U seniors find this NCAA thing to their liking

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2012 - 1:32 AM

The Gophers' three-year national tournament absence wasn't lost on three veterans who were key to victory.

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Nico Sacchetti was denied on this second-period shot by Terriers goalie Kieran Millan, but the Gophers senior scored in the third period.

Photo: Bruce Bisiping, Star Tribune

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Nico Sacchetti didn't expect to finish the play himself. The Gophers fourth-line center swept in and plucked the puck off the right boards, after Seth Ambroz had jarred it loose from a Boston University defenseman, and headed toward the Terriers net.

The whole time, Sacchetti planned to pass to left winger Tom Serratore. "But their D was playing the pass,'' he said. "It was a last-minute decision to take it to the net. Any time it goes in, you can't complain.''

Especially when it happens in an NCAA tournament victory. Sacchetti is among seven seniors on the Gophers roster who have taken a load of grief during their team's three-year absence from the tournament. As big a deal as it was to get to Saturday's West Regional semifinal, they weren't ready to stop with that.

Three of them played a huge part in a 7-3 victory, the Gophers' first in the NCAA tournament since 2007. Jake Hansen scored the game-winner and an empty-net goal. Sacchetti's goal, at 8 minutes, 8 seconds of the third period, gave the Gophers a 5-3 lead and crushed BU's momentum. And goalie Kent Patterson stopped 31 of 34 shots.

Sacchetti had played only 21 games and scored three goals this season. The one he scored Saturday gave his team an emotional lift, plus the one thing it wanted most: the promise of another day together.

"We didn't need to say a lot,'' Sacchetti said. "Everyone understands what was at stake and how important this game was.

"We have to take it all in, because it's all special. None of us seniors have ever been in this situation. It's a lot of fun, and we're happy to be here, but we want to accomplish something.''

Sacchetti and company did not want to be the first senior class since the late 1960s to finish their Gophers careers without an NCAA tournament appearance. Once they got there, they knew they would need to be resilient and get scoring throughout their lineup in order to move on.

The seniors contributed to both of those aims. Hansen, who now has a career-high 15 goals and 36 points, deflected in Nate Schmidt's shot to give the Gophers a 4-2 lead late in the second period. Sacchetti's goal came five minutes after BU had cut the lead to 4-3.

Captain Taylor Matson, another senior, said the fourth-liners' goal kept the Gophers energized -- and Hansen was thrilled to see it. "The senior class has taken a lot of heat,'' he said. "For Nico to score that breakaway goal was huge. It really turned the game.''

Coach Don Lucia reflected the same sentiment. As pleased as he was for his entire team, he was particularly happy to see the senior class play such an important role in a game that meant the world to them.

Matson noted that the seniors also have taken the responsibility as their team's emotional leaders. Thanks in large part to their play on Saturday, they will get to handle that task for at least one more day.

"We really are a close team,'' Sacchetti said. "Everyone has had so much fun. One of the biggest things we focused on was how much we don't want this season to end. We just want to keep it going as long as we can.''

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