Line shakeup a grand success

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2012 - 12:39 AM

Travis Boyd joined the Gophers' struggling third line, which scored three goals vs. North Dakota.

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The Gophers’ Nate Condon jumped in the air after beating North Dakota goalie Aaron Dell in the third period, his first goal in 11 games. Condon’s third line scored Minnesota’s final three goals.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Heading into Sunday's NCAA West Regional final, Nate Condon didn't have to look at a stat sheet to know his line needed to end its long dry spell. The Gophers sophomore hadn't scored a goal in 11 games. Linemate Taylor Matson hadn't hit the net since Jan. 7, a span of 18 games, and new addition Travis Boyd had gone through his first 33 games as a Gopher without a single goal.

That wasn't going to cut it in Sunday's grudge match against North Dakota. With a trip to the Frozen Four at stake, the Gophers' third line found its touch, providing three goals in a 5-2 victory. Each of them finished with one goal and one assist, clicking just as well as coach Don Lucia had hoped.

Lucia knew that in the NCAA tournament the Gophers would need scoring from sources other than the usual big guns. Last week in practice, he moved freshman center Boyd up from the fourth line to join longtime third-liners Condon and Matson. They scored the Gophers' final three goals Sunday, with Matson getting the game-winner, Boyd celebrating the first of his career and Condon finishing off a breakaway in grand style.

"We thought we had to do something to jump-start it," Lucia said. "Nate and Taylor hadn't scored in a while, and we knew we had to get more scoring. We toyed with it the week before, and after last weekend we thought, 'Let's try it.'

"We've been at our best when we get contributions from throughout the lineup. We had a couple of lines that hadn't been contributing a lot the last couple of months, and the difference in our team was that [Sunday] they did."

Matson had been centering the third line for much of the season, with Condon almost always on his left wing and Seth Ambroz usually on his right. Boyd had played 33 games, typically centering the fourth line. Matson and Condon had a total of 17 goals and 32 assists this season, and Boyd had only seven assists.

Last season, Matson -- a senior and the Gophers' captain -- had played on the wing. After mulling his options, Lucia decided to move him back to that position. While he was a little worried about Boyd's defense, he saw the freshman make big strides recently and had confidence he could handle the move.

The trio worked together in all of last week's practices, and Matson instantly sensed a strong chemistry. So did Boyd, who was delighted to have two swift wingers to receive his passes.

"Going into the game, we knew we had to provide offense," he said. "North Dakota's first two lines are very good offensively, and our third line was a matchup we felt we could win."

Their timing could not have been better. After the Sioux pulled within 2-1 early in the second period, Matson knocked in a rebound at 9 minutes, 8 seconds to restore the two-goal lead. Boyd made it 4-1 on a beautifully executed deflection of Condon's shot from the right point, and Condon scored the fifth when he flashed down the right side and snapped a shot past Sioux goalie Aaron Dell.

"Our line had to crack our streak of not scoring," Condon said. "I can't say I expected three goals. But it looks like we found a good match."

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