.”
It is worth noting that prior to the 2022 Frozen Four, Minnesota’s last time playing games in April came in 2014, when they reached the Frozen Four in Philadelphia by beating the Huskies — then coached by Motzko — in a regional final in St. Paul.
Healthy scratches for the Gophers on Sunday included forwards Garrett Pinoniemi and Colin Schmidt, and defensemen Matt Staudacher and Carl Fish.
The Gophers most recent NCAA title team, which defeated Michigan and New Hampshire in Buffalo to claim the 2003 national championship, was honored between the second and third periods. Coach Don Lucia and Bob Motzko, who was a Gophers assistant coach 20 years ago, were recognized on the ice along with most of the team’s players.
The Gophers return to Big Ten play next weekend on the road with a Friday-Saturday series at Notre Dame. Minnesota swept the Fighting Irish in early November in Minneapolis.
Sunday’s announced attendance of 10,192 was the Gophers third game of the season with 10,000 or more tickets sold. Their two games with North Dakota in October were also attended by 10,000-plus.
Minnesota 2, St. Cloud State 1, OT
St. Cloud State 0-0-1-0—1
First period — No scoring. Penalties — Jimmy Snuggerud, MN (high sticking), 0:26; Jack Peart, SC (hooking), 2:53; Jackson LaCombe, MN (holding), 17:14; Bryce Brodzinski, MN (slashing), 19:54.
Second period — No scoring. Penalties — None.
Third period — 1. MN, Matthew Knies 12 (Logan Cooley, Snuggerud), 2:55, (PP). 2. SC, Chase Brand 2 (Brendan Bushy, Dylan Anhorn), 7:56. Penalties — Jami Krannila, SC (slashing), 1:06; Bushy, SC (slashing), 5:47.
Overtime — 3. MN, Cooley 11 (Brock Faber), 4:42. Penalties — None.
Shots on goal — MN 5-9-12-4—30, SC 4-7-11-0—22. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (22 shots-21 saves); Jaxon Castor, SC (30-28). Power plays — MN 1-of-3, SC 0-of-3. Referees — Brian Aaron, Brett DesRosiers. Linesmen – Samuel Shikowsky, Nicholas Bradshaw. Attendance – 10,192.