Gophers' season ends surprisingly, abruptly
MAR 29, 2013 4:30p ET
That's all it took for the Gophers men's hockey team to lose all momentum it had gained and for Minnesota's season to end in overtime. After rallying from a two-goal deficit to force OT, the Gophers gave up the game-winning goal to Yale just nine seconds into the extra session.
As Jesse Root flipped a shot past Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox, the Gophers' once-promising season — one that included realistic expectations of perhaps another national championship — was over. The fourth-seeded Bulldogs pulled off the upset over top-seeded Minnesota with a 3-2 win in Friday's NCAA regional semifinal at Grand Rapids, Mich.
Heading into the overtime, it appeared coach Don Lucia's Gophers had all the momentum in the world after scoring twice in the third period to even the score at 2-2. Defenseman Nate Schmidt snapped a team scoreless drought that had stretched nearly 110 minutes by tallying a power-play goal in the third period. Four and a half minutes later, captain Zach Budish deflected in the equalizer with 6:20 remaining in the third period. At that point, that 2-0 deficit seemed like a thing of the far-distant past.
One turnover behind the goal was all it took for the Gophers' season to disappear, as Minnesota (26-9-5) gave the puck away to Yale's Kenny Agostino early in overtime. The Bulldogs' leading scorer found Root cutting to the net, and Root buried the game winner to complete the upset.
So ends Minnesota's season, which was filled with plenty of highs and few lows — the lowest of course being Friday's loss to underdog Yale (19-12-3). Minnesota was the top-ranked team in college hockey for a good portion of the season and had plenty of offensive weapons that made for a deep roster.
The Gophers also saw the emergence of goaltender Adam Wilcox, a freshman who entered the year fighting for a spot but quickly established himself as the every-game goalie. Though his goals-against average was seventh best in the nation, he allowed three goals Friday on 26 Yale shots in the 3-2 loss. Still, the season he had should have Minnesota fans optimistic for the years to come.
Now is the time of year when the speculation begins about which players may leave early for the NHL. Forward Nick Bjugstad, a Florida Panthers draft pick, made the choice to come back for his junior season and went on to lead the Gophers in goals this year with 21. His future in Minnesota is certainly in question, as are the futures of players such as Erik Haula, Zach Budish and Nate Schmidt. Haula and Budish are draft picks of the Minnesota Wild and Nashvile Predators, respectively.
Schmidt remains an NHL free agent but had an impressive junior season, scoring eight goals and adding 16 assists as he finished fifth in the nation in points per game for a defenseman (0.80). According to the Minnesota Daily, Budish said after Friday's game that he plans to come back, while Haula and Schmidt avoided the question. Granted, it's tough to expect them to answer just minutes after what was a devastating loss.
Minnesota's championship drought will continue for another year. The Gophers haven't won an NCAA title since 2003. Many people picked Minnesota to get back to the championship this year, given the amount of talent returning from last year's team. But in a one-and-done format that is the NCAA tournament, even the best teams can't afford to take a period off. Minnesota was off its game for two periods Friday, and a late comeback simply wasn't enough.
In the blink of an eye, everything came crashing down for the Gophers. To borrow a term from another sport's tournament, Yale put the madness in March Madness.
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