The words came out in hushed tones and from disappointed voices Saturday night in a makeshift media room at 3M Arena at Mariucci, as Gophers players and coach Bob Motzko discussed their 4-3 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament championship game for the second consecutive year.
"We made some mistakes that cost us,'' junior defenseman and captain Brock Faber said.
"We've got to be better,'' senior defenseman Jackson LaCombe said.
"I'm tired of learning [this way],'' Motzko said, "but maybe that's going to be one we need.''
In a back-and-forth game between two of college hockey's blue bloods in front of a sellout crowd of 10,305, fourth-ranked Michigan beat the No. 1 Gophers by erasing a 3-2 third-period deficit on goals by Seamus Casey and Dylan Duke.
Brody Lamb, Logan Cooley and Rhett Pitlick scored for the Gophers, who got 27 saves from Justen Close. Rutger McGroarty scored the first two goals for Michigan, and Erik Portillo made 22 saves.
Both the Wolverines (24-11-3) and Gophers (26-9-1) will be No. 1 regional seeds when the NCAA announces its tournament field at 5:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPN. Minnesota secured the No. 1 overall NCAA seed Friday night when No. 2 Quinnipiac lost in the ECAC tournament semifinals. The Gophers almost certainly will be assigned to the Fargo Regional, which will be played Thursday and Saturday. The Gophers' opponent likely will be Canisius, which beat Holy Cross 3-0 in the Atlantic Hockey Association title game.
With the victory, Michigan moved up to No. 3 the PairWise Ratings, the formula that the NCAA uses to fill its 16-team tourney field. The Wolverines finished just ahead of Denver, which will be the No. 4 overall seed.
"We've been really good this year — both when they scored and when we scored to go up 4-3 — talking about a 'next shift' mentality, getting back and following up on it," Wolverines interim head coach Brandon Naurato said.
The Gophers took a 3-2 lead 1:57 into the third period on a spectacular play by Pitlick.
After taking a pass from Bryce Brodzinski, Pitlick skated down the ice with Michigan defenseman Steven Holtz right in front of him. Pitlick stickhandled back and forth, spinning Holtz to the point that he fell, and finishing the play by firing a shot past Portillo.
Then came Michigan's response.
The Wolverines tied it 3-3 at 5:29 on a shot from the point by Casey after a Gophers turnover. Motzko challenged for offsides, but the goal stood upon review. "They said he tagged up,'' Motzko said. "We just watched, and it looks like [the officials] got it right.''
Duke gave the Wolverines a 4-3 lead at 11:46 when the Gophers failed to clear the zone. Duke, falling in front of the crease, tucked the puck past a sprawling Close.
"It was a heavyweight tilt, and you can't make those kind of mistakes in the third period,'' Motzko said.
The Gophers took a 1-0 lead at 6:52 of the first when Cooley blocked a shot, started a breakaway and fed Lamb for the goal as the Mariucci crowd roared.
Michigan answered in the second period when McGroarty scored two goals 34 seconds apart for a 2-1 Wolverines lead.
The Gophers tied it 2-2 at 10:48 of the second when Cooley finished a two-on-none rush with Jimmy Snuggerud after a Matthew Knies takeaway.
After the game, Motzko took solace that the loss didn't end the Gophers' season:
"This is going to help us — not the loss; the loss stings – but playing an intense game.''
- Michigan forward Adam Fantilli was named the tournament's most outstanding player. Joining him on the all-tournament team were McGroarty and Cooley at forward, Casey and Hughes on defense, and Close in goal.