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March 22, 2008 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

If the Slipper Fits: Minnesota Enjoys Unusual Role

by Dane DeKrey/Staff Writer

ST. PAUL, Minn. — When Holy Cross upset top seeded Minnesota in the opening round of the 2006 NCAA tournament, that was a Cinderella story.

When Saint Cloud State upset top seeded Minnesota in the semifinal game of the 2006 Final Five tournament, that was a Cinderella story.

So when did the University of Minnesota become a Cinderella story?

2008, that's when.

"I think we've enjoyed it," said head coach Don Lucia of the team's uncharacteristic underdog role. "This isn't the most talented team and there's a reason that we finished with the record that we did. The rewarding part as coaches is to see teams go through struggles and find a way to get through it."

And get through they have.

Coming into the play-in round of the WCHA conference tournament, Minnesota found itself in an unfamiliar position: a seven seed on the road against Minnesota State. After Friday's 2-1 overtime victory against top-seeded Colorado College, it finds itself in a much more familiar one: a spot in the Final Five championship game and a guaranteed birth in the NCAA tournament.

"We didn't back into this NCAA tournament, we did it the hard way," Lucia said. "To go on the road and then to keep beating higher seeds; I'm really proud of these guys."

The result for Colorado College was more of the same at the Final Five. Mike Hoeffel's two goals, the only two for Minnesota, knocked off the Tigers and made another year pass without a Broadmoor Trophy. Colorado College has still never won the title that is named for the man whose name once adorned CC's arena.

Not only has Minnesota slayed Goliath time at again - first Mankato, then St. Cloud and now Colorado College - but they have done so in the most dramatic of fashions.

Simply put — overtime, overtime, overtime.

Not having won a single overtime game in the regular season (0-4-9), Minnesota has now won three overtime contests in a row, and in total, has played extra periods in four of its last five games. But don't let that fool you. Despite having played five games in nine days, four of which went to overtime, Minnesota seems to be playing harder than ever before.

The team's overtime storyline has become such a constant that its players seem unfazed by the extra frame. Maybe it's because Lucia harkened his players back to their youth hockey days to help put the high number of games and overtimes in perspective

"I told them before the game, you all played youth hockey," said Lucia. "I mean how many games did you play in a weekend? You played two games a day with three lines and five defensemen; it's the same thing."

His players responded.

"I don't know, it seems like we're battling every night and every night the game goes to overtime, and that just shows the character of our team," said freshman goaltender Alex Kangas, who, according to Lucia, has been instrumental in the team's late season turnaround. "We've been through a lot this year so it's good to see us having some success and we're playing with a lot of heart right now. We're also getting a few bounces, so that's always a plus, too."

The bounce Kangas is referring to came at 4:47 into overtime, as freshman Mike Hoeffel attempted a centering pass to teammate Jay Barriball. While the pass never met its intended target in Barriball, it did ricochet off the skate of a Colorado College defenseman, then off the shoulder of awkwardly positioned goaltender Richard Bachman and finally into the net.

"Luckily, I don't know how, but it deflected into the net," said Hoeffel. "I definitely think it's a positive when you have freshman up to seniors contributing like we have right now."

It was Hoeffel's second goal of the night

Minnesota is now slated to face the Denver with a chance to defend its Broadmoor Cup trophy. Two months ago, had this scenario been pitched, not even Lucia would have bought it.

"This team never ceases to amaze me," said a visibly happy Lucia. "What they've been able to do and overcome is amazing."

One thing's for sure: If Minnesota is able to come away with a victory Saturday evening, that will be a Cinderella story.

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