DULUTH - The first conference game of the Gophers' season had a bit of everything. When it ended, the Gophers had a thrilling victory.
The Gophers scored two last-minute goals -- one in the third period, the other in overtime -- to edge Minnesota Duluth 5-4 on Friday in the WCHA opener for both teams.
UMD, of course, is the defending NCAA champion and was playing at Amsoil Arena in front of 6,751 hometown fans.
"We never had any doubt in ourselves," said Nate Condon, who scored the game-winner with 56 seconds left in overtime.
"You've got to get lucky every now and then. I came off the bench and luckily no one saw me and [Taylor] Matson threw the puck right to me."
Once over the boards on his last shift, Condon skated directly to the UMD net. Matson, the Gophers captain, fed him the puck in the slot, but it wasn't a routine play.
Condon blocked the puck with one of his skates and it popped up.
"I swung at it out of the air," the sophomore winger said. "And it kind of went in. I didn't even see it go in."
Kent Patterson, his road roommate, probably did. The Gophers senior goalie was seeing every puck. He stopped a career-high 46 shots.
Even so, it looked as if Patterson would be the losing goalie until Erik Haula scored with 44 seconds left in the third period to tie the score at 4-4.
"Once Haula got that goal, there was nothing that was going to stop us," Condon said. "Everyone felt great on the bench. Everyone was in great shape. We just battled there to the end."
There were 94 shots on net in the game and 25 penalties.
"It was a fast-paced game," Condon said, "but more than anything I thought there were bodies laying everywhere. Duluth tried to come out and tear us down physically and we answered it and even gave them a couple licks of our own."
The No. 14 Gophers (3-0) took a 2-0 lead in the opening period on power-play goals by Haula and Kyle Rau, who like Haula had two goals.
"The guys we need to score, scored," Gophers coach Don Lucia said.
But UMD stormed back in the second period to tie the score twice at 2-2 and 3-3.
"Once they scored we got a little jittery," Lucia said, citing several reasons: Young players feeling the pressure of their first big-time road game, returning to a smaller rink and a group of freshmen and sophomores with not a lot of experience in the rigors of the WCHA.
Freshman Justin Crandall gave the Bulldogs their first lead at 4-3 with two minutes left in the third period to set up the dramatic finish.
"We probably won the game because of our specialties," Lucia said. "We only gave up the one [power-play goal] and scored three. And that is something we tried to emphasize."
Once the game went into overtime, that seemed to favor No. 9 UMD (1-2). The Bulldogs were 13-3-15 in their past 31 overtime games before Friday.
But Patterson stopped three more shots in overtime.
"They had 50 shots, which is more than I had in two games last weekend," said Patterson, referring to his two shutout victories over Sacred Heart. "But I like [these] games. It keeps me on my toes the whole time. My job is to stop the puck."
And he's good at it.