Tyler Nanne skated to different sections, pumping his arms up and down.
Jack LaFontaine clenched his fists and let out a shout.
Blake McLaughlin, so overcome with excitement, accidentally left the ice before the customary series-sweep stick salute at center ice and had to scamper back on to join late.
The Gophers couldn’t contain their feelings Sunday, after surmounting a bleak recent few weeks to advance in the Big Ten tournament with a 3-2 victory over Notre Dame in front of an announced crowd of 2,039 at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The No. 4 seed now moves on to visit top-seeded Penn State on Saturday night in a single-game semifinal.
“It’s been a long year for us. I mean, this is a great little chapter in what’s been an insane season, in my opinion,” LaFontaine said. “I’ve tried to keep my emotions under wraps, but it’s hard to stay under wraps after a game like that.”
The Gophers seemed to unleash waves of pent-up frustration vs. Notre Dame. Partly from the 1-0 loss Friday that put their season in jeopardy; partly from a five-game winless streak that ripped any control of their postseason fate from their hands; and partly from a season that started so poorly, any playoff victory seemed incomprehensible in the fall.
So it makes sense the players who made the difference Sunday were the ones bearing most of that weight.
“This was a game that [Brannon] McManus, [Scott] Reedy, [Sammy] Walker, [Ben] Meyers, we needed those guys to score in a game like this,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “… You needed your big guys to show up, and they did.”
All of the Gophers’ top six scorers tallied points Sunday. McManus, Walker and McLaughlin each recorded an assist while Reedy had two. Meyers scored two goals and Sampo Ranta the other.
After Notre Dame’s Alex Steeves scored first early in the second period, taking advantage of a two-man breakaway after the Gophers (16-14-7) turned the puck over on the attack, the home team’s offense burst with its own torrent.
Meyers scored his first power-play goal, flinging the puck into the top of the net after McLaughlin found him at the back post. Ranta only needed 48 more seconds — after a monthlong scoring drought — to put his team ahead of the Irish (15-15-7), releasing a top-circle shot from Reedy’s drop-back pass.
The Gophers then capitalized on a 5-on-3 power play, again from Meyers, after players huddled up before the faceoff and called the exact play.
Two third-period penalties did make it interesting, with one allowing Notre Dame’s Cam Morrison to shove the puck behind LaFontaine’s back, but the Gophers goalie ended with 23 saves, bringing his series total to 78.
Motzko is a big believer in fate — he is already checking to see if players can continue to wear the gold “Wooger” jerseys they are 4-0 in throughout the postseason. He said he knows upon waking up in the morning if it will be a good or bad day. At the team’s morning meeting Sunday, he could tell the mood was right.
“Our guys were ready to play at 11 a.m.,” Motzko said. “This was the team we had — we didn’t know where they went for the last few weeks. But we knew we were going to be good [Sunday].”
Meyers said there was just a good vibe following Saturday’s 2-1 victory. Now it’s just a matter of replicating Sunday’s response next weekend.
“We thought, ‘We can do that again,’ ” Meyers said. “And we did.”