April 11, 2014 PRINT Bookmark and Share

A Holl Lotta Time

In Just Nine Seconds, Everything Happened

by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer

PHILADELPHIA — One of two things was going to happen.

There were 9 seconds left in regulation. North Dakota and Minnesota were tied, 1-1. Adam Wilcox saved a shot from Stephane Pattyn and froze the puck, setting up a faceoff just to his left.

Either North Dakota pulls off a miracle, beats the buzzer and clinches a spot in Saturday's national championship game, or it goes to overtime.

One of those two things was going to happen.

So Kyle Rau and Rocco Grimaldi skated into the faceoff circle with different outcomes on their minds.

Rau won the draw back to the corner, setting up a puck battle between Brady Skjei and UND's Luke Johnson. Skjei cut inside, spinning Johnson off the puck and chipping it toward safety. Minnesota senior Justin Holl jumped on the pass and headed up ice.

That second outcome looked probable. The puck left the zone with 4.7 seconds left.

Overtime was on the minds of the 11 players on the ice, 29 on the bench and the 17,311 in attendance.

"Huge play by (Rau)," Wilcox said. "I was just kind of looking up, waiting for time to expire to go to overtime."

But then something else happened. Those two outcomes, the only two possible, were joined by a third. As Holl blew through the neutral zone, every fan decked in maroon and gold thought the same thing simultaneously. Holl kept on skating, joined by Rau and Minnesota forward Seth Ambroz.

A 3-on-2 developed off the rush, the North Dakota players, for the time first all night, got caught up ice. Holl dropped the puck to Rau. Time kept melting from the clock, standing at 3.1 seconds left in regulation. That second outcome still seemed likely, even probable.

Rau fired the puck toward the goal in desperation. There were only 2.6 seconds remaining. He didn't have another choice. Forcing a shot on net couldn't hurt.

At this point, again, one of two things was going to happen. But they were different. A North Dakota buzzer beater was no longer a possibility. Either the game would head overtime, or Minnesota, somehow, would end this game in regulation.

But North Dakota was suddenly safe again. UND defenseman Jordan Schmaltz blocked Rau's shot. One second remained on the clock. To the right of the UND net, the kelly-green-and-white clad fans started thinking about overtime, the impending intermission and yet another chapter in this storied rivalry. Even the players on the ice set their minds to that fourth period.

"He just chipped it up the ice to (Holl), and I thought he was just going to put it behind the goal," Skjei said.

And then, something happened.

"I figured I might as well jump (into the play)," Holl said.

A defenseman, jumping into the play, shorthanded. But why not, there was only a couple seconds left anyway.

The puck fell right to Holl. In front of him stood Grimaldi and UND defenseman Dillion Simpson. Once again, UND seemed safe. There was 1 second on the clock. There were three players for Holl to beat. And he hadn't scored a goal in 43 games, not since March 8, 2013.

Quicker than a hiccup, Holl corralled the puck and fired in on net.

"Honestly, at that point in the game, I was focused on getting the shot on goal because I knew there was hardly any time left," said Holl, who spent last season playing forward before being moved back to defense for his senior year. "The puck came to my stick and I just wanted to get it on net."

It slid along the ice, navigating through a sprawling Grimaldi, evading a kneeling Dillion Simpson, sneaking by Gothberg and banking off the left post and into the goal with 0.6 seconds left on clock.

“Disbelief. Straight disbelief," North Dakota junior Mark MacMillian said. "We’ve never been a part of anything like that before, I think all of us on the bench when it crossed the goal line said ‘no way it went in before the buzzer.'"

A review confirmed what everyone already knew.

That third thing. The one that couldn't possibly happen became reality. Holl's unlikely, precision snapshot sent Minnesota to the national championship game.

Saturday, one of two things is going to happen. Union is going to win a national championship. Or Minnesota is going to win a national championship. And the Gophers can thank Justin Holl for the chance.

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