Playing under pressure and from behind was no problem for the Gophers on Saturday night in the championship game of the Ice Breaker Tournament. They overcame two one-goal deficits and held off a late surge by No. 12 New Hampshire for a 3-2 victory at Mariucci Arena.
Gophers goaltender Adam Wilcox secured the victory sliding right to left for a pair of saves in the final 10 seconds of the Wildcats’ 6-on-5 late push. His final glove save stopped the clock and Kyle Rau won a faceoff with 7.3 seconds left, allowing the defense to clear out the puck.
“That was way too close, way too close,” Gophers defenseman Justin Holl said. “But that was an unbelievable save. [Wilcox] was just laughing when we came back to the bench … that’s all he could really do there. He’s got a flair for the dramatic and he’s an awesome goaltender.”
Hudson Fasching and Sam Warning each scored tying goals for Minnesota, and Vinni Lettieri was responsible for the eventual winner.
Wilcox was named the tournament’s top goaltender. He made only 48 saves over two games but didn’t let anything through with the game on the line.
Both New Hampshire goals came on second-period power plays and gave the Wildcats leads of 1-0 and 2-1. Eric Knodel tapped in the first goal, Nick Sorkin the second.
The Gophers’ go-ahead goal, with 2 minutes, 10 seconds in the second period, fell into Lettieri’s lap. Seth Ambroz’s shot hit a post and carried high into the air. Lettieri, a freshman forward, caught the loose puck and set himself up to score.
“I think it helps when you’re playing for something, when you’re playing for a championship,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “It’s something we talked about before the game, you don’t get to play for a trophy every night. It’s a good measuring stick.”
The Gophers led the Wildcats in shots on goal 8-2 after 10 minutes, then cooled down as it because a game or surges.
The Wildcats showed a lot of athleticism, even vertically. Defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk was the most active and at one point left the ice to catch a Gophers clearing attempt. He was also a big part of every New Hampshire power play and assisted on both goals.
Faceoffs were a concern for the Gophers for the first two periods, with each team winning 18. Then the Gophers found their quick sticks. They finished with a 36-24 advantage. Rau was 14-6 on draws, Travis Boyd 10-4.
There was no such parity in shots on goal. The Gophers finished with a 34-23 advantage.
However, shots on goal haven’t been indicative of the Wildcats offense in this tournament. On Friday night against Clarkson, they had one fewer shot (34-33) but won 4-1. On Saturday night, they stuck within a goal for the final 23 minutes despite their lack of chances.
This is the first time UNH will depart the Ice Breaker Tournament without a championship trophy in three appearances. The Gophers also have won it twice in three trips; 2007 was the other year.
“We were down a couple different times, which was nice because we were able to answer back,” Ambroz said. “No one is going to give up being down and all.”