MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Gophers will spend the next six-plus months cringing at any mention of Bulldogs. Minnesota Duluth mangled its old rival for the fourth consecutive time this season in a 4-1 blowout Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
Hopes of redeeming last year’s national runner-up finish slipped away from the Gophers early in the Northeast Region semifinal. The Bulldogs scored three goals in six minutes in the second half of the first period, building a commanding lead that proved to be more than enough for their fourth win in five meetings with the Gophers this season.
The Gophers were deflated after the Bulldogs’ first-period surge and could sense the end of their season when Carson Soucy made it 4-0 for Minnesota Duluth midway through the second period.
Senior captain Kyle Rau slammed his stick against the boards and lost his mouth guard on the ice while unloading his frustration. His teammates on the bench were slumped over in shock.
“They scored [early] and I don’t know if we just didn’t think we could come back after that, but when they scored it was like a switch — something changed, and obviously you can’t have that at all,” Gophers senior forward Travis Boyd said. “I don’t know if we were just too emotionally into it, or not enough emotionally into it. We just didn’t play our game. … We couldn’t get a bounce.”
Minnesota Duluth got plenty of bounces and made the most of the Gophers’ mistakes, which mirrored some of the trouble that led to the team’s midseason setback. Justin Crandall deflected Brenden Kotyk’s shot for the Bulldogs’ second goal, following a Gophers turnover. The third goal, by Willie Raskob, deflected off defenseman Mike Reilly’s skate. The fourth goal deflected off a pair of Gophers defensemen on a power play that came after the first penalty of the game.
Bulldogs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo shut down the Gophers’ single power-play opportunity of the night and finished with 31 saves. Tony Cameranesi and Raskob each had two points, a goal and an assist. Ten Bulldogs scored points in the first-round victory that advances them to Saturday’s regional championship game against No. 1 seed Boston University.
Seth Ambroz scored the Gophers’ goal late in the third period. Boyd and Vinni Lettieri had the assists. Adam Wilcox had 29 saves.
“For us, playing the Gophers, it’s one of those games that no matter where you are, you’re going to get up for it,” Raskob said. “We have a lot of history with them and we all know a bunch of guys on their team. We knew we could beat this team. We did it three times already this year, and [Friday] we showed it again.”
The Gophers were searching for redemption against the Bulldogs on Friday night and redemption in the NCAA tournament for last year’s second-place finish at the Frozen Four. They had momentum after four consecutive victories, which included Big Ten regular-season and tournament championship celebrations, and were entering the tournament coming off a victory for the first time for this group of seniors.
“It’s obviously disappointing. Any time your season ends it’s hard to walk in the locker room and say goodbye to the seniors,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “[Minnesota Duluth] is a really good team. We knew that. They beat us four straight times. They deserve to move on and advance. We misfired a little bit tonight.”
The Gophers missed their target by a long shot, and their drought without a national championship extends to 12 years.