FROZEN FOUR HEARTBREAKER: Minnesota 2, UND 1
PHILADELPHIA – After the final buzzer sounded, after the postgame handshake ended, UND players stood on the ice, not sure what to do next.
In one of the most stunning finishes in the rivalry’s 60-year history, Minnesota scored a shorthanded goal with less than a second left to beat North Dakota 2-1 in an NCAA Frozen Four semifinal game Thursday in Wells Fargo Center.
Justin Holl put a shot just inside the right post – his first goal of the season – just before time expired to send the Gophers to the national championship game Saturday night against Union.
UND, which made a surprising run to the Frozen Four as a No. 4 seed, ends its year at 25-14-3.
“Disbelief,” Mark MacMillan said. “That’s about the only way to explain it.”
“It’s a bit of a numbing feeling to be walking away at this point in time,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said.
UND appeared to be in great position to continue its run through the NCAA tournament when Gopher forward Connor Reilly was called for holding with 1:39 left in regulation.
Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox, the game’s first star with 36 saves, made a couple of key stops, including a leg save on a deflection by Stephane Pattyn with just 20 seconds left.
UND had an offensive zone draw late, but Minnesota was able to break it out. And with the period ending, Holl jumped into the rush.
Kyle Rau’s shot attempt was blocked by UND defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, but it went right on the tape of Holl, who sent a shot just past Zane Gothberg’s left pad. The officials reviewed to make sure there was time on the clock, then signaled that the goal counted.
UND’s players stood on the ice, sticks on their knees, hunched over in shock.
“It’s a bounce here, off a skate, and a guy whacks it in the back of the net,” UND captain Dillon Simpson said. “Can’t say much about it. They were driving the net and Zane couldn’t see it.”
“When the puck went in the back of the net, I think all the guys on the bench said, ‘No, no way, the buzzer went off,’ ” MacMillan said. “Clearly it didn’t. Straight disbelief.’’
As a whole, UND played a strong game, throwing 37 shots on goal at Wilcox, a Hobey Baker Award finalist. UND outshot the Gophers 13-7 in the third period. UND also was the first team to hold the Gophers scoreless through two periods this season, but it wasn’t able to build a lead.
After a scoreless opening two periods, Minnesota got on the board at 10:51 of the third when Sam Warning found the puck at the side of the net and flipped a backhand behind Gothberg.
UND answered just 32 seconds later when Connor Gaarder – the hero of the NCAA Midwest Regional – scored on his own rebound. Gaarder carried the puck up the left wing on a rush and fired a backhander that Wilcox stopped. The rebound sat beside the net, though, and Gaarder shot it off of Wilcox and in to tie the game.
That set up for the dramatic ending.
“I’m really proud of the effort of our hockey team today from top to bottom,” Hakstol said. “You get into these guys, and if you walk away on the end that we’re walking away on, it’s real important to know that you left everything out there. Our guys did that today. Our group played an excellent 60 minutes.”
Hakstol also commended UND’s four seniors – Simpson, forward Derek Rodwell, forward Mitch MacMillan and goaltender Clarke Saunders – for their leadership in getting UND to this point.
“It’s a small group and they played varying roles on our team,” Hakstol said. “They really provided great leadership. They really set a tone throughout our work right back in September through tonight. It’s painful to have it end this way for those guys as well as this particular group of players, who are a bunch of outstanding teammates that have really become an outstanding team.”
Although they were heavy underdogs in the game – Las Vegas odds had Minnesota a 2-1 favorite – it was clear that this UND team expected to win Thursday.
“I thought our whole third period was very hard, very fast, good paced,” Pattyn said. “I thought the momentum was in our hands. A couple of close calls, a couple good saves by their goalie, the puck goes the other way, hit a couple skates and then it was in the back of our net. There’s not much more I can say.”