For forty-five minutes Saturday night, it looked like Alaska-Anchorage would be the team whose quick scoring would make the biggest difference. Tied at 3, the Seawolves were getting chances on net in the third period and just hit the crossbar on a shorthanded attempt to finish the second.
Then before they could blink, the Gophers stole their quick scoring crown and the game.
"We had them on their heels and then it flipped-flopped. We marched to the box, took three or four penalties and lost our legs and ran out of gas," said Seawolves head coach Dave Shyiak.
Three goals by Minnesota (26-12-1) in 91 seconds, including two by Erik Haula 18 seconds apart, turned a tight game into a 7-3 rout over Alaska-Anchorage (9-25-2) and sent the Gophers to their first Final Five since 2009. Jake Hansen, Zach Budish, Nick Bjugstad, Seth Helgeson and Sam Warning also scored for the Maroon and Gold while Matt Bailey scored twice in defeat.Kent Patterson in front of 9,018 fans at Mariucci Arena.
Penalties played a major role in Saturday's game. After giving the Seawolves 3 first period power plays in Friday's 2-1 win, Minnesota was the team with the man advantage Saturday. The Gophers had three power play opportunities in the opening twenty minutes - they only had two all of Friday - but were unable to take advantage of them or find a way past Alaska-Anchorage goaltender Chris Kamal. Jake Hansen came the closest when he hit the post.
Hansen, however, did score earlier in the period when Minnesota was even-strength - tipping in a shot from Ben Marshall past Kamal - to give them a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period.
Alaska-Anchorage battled back in the second period and used Gopher penalties to their own advantage en route to three power play goals. The first by Bailey took only 35 seconds to tie the game. He added another seven minutes later after the Seawolves received two minutes with a two-man advantage with both Seths (Helgeson and Ambroz) in the box. Finally Scott Allen scored his third of the season on a rebound, putting Minnesota in a 3-1 hole halfway through the game.
"Hats off to Alaska-Anchorage," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. " They played extremely well and took advantage of the power plays."
As good as the Seawolves were on the power play, the Gophers continued to struggle. They looked great when they were playing five-on-five hockey to the point where they continued to force Alaska-Anchorage to take penalties. Unfortunately when they were on the man-advantage, Minnesota often looked like the team who was shorthanded.
Zach Budish got the team within one with 8:44 remaining after he one-timed a Kyle Rau pass past Kamal, It looked like they would be down a goal at the second period before Nick Bjugstad broke through with 45.1 seconds remaining to tie the game at 3 and give the Gophers their first power play goal in seven opportunities
"We had a little bit of a roll at the end of the second, beginning of the third," said Budish, who has five goals and five assists in eight games against Anchorage.
Bjugstad's last-minute goal changed momentum and the floodgates opened 5:05 into the third period. When Kyle Rau baited everyone towards him, Erik Haula found himself all alone and made Chris Kamal look human for the first time all weekend to give Minnesota a 4-3 lead.
"We wanted to do this tonight, it was payback from last year," said Haula, who has five goals in his last three games.
Haula went beast mode again 18 seconds later and the rout was on. Whether Kamal lost his composure or the Seawolves were tired after having to kill 13 minutes of penalties or perhaps both, Minnesota could not stop scoring. Helgeson made up for his previous penalty leading to an UAA goal with a slap shot for his fourth goal of the season and Sam Warning found himself the recipient of Haula's generosity to cap off the scoring.
The highlight of the night, meanwhile, was senior walk-on goalie Jake Kremer getting a chance to play in the final 44 seconds. Beckoned by assistant head coach Mike Guentzel, Lucia put in the third string goalie for his first action in his college career and Kremer ended the night with a 1.000 save percentage.
"It was awesome. [Kremer] works his tail off in practice. We would have liked to see him play on senior night (against Wisconsin) but couldn't since it was a 2-1 game," said Budish.
In the end though, he and the rest of the Gopher hockey team are advancing to their first Final Five since 2009. And between the onslaught of goals and finish, it was a good night all around.
Minnesota will play an opponent yet to be determined in the Final Five next Friday. The game will be televised on Fox Sports North.