Minnesota Close Out Western Michigan

Gophers Golden in 3-0 Shutout of Broncos, Earn 1st Frozen Four Berth Since 2014

Worcester, MA – March 27 is a big day in the Minnesota Golden Gophers world. On this date, four years ago, Bob Motzko was hired as head coach, and it’s also his birthday. Added to that, it’s the day the Gophers returned to the Frozen Four for the first time in eight seasons. The Gophers earned their spot in Boston, Massachusetts, by ending the Western Michigan Broncos season in a 3-0 win at the DCU Center in front of 2,848. Junior Justen Close stopped all 24 Broncos shots in earning his third shutout, while Matthew Knies’ first-period goal was enough to end the longest semifinal drought since the 1960s.

Two third-period goals sealed the deal for the Gophers and put an end to a historic season for the Broncos. Western Michigan earned their first number one seed in a regional and won their first NCAA postseason game in school history during head coach Pat Ferschweiler’s first year behind the Broncos’ bench.

“You don’t take this job without the expectation that it comes with,” said Motzko. “And you know that when you take this job. I’ve said this a lot, for three years in a row, before COVID I thought we were playing as well as anyone and then we got shut down. We were one game away last year and we got to be fortunate.” 

“I am so proud of this team and this group of guys,” Motzko added. “All year long they’ve been a joy to be around, a pretty low maintenance group and I couldn’t be more proud of that. There’s a team of us back home that are rallying our alumni to jump aboard the program, and they’ve been awesome. Right now, were going to do a lot of things to get a lot of them to Boston.”

Knies opened the scoring midway through the first when he deposited a Brock Faber pass in front of the Broncos’ net into the top right corner. Faber carried a Ben Meyers feed down the left boards and slid a backhander to a wide-open Knies for his 14th goal. Knies has scored in three straight games.

“He’s a big-time player, and he’s going to keep getting better, too,” said Motzko on his 6′-3″ freshman from Phoenix, Arizona. The Toronto Maple Leaf’s prospect had two goals and an assist in the Gophers’ two games during the Worcester Regionals.

The Broncos scored just past the halfway mark in the second period. Ronnie Attard buried a slapshot on a rebound. However, the play went to an official review, and Western Michigan was offside.

“It was kind of big,” said Broncos senior forward Ethan Frank. “It was still early enough in the game where we just had our heads on straight, and we didn’t want to get upset or frustrated because that’s when we start playing bad and getting away from our game plan. They just did a good job the rest of the game staying above us, making it difficult for us to get some O-zone time.”

A Slashing penalty on Frank just ten seconds into the third put the Gophers on the power-play. They wasted no time in taking advantage of the five-on-four.

Freshman forward Aaron Huglen one-timed Meyers’ pass between the post and Brandon Bussi’s pad as he slid across his crease a second too slow. Meyers (two assists) fired off a cross-ice pass from the right face-off dot to an oncoming Huglen at the left dot to put Minnesota up 2-0 thirty-three seconds into the period.

“It was a little bit of a swing there for sure,” said Ferschweiler on giving up the power-play goal. “It was an emotional high and emotional low. Our guys settled back in right after that; we didn’t go back into a shell, we tried to dig back in and make plays. I don’t think the penalty at the beginning of the third period had anything to do with anything based on the standard and they made a good play.”

The Broncos had a power-play with 3:32 to go in the game. With a face-off coming in the Gophers zone, Western Michigan elected to keep Bussi in goal and put faith in their power-play unit.

“It’s executed at such a high-level, especially that (Drew) Worrad unit,” said the first-year Broncos coach on why he elected not to put an extra skater on. “I started that unit with the thought that in the second half of the power-play, we’ll pull the goalie if they were to get one early.”

Bussi eventually left the net for the extra attacker, only to see Minnesota forward Blake McLaughlin add an empty-net goal at 18:03. 

Bussi had 23 saves on the night and drew rave reviews from teammates and Gophers alike. McLaughlin thought Bussi “was one of the better goalies” in the game and “stood on his head all night.”

“I thought he was great,” said Ferschweiler. “Calm and big. Especially what he should be in there.

That save ( a short-handed Gophers bid) was exceptional; he stopped a breakaway which was a huge save for us.” 

With the shutout, Close, a junior from Kindersley, Saskatchewan, was the goalie for the All-Regional team. Close put his success at the feet or, more so, the banged-up bodies of his teammates. 

“That was a part of the game plan coming in,” said the 5 “-10” junior. “That was something, especially on the kill, that we knew had to do. Fabes (Brock Faber) laid it all out there, Comber (Jackson LaCombe), I know a lot of guys did and was huge for us tonight and we got to do that in the playoffs if we want to be successful and we all bought in and paid the price for it tonight.”

“I thought coming in, it was going to be a point of emphasis for us,” Close said of the Gophers’ defense in front of him. “We knew they were a team that liked point of transition and they move the puck really well. I thought we did a good job staying above pucks all night and we handled the rush remarkably well and that was a key to our success.”

With that success comes another trip back east in a week and a half for the Gophers.

“We’ve talked about the fact we really like Massachusetts, and we have no choice now to stay in this state for the next couple of weeks,” said Motzko. “One weekend is accomplished, and we will be back.”

Minnesota will take on Minnesota St. on Thursday, April 7, 2022, at TD Garden in Boston at 8:30 pm EST. One-half of the Frozen Four will have a North Star state feel. 

“It’s an unbelievable city. I’ve been there many times,” said Motzko when asked about Boston. “It’s going to have a bit western feel to it; I hope people in Massachusetts like people from Minnesota.”

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