Gophers coach Bob Motzko called it after the game Saturday.
“It’s going to blow up everywhere,” he said, “how this thing ended.”
That it did. Social media was still abuzz Sunday, one day after the Gophers’ 2-1 overtime loss to Notre Dame in the Big Ten semifinals. The officials called Gophers senior captain Tyler Sheehy for a controversial hooking penalty just 31 seconds into the extra period. Notre Dame scored 22 seconds later on the power play to end the Gophers’ season.
“That’s what’s so sad right now,” Motzko said after the game, adding how the controversy will overshadow some “great stories” from the contest.
The Gophers, much like Notre Dame, needed to win the Big Ten tournament in order to advance to the NCAAs. But the stunning nature of the ending might be making this loss harder for the Gophers to stomach. While the team was a bit inconsistent to start the year, including costly nonconference losses to lowly teams such as Ferris State and St. Lawrence, it had been on a tear recently, winning seven of the past eight ahead of Notre Dame.
Motzko referred to the loss as a “travesty” and said his locker room was “crushed” about losing in that manner. He was visibly upset on the ice after the game and even had a heated discussion with the Big Ten coordinator of men’s ice hockey officials, Steve Piotrowski, outside the locker room. Freshman winger Sampo Ranta called it a “tough time” and a “disappointment.” Sheehy was a bit more candid.
“It ends the career for nine guys,” Sheehy said postgame of the “terrible” call’s effect on the senior class. “And [the referees] wouldn’t say anything, just, ‘Get out of there or you’re going to get in trouble.’ ”
The Gophers finished 18-16-4 and missed the national tournament for the third time in the past four years. The program hasn’t won an NCAA game since reaching the Frozen Four in 2014.
“Our league will take care of whatever happened,” Motzko said postgame. “But you know what? The main story coming from me tonight is how proud I am of that group in there.”
The Big Ten Conference did issue a statement in response to whether the officials would share their reasoning on the penalty: “That is a judgment call, so in that case we would not make the official available per the policy in the tournament manual.”
So all the Gophers can do is move on, though it will be without the unusually large number of seniors on the roster with whom Motzko credited the team’s turnaround.
“That senior class ... they were terrific, and I’m forever grateful to that group,” Motzko said after the game. “How they stayed the course with heart, with character. [They] 100 percent bought behind everything we were doing.”
Correspondent Mike Eidelbes contributed to this report.