Minnesota Left Stunned After First Round Exit
by Liz Vukelich/CHN Reporter
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. The game probably wasn’t ever supposed to be this close.
Minnesota was coming into the NCAA West Regional as an overall No. 2 seed with a veteran team fresh off a Frozen Four appearance the year before. Plus, the Golden Gophers were going up against Yale, a team that barely squeaked into the tournament lat weekend.
Yet, all it took was a matter of seconds — nine to be precise — for the Bulldogs to stun Minnesota in a 3-2 overtime victory before the extra frame had barely begun.
“I just feel bad for our guys,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “You get down at the end like that and it goes into overtime, it’s a one shot deal. I didn’t even see what happened in overtime, it happened so quick.”
In fact, most of the Gophers were still getting settled on the bench; few even saw the play that ended their season — Yale’s junior forward Kenny Agostino stealing the puck from behind the Golden Gophers' goal after Minnesota won the faceoff.
The nine seconds it took for the Bulldogs to score marks the record for shortest overtime in NCAA tournament history.
It was a shocker for the Gophers, who, by that point, had staged a comeback big enough to make them believe they could easily walk away with the win.
Both teams were held to a scoreless first period and were, for the most part, evenly matched. The Gophers tested Yale netminder Jeff Malcolm early, though he looked perfectly comfortable in the crease. The Bulldogs had two power-play chances early in the period, but couldn’t get any good looks.
But at the 7:08 mark of the second period, Agostino beat Minnesota’s freshman goalie Adam Wilcox stickside. The Gophers didn’t generate any offensive chances, paving the way for another Bulldog goal eight minutes later, this one from junior defenseman Gus Young.
It was better late than never for Minnesota, which took almost 50 minutes to get on the board. Junior defenseman Nate Schmidt cut the deficit to one with a power-play goal, and it didn’t take much longer for the Gophers to knot the game at two.
Entering Friday’s contest, Minnesota boasted a vast amount of offensive depth, especially from junior forward Nick Bjugstad, who led the Golden Gophers’ forward corps with 21 goals this season.
Yet it was the Bulldogs’ ability to stifle that prowess that lost Minnesota the game — Yale’s tenacity on defense made it nearly impossible for Minnesota to get close enough. Schmidt cited the “little battles” that the Bulldogs won as the difference maker in the game. Lucia attributed it to Yale’s willingness to step in front of the puck.
“We had a lot of attempted shots, but they blocked a lot of shots,” Lucia said. “When you’re not getting pucks to the net, you’re not getting the opportunity to get second shots, or an opportunity to create some momentum.”
Even Lucia admitted that couldn’t make up for the fact that even when the Golden Gophers had a chance to score, their shots went wide or they lost possession of the puck too quickly.
But by the end of the game, all the turnovers or blocked shots in the world didn’t make a difference to Minnesota — all it could seem to think about was the disastrous nine seconds that ended its season.
“One bounce, one turnover,” lamented redshirt junior Zach Budish. “It’s a tough loss. It sucks to go out this way.”