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Gophers hockey routs Michigan 6-2 to clinch third place

One of the items on coach Bob Motzko's wish list for the Gophers men's hockey team for its final series of the regular season against Michigan was to get Minnesota's power play going. After all, the Gophers entered Friday's series opener with a drought of six consecutive games without a power-play goal, going 0-for-11 in those contests.

Consider that itch scratched after the Gophers scored three times with the man advantage in the second period of a 6-2 victory over the Wolverines in front of 9,854 at 3M Arena at Mariucci. In the process, Minnesota clinched third place in the Big Ten and will be host to sixth-place Penn State in the best-of-three first round of the conference playoffs next weekend.

"I hope that's a sign, not an aberration, because we have to get our power play going if we're going to do something in the playoffs," Motzko said. "We've been close, and that was great tonight."

Jaxon Nelson notched a hat trick and Oliver Moore scored two goals, both on the power play, for the Gophers (20-8-5, 13-6-4 Big Ten, 40 points). Bryce Brodzinski contributed three assists, and goalie Justen Close made 19 saves.

"We've been on a little cold streak [on the power play], but to get it going is gonna be huge for our team moving forward," said Moore, a freshman who has nine goals this season. "You can see what it can do to momentum in a hockey game."

Rutger McGroarty and Garrett Schifsky scored for Michigan (17-13-3, 10-11-2, 34 points).

A back-and-forth first period ended with Michigan knotting the score 2-2 on Schifsky's goal with 43 seconds left as the Gophers showed the rust of being idle last weekend.

"We found our compete in the second and third," Nelson said.

Did they ever.

The Gophers took a 3-2 lead at 8:16 of the second on a power play. Moore fired a sharp-angle shot from just above the goal line that went between goalie Jake Barczewski's legs.

"I've watched [Toronto's Auston] Matthews do it a couple of times this year," Moore said of the NHL's goal-scoring leader. "… Just throw it at his feet. It's a smart play. It can pop out for a rebound or go in like it did."

Nelson made it 4-2 on the power play when Gophers freshman defenseman Sam Rinzel banked a shot off the end boards, and Nelson, operating in the right corner, pounced on the puck and fired it past an out-of-position Barczewski at 14:30.

When asked if Rinzel was trying to pass him the puck on the play, Nelson replied with a smile, "I don't think so, but maybe we'll say it was."

Moore struck again on the power play at 17:07 of the second for a 5-2 lead, poking the puck past Barczewski at the side of the net.

From there, it was a race to see who would get a hat trick, Moore or Nelson. It went to Nelson, who scored on a breakaway at 10:51 of the third.

Hats rained down, and Nelson, a fifth-year senior, said it was his first hat trick since his high school days in Luverne, Minn.

"The building was rocking," he said, "and it was a lot of fun."