BOSTON — For two weeks, Minnesota coach Bob Motzko knew exactly what style of play was needed to defeat Minnesota State. The Mavericks didn’t need any introduction on the back end, not with arguably the best defense in the nation, and the Gophers subsequently didn’t require an advanced degree in statistics or a review of last year’s game film to deduce the premium of producing quality shots against their opponents’ stingy back line.
Indeed, Minnesota’s vaunted offense produced only one shot through the game’s first 16 minutes but the Gophers made it count when they scored on a two-man breakaway after forcing their opponents into a neutral-zone turnover. The goal netted a 1-0 lead over the Mavericks and potted Matthew Knies his 15th goal of the season.
What made Minnesota’s offense during the first 38 games of the season became its focal point against Minnesota State. When the game started, the Gophers struggled with breaking out of their defensive zone, and they particularly found issues with playing full-ice offense from behind their net. The Mavericks’ forecheck kept forcing Minnesota into turnovers whenever it tried to push the puck from its defensive back line, and switching ice behind goaltender Justen Close didn’t help or work.
“It was their forecheck,” Motzko said. “They were relentless on the forecheck. We felt they were going to hem us in, and we got free that one time in the first. We thought we could get behind them a couple of times but there were times when we spent time defending and iced the puck or dumped and needed to change. There was too much time spent defending [before a] dump and change.”
Because that didn’t change over the course of the game, Minnesota switched from quantity to quality in its offense. Ten of the Gophers’ 17 shots came from defensemen, and six came more specifically from the top pairing of Ryan Johnson and Brock Faber.
Matt Staudacher and Jackson LaCombe, linemates on Minnesota’s second defensive pairing, had two shots each. Knies finished as the lone forward with multiple shots after putting two pucks on the Minnesota State cage.
“Our [defense] did a hell of a job getting pucks on net,” Knies said, “but we just weren’t there. We had a plan that the boards were bouncy behind the net, so the more we could get on top of those, the better we could become, but we just weren’t there tonight.”
“[McKay] was giving up a lot of rebounds,” said forward Bryce Brodzinski, “and we were just letting them clear the puck out. If we had a couple of more opportunities in front of the goalie’s eyes, maybe we could have gotten the shot off or gotten there on the rebounds.”
“There were spurts when we were able to put them in their own end,” Motzko said, “but not enough.”