Gophers dump North Dakota to reach Frozen Four

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2012 - 11:17 AM

A WCHA Final Five defeat became moot when Minnesota rolled over the Fighting Sioux and on to the Frozen Four.

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In a season of peaks and valleys -- coach Don Lucia's description -- the Gophers climbed to the summit Sunday.

The Gophers earned their 20th trip to the Frozen Four by beating North Dakota 5-2 at Xcel Energy Center in the championship game of the West Regional.

Five different players scored for the Gophers, 11 had at least one point and goalie Kent Patterson, the regional's Most Outstanding Player, stopped 24 shots. An announced crowd of 10,974 -- split pretty evenly between the two WCHA rivals -- watched them battle a sixth time this season.

This encounter was a decisive knockout for the Gophers.

"We knew it would have to be a great effort to beat them," Lucia said, "and that is what it was tonight."

Taylor Matson, the Gophers' senior captain, scored the game-winner on a rebound midway through the second period. It gave the Gophers a 3-1 cushion. A little over five minutes later, freshman Travis Boyd made the margin three goals on his first goal of the season.

The Gophers (28-13-1) will play Boston College on April 5 in the second semifinal of the Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla. In a matchup of the two most recent national champions, the Eagles defeated Minnesota Duluth 4-0 Sunday in the Northeast Regional final in Worcester, Mass.

Boston College is the top seed in the NCAA tournament this year and won the title two years ago. The Gophers, seeded eighth, are making their fourth trip to the Frozen Four in Lucia's 13 seasons at Minnesota. The Gophers won back-to-back national titles in 2002 and '03 and last appeared in the national semifinals in 2005.

"[This] means an awful lot," Gophers center Erik Haula said. "It was one of the goals at the start of the season.

"One was to win the MacNaughton Cup, one was to win the Final Five, which we didn't get, and to get to the Frozen Four is a great accomplishment. But as a team we are not satisfied with that. We want to keep playing good hockey and keep going all the way."

North Dakota (26-13-3) was the team that ended the Gophers' chance at a title in the WCHA tournament, rallying from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Gophers 6-3 in the semifinals.

Haula called that loss embarrassing. Teammate Nick Bjugstad said the team choked. Lucia called it an aberration, one that became too big of a story.

Sunday the Gophers got revenge, ending the Fighting Sioux's eight-game winning streak and their season.

"Once we got it back to 2-1," said UND coach Dave Hakstol, "we made a mistake to allow it to go 3-1 without forcing Minnesota to make a great play, and that really turned the tide against us."

Except for one huge play by North Dakota's Danny Kristo, the Gophers dominated the middle period, outshooting the Sioux 12-2 and scoring quickly.

Haula's 20th goal of the season came on a Gophers power play at 20 seconds -- the hockey gods like symmetry sometimes -- and made it 2-0. Haula somehow was uncovered near the net, and Bjugstad, in the left corner, spotted him.

Kristo answered 1:23 later on a shot from the slot to cut the Gophers' lead to 2-1, but Patterson didn't see another shot that period until the closing seconds.

Boyd, a freshman who had not scored in 33 games this season, made it 4-1 about five minutes later. He tipped Nate Condon's shot past North Dakota goalie Aaron Dell.

Each team scored once in the third period. By then, Lucia said he was pretty relaxed.

"We had been playing great third periods all year long," Lucia said, "and that is what I had been telling people all week long."

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