Watching a veteran do it makes it look possible to the freshmen.
Senior co-captain Nate Condon scored the Gophers’ first goal of the NCAA tournament, and within minutes the rookies were following his example in a 7-3 rout of Robert Morris on Saturday evening at Xcel Energy Center.
Freshmen Michael Brodzinski, Justin Kloos and Hudson Fasching were inspired by goals by co-captains Condon and Kyle Rau, leading to a night of contribution from young and old to open the West Regional. The seven goals and 50 shots on goal were a season high for the Gophers.
“After seeing Nate Condon work hard and get that first goal, it really boosted our team, and everybody just started contributing,” Brodzinski said after leading the freshmen with a goal and assist.
The Gophers are now one victory from the Frozen Four, but they will have to beat rival St. Cloud State to get there. The teams have never met in the NCAA tournament.
Condon scored a second goal late in the game, shorthanded, for his 100th career point. It was only the third time all season the co-captains have scored goals on the same night.
The only signs of another first-round letdown were flashbacks on the Jumbotron during the pregame ceremonies. A montage from last year’s NCAA tournament recapped Yale’s run to a national title, including its upset over the Gophers.
Robert Morris did its best to follow Yale’s example but fell into too big of a hole. The Colonials trailed 4-0 before getting any offense going. Two of the nation’s top scorers, Cody Wydo and Zac Lynch, fed one another for back-to-back goals late in the second period to cut the Gophers’ lead to 4-2. But the Gophers pulled away late behind Condon’s shorthanded open-net goal and Reilly’s goal.
“Any time our upperclassmen get going and get a jump like that it’s just going to help us overall,” Condon said. “The best part of the whole thing is we got everyone to contribute. Any time you can get every guy into the tournament like that and get them a little foundation, it’s just going to make your team more successful when you need a push from someone.”
Despite the Gophers’ hot start, the opening minutes appeared to favor Robert Morris. The Colonials built an edge on shots on goal and found themselves with a short five-on-three advantage.
Goaltender Adam Wilcox’s most important save of the night might have been on that penalty kill. The Gophers survived the combined 3 minutes, 39 seconds of being shorthanded and eventually scored the game’s first goal late in the first period. The Gophers have yet to lose this season when scoring first.
Wilcox made 22 saves, while Robert Morris freshman goaltender Dalton Izyk finished with 43.
It took only 83 seconds for Seth Ambroz to show how he felt about comments made by Robert Morris forward Colin South that the Atlantic Hockey Conference plays a more physical game than the rest of college hockey. Ambroz entangled himself with three Robert Morris players and was called for roughing.
The Gophers never looked physically outmatched after Ambroz’s statement.
“I was trying to set a presence right away and be as physical as possible,” Ambroz said. “In the playoffs you have to be physical, whether you’re a skill team or not, and I think that’s one thing our team did pretty well tonight.”