NEW THIRD LINE CLICKS AS GOPHERS ADVANCE TO TAMPA
Minnesota 5, North Dakota 2 | Box Score
ST. PAUL, Minn.—Things went pretty smoothly for Minnesota all season as the Gophers’ run to the WCHA’s regular-season title did not include a losing streak of longer than three games. But Don Lucia has been through enough playoff runs to know that scoring depth can often mean the difference between a great season and a championship season.
So heading into the NCAA West Regional, Lucia’s focus was not on the Gophers’ collapse against North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five a week earlier; it was on coaxing some more offense out of the third line, looking for a complement to the consistent top two units. He moved Taylor Matson from center to a wing, dropped Seth Ambroz to the fourth line, and promoted rookie Travis Boyd to the middle of the third line—this despite the fact Boyd had yet to find the back of a college hockey net.
As he smiled broadly at the post-game press conference after the Gophers’ 5-2 win over North Dakota Sunday, Lucia reflected on the moves and how well they’d paid off in getting his team back to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2005. Third-liners Boyd, Matson, and Nate Condon each had a goal and an assist. Boyd’s first collegiate goal was the clincher, giving the Gophers a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes.
“We thought we needed something to jump start it,” Lucia said. “Both (Matson) and (Condon) had not scored for a while. It was Matson’s first goal in 17 games. We knew we needed to get more scoring. We toyed with it the week before. After last week, we thought, ‘Let’s try it.’ We had a full week of practice. It was a concern moving a freshman up the middle with how well he would defend. I thought (Boyd) did a great job. I thought he had a great game last weekend. We needed that tonight.”
For a unit that had played together for all of one game (Minnesota’s 7-3 win over Boston University in the regional opener), the trio clicked immediately.
“We’ve had great chemistry throughout this whole week of practice,” Matson said after a game in which he scored the eventual game-winner. “Last week we had a lot of chances as well and we just missed some of those chances. Our game plan tonight was to keep playing hard and when we got those chances we just capitalized on them”
Not so for North Dakota, which saw its best opportunity to get back in the game go for naught in a second period that started poorly and ended poorly. Erik Haula scored on a power play just 20 seconds into the period to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead, but Danny Kristo answered right away, cutting the Gophers lead in half less than two minutes into the period. And that was the last shot Kent Patterson would face for a long, long time.
The Gophers outshot North Dakota, 12-2, in the period and had a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes. North Dakota was never seriously in contention again.
“I think the difference was the second period where they took advantage of some momentum after we went 2-1,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “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 much different. … I thought we had a good push to start the third period. It just wasn’t enough tonight.”
SEEN AND HEARD AT THE X
• Less than 24 hours after a disappointing end to his team’s season at the regional in Worcester, Mass., Air Force coach Frank Serratore was in St. Paul playing the role of happy hockey dad. Wearing a blue Air Force jacket, Serratore cheered for the Gophers as his son, fourth-line sophomore forward Tom, became the most recent member of the family to advance to a Frozen Four. Three years ago, his brother, also named Tom, guided Bemidji State to its first Frozen Four appearance.
• Mario Lamoureux scored North Dakota’s second goal in his final collegiate game, ending a long run of members of the Lamoureux family contributing to North Dakota hockey. “I think I’m going to have to be around for a hell of a long time before I get another one on the team,” Hakstol joked. “They’re just a great family. History and tradition is such a big part of our program. To have that family involved over so much time and to have that deep of an investment is pretty special.”
• The Frozen Four in Tampa is three-fourths of a reunion of the 2010 Mariucci Classic, in which Minnesota, Union, and Ferris State all gathered in Minneapolis.
• There’s something to be said for winning a conference regular-season championship, at least that’s what the Frozen Four field would indicate. “Union won their league, Ferris State won their league, and we won our league,” Lucia said, before he knew that Hockey East champion Boston College would advance as well.
Gophers strength coach Cal Dietz, the husband of an Olympic women’s hockey gold medal winner (the former Karyn Bye), apparently does more than keep the team in shape. According to the players, before the start of the third period it was Dietz who gave the rousing speech that inspired the team to a near-perfect final 20 minutes.
A few times recently in the Minnesota-North Dakota rivalry, the proceedings between the two teams have been downright nasty. Save for a few post-whistle dust-ups Sunday, the teams played it clean, which was refreshing, especially on a big stage of an NCAA regional final.
The Xcel Energy Center’s lower bowl was close to full. The upper level was closed as the somewhat disappointing crowd of less than 11,000 had some talking that it’s time to move the regionals back to campus sites.
INCH’S THREE STARS OF THE NIGHT
3. Danny Kristo, North Dakota: His goal in the second period gave North Dakota life, briefly, in a game in which they seemed to lack energy throughout.
2. Kent Patterson, Minnesota: Solid throughout in earning regional MVP honors, especially in the third period when he stopped 14 of North Dakota’s 15 shots.
1. Taylor Matson, Minnesota: He sparked the Gophers third line, which made much of the difference between a Frozen Four trip and the end of the season.
NCAA WEST REGIONAL ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
G – Kent Patterson, Minnesota
D – Ben Blood, North Dakota
D – Nate Schmidt, Minnesota
F – Danny Kristo, North Dakota
F – Brock Nelson, North Dakota
F – Kyle Rau, Minnesota
Haula said that over the holidays he stayed at his father’s condo near Tampa and he’s been to a few Lightning games, but he’s never played a game in the Sunshine State. That will change in about 10 days when the Gophers face Boston College in the second Frozen Four semifinal game.
For North Dakota, the season ended abruptly after a 6-0 start to the playoffs which had them fully expecting to return to the Frozen Four.
“It’s impossible to try to, at this point in time, put the season into perspective,” Hakstol said after the game. “If we could sit down and do this in 48 hours, I probably would do a much better job of it.”