The Gophers men's hockey team will not call Saturday night's game against Harvard a moral victory. What the team will make of its performance following a back-and-forth entertaining game, however, remains up for debate other than one thing:
The Gophers were upset with the final result.
Having an opportunity to beat a top-10 opponent and take home the trophy in its home tournament for the first time since 2012, the Gophers scored two third-period goals to take the lead. But that lead did not hold up. Crimson co-captain Kyle Criscoulo scored twice, the second goal coming 2 minutes, 39 seconds into overtime, to hand the Gophers a 4-3 overtime loss in the championship game of the Mariucci Classic.
"We went toe to toe, which is what I expected," said Gophers coach Don Lucia, who added that he was disappointed with the result but happy for his team. "We did enough. There are still areas of our game that we need to improve upon."
Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen, who entered Saturday leading the nation in save percentage, made 26 saves.
"He was good, obviously. We scored three goals and that is probably around our average so far, but [Madsen was] a really good goalie," Gophers forward Leon Bristedt said. "With a little luck we could have a couple more, I missed an open net, we had a couple good chances, but we have to give him credit."
Madsen couldn't protect the Crimson's 2-0 lead, though, one built when Sean Malone scored just 2:04 into the game and Colin Blackwell added his second goal of the season during the second period. The Gophers (8-9) eventually responded when Michael Brodzinski's wrist shot flew past Madsen with 19 seconds left in the second.
Bristedt tied the score by poking the puck between Madsen's legs with 5:59 remaining in regulation. Gophers sophomore defenseman Steve Johnson then picked a good time for his first career goal 28 seconds later, much to the roaring approval of the announced crowd of 9,726 at Mariucci Arena.
The Crimson (8-1-3) eventually pulled Madsen, and with the extra attacker on the ice, Jimmy Vesey found Criscoulo in front of the net for the tying goal with 33.9 seconds left in regulation. Those two connected again in overtime: Criscoulo headed to the net and was betting on Gophers goalie Eric Schierhorn to expect Vesey to shoot. Instead, Criscoulo did, sending the Crimson players jumping off the bench in celebration.
"That top line is really good. Vesey made the plays down the stretch … you would expect guys like that to make the plays," Lucia said. "Obviously, we're disappointed because we didn't get the win."
Schierhorn finished with a career-high 35 saves for the Gophers, who were proud to come back but disappointed they couldn't hold on. Bristedt said he believed the Gophers can be a team that is up near the best with more consistency. Lucia took away the weekend as a glass half-full for the Gophers, who beat Connecticut 3-2 Friday night.
"We've learned a lot this weekend. Obviously we have a younger team, but there's no more excuses now that it's the second half of the year. There's no such thing as freshmen anymore," Johnson said. "We're there. We really are. We've gotten a lot better and we've developed a lot of players."
Ferris State 5, Connecticut 2: Senior center Kenny Babinski scored two goals, including one 87 seconds in, and the Bulldogs (9-9-4) scored the first four goals in beating the Huskies (5-12-1) in the Mariucci Classic consolation game.