One of the traits the University of Minnesota hockey team has shown throughout this season is their ability to come back from adversity. Whether it's their 16-3-1 Saturday record that's seen the Gophers swept once all season or bouncing back from a knockout 6-3 loss to North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five to beat them a week later in the West Region final, the team is hard to keep down for long.
"I think our team plays the best when our backs are up against the wall," said Minnesota senior captain Taylor Matson (Vancouver Canucks) after their 5-2 win over UND last Sunday to advance to the Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida.
A big reason for that as they face the top seed Boston College Eagles 7 p.m. CT Thursday has been the team not relying on a single scorer or line. While Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) is tied for fifth in the nation with 25 goals, the sophomore forward was a non-factor in the West Region, only scoring an empty-netter goal against Boston University. Instead 11 Gophers scored 12 goals in their two wins as players like sophomore Jake Parenteau and senior Nico Sacchetti (Dallas Stars) - not known for their goal-scoring prowess - found the back of the net.
As unlikely as Sacchetti scoring on a breakaway (which he did in the 7-3 West Region semifinal win over Boston University) was, however, it was not the biggest surprise of the weekend. That honor goes to Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals).
Boyd, a forward from Hopkins, Minnesota, has spent the majority of his freshman season fighting for playing time among a rotating group on the fourth line. The product of the U.S. Development Program in Ann Arbor has shown flashes of skill throughout the season but not with any consistency. That's seen him sit at times - Boyd's appeared in 34 of the Gophers' 42 games this season - as recently as the regular season finale against Wisconsin. He also was a healthy scratch for three consecutive games in late January-early February.
However, a switch to the third line with Matson and sophomore Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche) right before the West Region ended up paying dividends for both Boyd and his new linemates.
"We knew we needed to get more scoring (from Matson and Condon)," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia after the North Dakota win on his decision. "We toyed with it the week before. After last week, we thought ‘Let's try it.'"
Matson, who normally played center this season, was shifted to right wing while Boyd took the senior captain's place.
"It was a concern moving a freshman up the middle with how well he would defend," Lucia said.
The risk was exploited earlier against the Badgers when Travis took Bjugstad's place between Kyle Rau (Panthers) and Zach Budish (Nashville Predators) and looked out of place, afraid to do anything wrong. While the entire team failed to show up in a 4-1 loss, the freshman was not mistaken for a player who had as many collegiate goals as the fans as Mariucci Arena. This time, meanwhile, Boyd seemed much more comfortable.
"(Travis) is a great player. He was dishing the puck to me and Nate Condon the puck and we were getting great chances," Taylor Matson said about his new center. "We had great chemistry throughout the game and that's great for our line."
It culminated with all three players scoring against UND a week after giving up six unanswered third period goals. Matson's goal was his first in 18 games and put the Gophers up 3-1 while Boyd, who hit the crossbar in the WCHA Final Five semifinal, tipped a shot from Condon past North Dakota goalie Aaron Dell to finally get the monkey off his back. The freshman's goal also helped give the team a three-goal lead at a time when North Dakota was looking to keep in the game.
"I thought he did a great job. I thought he had a great game last weekend," Lucia said about Boyd. "We needed that (against North Dakota)."
"(Scoring the goal is) a great confidence booster for him," added Matson.
Needless to say, Travis Boyd found a good time to score his first goal and find his place on the third line with Minnesota's sixth national championship two wins away. It won't be easy, however, because Boston College features one of the better defenses in the country and a 17 game unbeaten streak.
Then again, Boyd and the Gophers have made a season out of coming back from adversity.