A beat-the-clock goal. Huge momentum swings. A goalie seemingly standing on his head. Three-on-three overtime. And finally, a shootout. If you wanted a college men’s hockey game with twists and turns galore, 3M Arena at Mariucci was the place to be Saturday night when the Gophers took on Wisconsin in a Big Ten series finale.
In the end, the Gophers and the Badgers skated to a 3-3 tie officially after five minutes of five-on-five overtime. But Minnesota and Wisconsin needed five minutes of three-on-three OT, plus a shootout, to decide who would get the extra point in the Big Ten standings.
Max Zimmer grabbed it for the Badgers, beating Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine for the only goal in the three-round shootout.
“It was a great hockey game tonight,’’ said Gophers coach Bob Motzko, whose team secured four of six points this weekend after winning 4-1 on Friday.
“The end was as lively as I’ve seen this building in a long time.’’
His Wisconsin counterpart, Tony Granato, concurred. “Overtime was exciting, three-on-three was exciting, and it was a pretty fun night of college hockey.’’
LaFontaine certainly did his part, making 33 saves through regulation and five-on-five OT, then repeatedly saving the Gophers’ bacon by making four one-on-none breakaway stops in three-on-three OT.
The game’s early stages didn’t foretell such a frenetic finish, with Wisconsin (6-7-1, 1-4-1-1 Big Ten) grabbing a 1-0 lead on Ty Emberson’s goal at 18:31 of the first period. But when freshman Bryce Brodzinski scored his first career goal for the Gophers (5-6-3, 2-3-3-2) with less than a second left in the period to tie it, the building became alive.
Defenseman Jackson LaCombe fired a puck from the corner to the front of the net, and Brodzinski directed it between goalie Jack Berry’s legs just before time expired.
“That was the biggest momentum swing of the season,’’ Gophers forward Blake McLaughlin said. “… I was kind of joking with him in the locker room, ‘Hey, if you ever see Justin Holl, tell him you did a little better than him — 0.2 [seconds left] instead of 0.6.’’
Holl scored with 0.6 seconds left in the third period to give the Gophers a 2-1 victory over North Dakota in the 2014 NCAA Frozen Four semifinals.
Minnesota took that momentum and grabbed a 3-1 lead in the second period on goals by McLaughlin and Scott Reedy. And the crowd of 8,612 let out its biggest roar — at least until the three-on-three OT and the shootout — when it was announced that ESPN’s “College GameDay’’ was coming next Saturday for the Gophers-Badgers football showdown.
Wisconsin, however, made sure that this wouldn’t be a Gophers-only party. Tarek Baker made it 3-2 only 18 seconds into the third, and defenseman K’Andre Miller tied it 3-3 at 5:34.
Berry’s three saves in the first overtime kept the Badgers in the game, then LaFontaine grabbed the spotlight in the three-on-three session.
“He was awfully good all weekend,’’ Motzko said of the junior, who stopped 77 of 81 shots in the series.
The Gophers nearly won the shootout, but Ben Meyers hit a pipe on his attempt and Sampo Ranta rang one off the crossbar before Zimmer ended it.
“We took four [points] and they got two,’’ Motzko said. “We’ll take the weekend.’’