Gophers Top Terriers, Setup Rematch With UND
It wasn’t pretty, but the Golden Gophers bounced back nicely from last Friday’s Final Five disaster and captured their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2007 by upending the Boston University Terriers and, in the process, setup a rematch with North Dakota with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line.
“I think the guys were obviously hungry to play,” said head coach Don Lucia. “They did good job. We talked about there was going to be some ebbs and flow to the game tonight, and there was. But tonight we were able to answer—any time we got punched, we were able to punch back.”
There was a fair amount of doubt amongst Gopher fans in terms of how the team would play on Saturday after blowing a three-goal lead en route to a 6-3 loss to North Dakota last Friday. Getting the first goal was considered key, and Kyle Rau – who had a four-point night – helped the Gophers do just that just 5:55 into the first period while on the power play, as the freshman notched his 18th goal of the season from his familiar spot to the right of the crease.
That would be the first of 15 combined power plays between the two teams in this penalty-filled contest. It didn’t come as a huge shock to most given that NCAA Tournament games are often called far more tightly than regular season games, especially ones with eastern-based officials. And they were true to form on this night with the teams combining for 18 total penalties.
Minnesota would lead 1-0 until midway through the second period would BU would score its first of two man-advantage goals on the night. However, under two minutes later, sophomore defenseman Jake Parenteau would score his second goal of the season from almost the exact same place as he scored his first one last month in Omaha. That put the Gophers ahead 2-1, but a Parenteau turnover later in the period in front of Kent Patterson would result in a BU goal and were again tied at 2-2.
“You definitely feel frustrated, because I thought we were playing really well, but it was killing us to go to the box,” said Jake Hansen. “It takes the wind out of you, but coaches have been talking all week that you have to learn to take a punch. ...You can get a little down on yourself, but you have to have fight on the bench and fight in your heart.”
But, thanks to another defenseman not known for scoring, Minnesota re-took the lead. Zach Budish made a great feed from behind the goal-line to a wide-open Seth Helgeson, who fired a low wrist shot past BU netminder Kieran Millan to put the Gophers ahead 3-2.
A few seconds after said goal, BU forward Justin Courtnall would be tossed from the game and get a five minute major for contact to the head, and on the ensuing power play, Hansen would double Minnesota’s lead as he tipped a Nate Schmidt point shot from high in the slot past Millan to make it 4-2 Gophers heading to the final stanza.
Like last Friday, the Gophers were up by two goals heading into the third period, and also like last Friday, the opposing team would score first in the third. This is where the similarities from last week to this week ended for the Gophers as senior Nico Sacchetti, who centered the fourth line on this day, scored a breakaway goal to bump the Gopher lead back to two goals at 5-3 at 8:08 of the period.
“Our senior class has taken a lot of heat, but for Nico to score that breakaway goal, I think that was huge and really turned the game,” said Hansen. “He is a good buddy of mine. I was happy to see him get that goal.”
“Nico’s goal was huge,” Lucia said. “We didn’t play the blue line a lot tonight, but I’ll tell you what—one of the differences for us tonight was that we did score some goals other than the guys that we rely on.”
From there on the Gophers locked down defensively and didn’t give the Terriers many good looks, which was a far cry from how they played versus the Sioux in the Final Five loss.
“It was like night and day in the third period (as compared to the bench during the third period of the loss to North Dakota last Friday),” Lucia said. “There was a lot of talk on the bench tonight. Like we told the guys, we had to flush that one out. I think we did … I think it was motivating, because you’ve got to look ahead.”
Hansen and Nick Bjugstad would tack on empty-net goals late for the Gophers, who outshot BU by a 42-34 margin.
Now, the Gophers shift their attention to North Dakota, who upended Western Michigan by a 3-1 score earlier in the day. Minnesota has won three of the five meetings so far this season and will be looking to avenge the 2007 regional, which was the last time these two teams met in the NCAA Tournament, with that meeting – like this one – coming in the West Regional final. The Sioux, who lost to the Gophers in the Final Five title game that season, beat the Gophers in overtime at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo. to end Minnesota’s season and move on to the Frozen Four. The Sioux have also ended Minnesota’s season in 2010 (WCHA playoffs) and in 2005 (Frozen Four semifinal).
Can the Gophers reverse the roles on Sunday? They certainly have the ability to do so but the Sioux are rolling right now, as everyone was witness to last week, and pose a huge test for the Maroon and Gold.
"Other than 15 or 20 minutes, we've played UND pretty tough this year... It's a couple of heavyweights going at each other,” Lucia said. “You have to beat a good team this time of year and they are a good team.”
Sunday’s game will begin at 4:30 p.m.