FARGO — For the better part of two periods Thursday night, a palpable energy hung around Scheels Arena for the NCAA men's hockey Fargo Regional semifinal between the Gophers and Canisius.
This isn't gonna be Holy Cross again, is it?
Seventeen years earlier and 80 miles up Interstate 29 in Grand Forks, the Gophers, the No. 2 overall tournament seed, fell to Holy Cross in overtime in one of the biggest upsets in college hockey history.
Thursday, Aaron Huglen and Connor Kurth made sure history didn't repeat, and the Gophers – especially Bryce Brodzinski — emphatically poured it on in the third period.
Huglen tied the score, and Kurth put Minnesota ahead for good late in the second period as the Gophers, this time the No. 1 overall NCAA seed, defeated the Golden Griffins 9-2 in front of a sellout crowd of 5,061. Minnesota scored two power-play goals early in the third on a major penalty by No. 16 seed Canisius. And Brodzinski had a third-period hat trick as the Gophers scored six goals in the final period.
"That's gotta be the closest 9-2 game I've ever seen,'' Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. "… We stuck to our game plan and kept getting pucks deep. We had to grind tonight.''
The Gophers could exhale because they advanced to Saturday's 5:30 p.m. regional final against St. Cloud State, a 4-0 semifinal winner over Minnesota State Mankato. The Gophers and Huskies, who split a series in January, will play for a trip to the Frozen Four on April 6 and 8 in Tampa, Fla.
Kurth and Brody Lamb each had a goal and an assist, and Logan Cooley had three assists for the Gophers (27-9-1). Luke Mittelstadt, Jimmy Snuggerud and Mason Nevers also scored for Minnesota, while Justen Close made 19 saves.
Canisius, and goalie Jacob Barczewski, made sure the Gophers had to work for the win. The Golden Griffins (20-19-3) took a 2-1 lead 3:23 into the second period on Nick Bowman's goal, and Barczewski (26 saves) kept his team in the game for two periods.
The Gophers cashed in a power play at 6:08 of the first when Mittelstadt's shot from just outside the goal line in the left corner caromed in off Barczewski's stake.
The Gophers took a penalty at 6:36 when Kurth was called for hooking. Minnesota killed the penalty, but the Golden Griffins scored five seconds after it expired when Daniel DiGrande beat Close at 8:41.
In the second period, Canisius came out strong and the Gophers came out turnover-prone. The Golden Griffins pinned Minnesota in its end for an extended period, and Bowman scored at 3:23 for a 2-1 lead.
"They brought that 'they have nothing to lose' factor to the game,'' Brodzinski said. "… They kept us on our heels for a while.''
Huglen tied it 2-2 at 8:15 of the second when he took a pass from Lamb and wired a shot past Barczewski.
"It's really fun to be back in Fargo. I love it here,'' said Huglen, who played for the USHL's Fargo Force.
The Gophers took a 3-2 lead at 18:04 of the second when defenseman Mike Koster — who had been slapping his stick on the ice, calling for the puck — fed Kurth, who beat Barczewski.
Minnesota went on a five-minute power play 27 seconds into the third period when Canisius' Stefano Bottini hit Jackson LaCombe in the head, drawing a major and a game misconduct.
The Gophers made Canisius pay. Snuggerud scored at 1:10 for a 4-2 lead, and Lamb followed at 2:35.
Brodzinski nearly made it 6-2, but a video review determined his bar-down shot did not completely cross the goal line. He would get a goal that counted for that 6-2 lead and add two more.