MINNEAPOLIS - Ben Meyers played the hero, and the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team is one win away from its first trip to the Frozen Four since 2014.
Meyers, the Big Ten Player of the Year and a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, scored at the 8:31 mark of overtime to give the Gophers a 4-3 win over UMass at the Worcester Regional in the NCAA Tournament Friday night. The goal was made possible after Aaron Huglen won a puck battle in the corner and gave Meyers a perfect feed in front of the net.
It was Meyers' fifth game-winning goal this season. Minnesota came back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits, scoring the final three goals to get the win and keep its season alive.
"I thought our team just had a great attitude the whole game. We felt if we did the right things, we could still come back and win this thing. We just kind of said in the locker room if we’re going to lose, let’s lay it all out there. Nothing to save it for," Meyers said after scoring the game-winner.
The Gophers (25-12) will face No. 1 seed Western Michigan, who defeated Northeastern 2-1 in overtime earlier in the day in Worcester, on Sunday for a trip to the Frozen 4. Gophers coach Bob Motzko said after the game his team showed grit, and had to play with grease.
"We walked into exactly what we knew we were getting. What a well-coached hockey team that is, and they played with great grit and determination and structure. I’m really proud of our group, because we battled tonight," Motzko said. "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."
The Minutemen scored a pair of goals 56 seconds apart, both on questionable plays, to take a 2-0 lead in the first period. Reed Lebster scored the first of his two goals on the night at the 14:09 mark, with a teammate in the crease appearing to interfere with Gophers’ goalie Justen Close. After a long review, the goal stood to Motzko's dismay. UMass had an extra attacker on the ice as the Gophers were facing a delayed penalty.
The Minutemen made it 2-0 at 15:05, as former Gopher Garrett Wait scored on that power play. The puck went in off his skate, but it was ruled a non-kicking motion and the goal stood.
The Gophers answered at 18:02 of the first period to cut the deficit in half before the first intermission. Ryan Johnson put a shot on net, which was deflected in off a UMass skate.
Lebster scored his second goal of the night less than two minutes into the second period. Close was unable to cover a loose puck in front of the net, and Lebster took advantage to give the Minutemen a 3-1 lead. That’s when things started to change for the Gophers.
Tristan Broz scored at 17:09 of the second period on a redirection after Jaxon Nelson threw a puck in front of the net, and the Gophers trimmed their deficit to 3-2 after 40 minutes. Matthew Knies tied the game 3-3 on the power play at 13:17 of the third period, rifling a wrist shot into the net.
It all set up the game-winner for Meyers, whose 17th goal of the season was the biggest of his career. The Gophers out-shot the Minutemen 24-23 in a tightly-played, physical game. Close, after a tough start, finished with 20 saves.
The Gophers will face Western Michigan at 3 p.m. Sunday.