Minnesota Earns Another Shot at North Dakota
by Nathan Wells/CHN Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. Throughout the year, one of the things Minnesota has proved is its ability to take a punch and battle back. The Gophers entered Saturday’s NCAA West Regional semifinal against Boston University 16-3-1 on Saturday night and only found themselves on the wrong side of a sweep once this season.
The Gophers continued that streak against the Terriers, winning 7-3 in a penalty-filled game that was described by BU head coach Jack Parker as being bizarre. They face North Dakota, the team that beat them 6-3 last Friday in a WCHA semifinal on the strength of six unanswered goals, Sunday at 4 p.m. (CT) for a Frozen Four berth.
"I'm just proud of our guys. We had a great week of preparation getting ready for Boston University," said Minnesota coach Don Lucia, who won his first NCAA Tournament game since 2007.
While the usual names, like freshman Kyle Rau and sophomore Nick Bjugstad, bookended the seven Gopher goals, they got help from a senior class making its NCAA Tournament debut. Among them, Jake Hansen scored twice, Nico Sacchetti scored on a breakway, and goalie Kent Patterson made 31 saves.
"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."
Before being the hero, however, the White Bear Lake, Minn., native nearly found himself as a scapegoat after taking two penalties in a 2:14 stretch with the Gophers up 1-0. The Terriers were unable to take advantage of either power play but the experience put pressure on Hansen.
"If anything, I think (taking the penalties) hurt me a little but because I was playing aggressive," Hansen said. "Back-to-back penalties in a tight game like that is unacceptable. (The referees) were calling it a little tight and watching the games yesterday they were calling a lot of penalties, so I just had to play smarter and watch my stick and the way I am playing."
He played smarter and stayed out of the box despite the teams combining for 33 more penalty minutes (47 in total). In fact, Hansen's game was a good representation of Minnesota. Although Boston University tied the game at both 1-1 and 2-2 in the second period, it could not find a way to take the lead. Every time the Terriers looked ready to pounce, control would shift back to the WCHA regular season champions as they controlled the flow of play or took advantage of penalties and found the back of the net.
"You can get a little down on yourself, but you have to have fight on the bench and fight in your heart," said Hansen when asked about how he felt after BU came back in the game.
Two power-play goals by junior defenseman Seth Helgeson and Hansen 29 seconds apart put the Gophers ahead for good. Hansen's goal — which occurred 10 seconds after Boston University forward Justin Courtnall received a game misconduct for contact to the head — put Minnesota ahead for good at 4-2 and they never looked back.
"It was like night and day in the third period on the bench (compared to the North Dakota game last Friday)," said Lucia. "There was a lot of talk on the bench tonight. Like we told the guys, we had to flush that one out."
Adam Clendening got Boston University within 4-3, but rather than another third-period collapse, the Gophers showed why they have outscored opponents 54-24 in the final 20 minutes. They were the aggressors throughout the third period, making the BU defense and goalie Kieran Millan work hard and empty-net goals from Hansen and Bjugstad saw Minnesota live to fight another day. While the Terriers played with a lot of heart, the Gophers and Jake Hansen shook off the past and bounced back.
After all, it's what they've been doing all season.