It doesn't happen often but for the Minnesota Golden Gophers the sequel was far, far better than the original.
Nine days after North Dakota scored six unanswered goals to beat the Gophers en route to their third straight Broadmoor Trophy, Minnesota defeated them 5-2 in the West Regional Final at the Xcel Energy Center Sunday. Five different Gopher players scored goals and Kent Patterson (Colorado Avalanche) was named most outstanding player while making 24 saves.
"I am really proud and happy for our guys. We had such a long season with ups and downs, peaks and valleys," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. "You have to stick with it and this team has all year. We knew we had a very difficult region. Tobeat programs like Boston University and North Dakota is very rewarding."
It is the first Frozen Four berth for Minnesota since 2005 and 20th overall. They will face the winner of Minnesota Duluth-Boston College Thursday April 5th at 7 p.m. Central in Tampa. Florida.
Unlike last Friday, North Dakota played hard in the first period and had the better shots on goal during the first ten minutes. Minnesota's aggressive forecheck was a little too aggressive - allowing for Michael Parks (Philadelphia Flyers) to split the two defensemen - but he and the rest of the team were unable to take advantage.
It wasn't until Ben Marshall (Detroit Red Wings) received a pass from redshirt sophomore Zach Budish (Nashville Predators) shot a laser past UND goalie Aaron Dell 12:19 into the game that someone was able to get on the board. That was the only goal of the first period but it changed the course of the game because North Dakota began to play back on their heels more and more.
"(Minnesota) played a good game out there; they had a ton of energy," said North Dakota's Corban Knight (Florida Panthers). "It is just one of those things where maybe they had a little puck luck and were able to find some balances and find the back of the net, and we were not able to do that tonight."
The Gophers added a second goal twenty seconds into the 2nd period. Having 1:03 left over from a Carter Rowney penalty, Erik Haula (Minnesota Wild) was left alone in front of Dell and made UND pay with his 20th goal of the year. It was short-lived, however, as Danny Kristo (Montreal Canadiens) took advantage of a weird bounce off the glass in front of the Minnesota zone and cut the lead in half 2-1. For a minute it looked as if history could repeat itself.
"Yeah you know we wanted to get that last game out of our system against North Dakota," senior captain Taylor Matson (Vancouver Canucks) said. We had a pep talk with our team we went back to work this week in order to get ready for BU and then North Dakota. Words don't describe North Dakota, if you can't get up for that game you can't get up for anything."
Matson was evidently fired up because Minnesota refused to take their foot off the gas. Kristo's shot was the only one UND had goal until the final seconds of the period. By that time it was 4-1 Gophers after the senior scored his eighth goal of the year trailing the play and putting home a rebound and linemate Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals) tipped in his first career goal as a Gopher.
"I think (Minnesota) played a pretty good, consistent game," North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. "Had we been able to push that to a 2-2 game or take a one-goal game into the third period, it would've been different."
While Haula and Jake Hansen created a few chances in the second period, the third line of Matson, Boyd and Nate Condon (Colorado) played especially well during that stretch and seemed to find their groove after being a non-factor in the Gophers' recent streak.
"Travis is a very skilled freshman," Matson said about Boyd. "He was dishing the puck to me and Nate Condon the puck and we were getting some great chances. We had great chemistry throughout the game and that's great for our line to get the three goals tonight."
Condon's goal, which came after a stretch of play that saw UND really testing Patterson, put the game on ice with 4:07 left. Mario Lamoureux tipped in a goal 14 seconds later to make it 5-2 but despite Hakstol pulling the goalie with 3 minutes left it was all North Dakota could muster.
"We didn't expect for it to end tonight," said Hakstol after the game. "I thought we had a good push to start the third period. It just wasn't enough tonight."
All in all Sunday was another solid performance from Minnesota a week after folding under the pressure. As much as it starts in net with Patterson, the defense only gave up one goal to the potent Brock Nelson (New York Islanders) - Knight - Kristo line and stopped one of the hotter offenses in college hockey. The Gophers saw their own first line shut down but it didn't matter as they found goals up and down the lineup.
Frankly they played like a team who deserves to go to Tampa. Beating their rival to end their season is just icing on the cake.
"(Winning the West Region) was one of the goals from the start of the season," Haula said. One was to win the MacNaughton Cup, which we did. One was to win the Final Five, which we didn't get, and to get to the Frozen Four is a great accomplishment. But as a team we're not satisfied with that. We want to keep playing good hockey and keep going all the way."