It doesn't get any better than this. After sixty minutes of nail biting, senior defenseman Justin Holl flicked a wrister bast UND's Zane Gothberg with only six tenths of a second remaining on the clock, putting Minnesota up 2-1 and into the Frozen Four championship game this Saturday.
UND played this game almost to perfection, to their credit. They managed to control the play for much of the game, and did an excellent job of keeping the Gopher forwards on the perimeter and limiting penetration. Their only two glaring mistakes (other than constantly playing with six or seven skaters) resulted in Minnesota's two goals.
The first mistake was losing Sam Warning in the scrum in front of Gothberg after Gopher Captain Kyle Rau attempted a wraparound. Warning was untouched by a defender on the play, and neatly deposited a backhand goal after picking up Rau's rebound.
The second mistake was assuming the Gophers wouldn't attack after a face off in the Minnesota zone with 9.6 seconds remaining on the clock. UND was on the powerplay with Mike Reilly in the box for holding, only forward Rocco Grimaldi backchecked with any intensity. After Rau carried the puck into the zone, he attempted to throw the puck toward the front of the net, but the puck was blocked right onto Holl's stick. Holl immediately threw the puck at the net, and it squeaked in on the ice and off the far post with 0.6 seconds remaining on the clock.
That goal is for sure on the top five list for game winning Minnesota goals. It was an amazing end to one of the finest college hockey games anyone could hope for.
As always, Adam Wilcox played an outstanding game. The goal he allowed was flukey, sure; but many of the 36 saves he made were absolutely fantastic and kept Minnesota in the game as North Dakota pressed. It's a crime that he is not a finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.
I can't say much more about it than that, so here are my notes.
What I Liked
I like Travis Boyd shooting on a 3 on 2. It was good to see a Gopher enter the zone with possession, move into the high scoring percentage area right in the slot, and rip a shot at the net. I also didn't mind that it hit Gothberg straight in the face!
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I like blocking shots all game. If you're going to play against a team who carries the momentum and attempts a ton of shots, you need your skaters to absorb some rubber for you goalie. I don't have the blocking stats in front of me, but I'm pretty sure I remember Michael Brodzinski blocking five shots in the game. Well done.
I liked the way the Gophers started to swing the momentum back after the first five minutes of the game. UND came out flying, and Minnesota bent, but didn't break. I would have been more calm if the Gophers had scored early, but sports are exciting so that's ok.
Part of swinging that momentum back was the Vinnie Lettieri Connor Reilly line bringing a physical presence to the forecheck.
I like playing mistake free hockey and not allowing odd-man rushes. This is one-and-done hockey, and mistakes are unacceptable. The usually aggressive Gopher defense did a nice job of picking their spots and not getting beat on the breakout.
I love Justin Holl following the rush up the ice with time winding down to see what happened. In the post game interview, after describing how he jumped into the play, he said "I think I blacked out." I believe that. He clearly did not see his shot go in, and only reacted after he saw Seth Ambroz flying through the air in celebration. It was a great moment.
What I Hated
I hate having to sacrifice your offensive-defensemen prevent odd man rushes. While I agree that it needs to be this way, I hate tying Mike Reilly's game up. He might consider a move to forward in the future.
I didn't like the way North Dakota controlled the play in the first five minutes. I kind of expected that. Everyone knew UND would play this game like it was their last, and they did. I just didn't like watching it.
I don't like being out-shot in any period.
I don't like all the shots from the outside. Part of the problem was UND's disciplined defense, but I would have liked to see a little more penetration into the slot. Gothberg had a lot of easy saves in this one.
I didn't like the Gophers playing on their heels to start the second period. After the first period, I hoped for better pace in the second. Again, credit UND for playing well.
I hate losing faceoffs. Again, I don't have the stats on hand, but it felt like UND won far too many faceoffs in this one.
I hated watching Kyle Rau not connect on passes as the Gophers entered the offensive zone. Buuut he finished with assists on both goals, so all is forgiven.
I wrote this down: "Hated the whole third period." But that was before the first goal and obviously before the game-winner. Silly notes, paper can't keep up with my emotions.
I hated the sloppy defense that led to UND's goal only thirty some seconds after taking the lead. It was just a mental let-down by Mike Reilly, but it needs to be avoided in tournament situations.
Wrapping It up
So that's that. Holl's goal is the #1 Top Play on Sports Center. Ski-U-Mah.