Minnesota Celebrates Properly
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
After a bad loss Friday night — one when coupled with a Duluth loss in St. Cloud clinched a regular-season title — Minnesota came back Saturday with a come-from-behind win, allowing the team to celebrate with the MacNaughton Cup properly.
Holding a 1-0 lead heading to the third, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves knew a Minnesota rally was coming. The Gophers played a tepid game Friday night, but had picked up the pace through 40 minutes and played with a bunch more urgency.
"It was only a matter of time," Eaves lamented.
Armed with a power play early the third period, Wisconsin had a chance to bury the dagger. But for the second time in the game, Gopher forward Erik Haula spearheaded a shorthanded 2-on-1 break with Jake Hansen.
Just one period earlier, Haula had the puck in the exact same scenario. He ripped a wrist shot right into the chest of Badger goaltender Joel Rumpel.
This time around, Haula went to his backhand and slid the puck past Rumpel, tying the game at one. Mariucci Arena erupted.
"I knew he was going to take Hans away on the 2-on-1," said Haula, who seemed to suggest he knew he was going to get another opportunity later in the game. He was right.
"I thought after the first one, I was going to take it right to the hoop and see if I could get a backhand. It worked out."
With new-found momentum, Minnesota poured it on, scoring a power-play goal on a brilliant play by sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt three minutes later.
With the puck trickling towards the blue line and out, Schmidt lunged at the last instant to save it, "went up to take the big hammer," but noticed a Badger closing quickly. Schmidt composed himself, took the puck to the slot where he took out the hammer again.
An instant later, the puck was in the back of the net and Minnesota was on its way to an outright conference title.
"For a championship, against a rival, in the closing weekend for the Cup ... it doesn't get much better than that," Schmidt said.
"I really haven't won anything in my career so far, so it felt great to win something with this team," Haula said.
The title was as surprising as it was dominant. Picked by both the media and the coaches to finish sixth this season, Minnesota — which has missed the NCAA Tournament three straight years, is now set to play every game the rest of the way within 7 miles of home.
Until a potential trip to Tampa of course.
"This is step one, and it's a tremendous accomplishment," said Gophers coach Don Lucia. "This is a big month. Now, we have to prepare for Alaska[-Anchorage] this upcoming weekend. It just gets better now.
"Our seniors have been a lot through the last couple of years and certainly after the disappointing end last year, they went to work this offseason. To look in their eyes, and see all the hard work pay off, it means a lot."