Minnesota reaches Frozen Four final

Minnesota's Justin Holl (right) celebrates his winning goal with teammate Seth Ambroz.
Minnesota's Justin Holl (right) celebrates his winning goal with teammate Seth Ambroz. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 12, 2014

The puck journeyed just to the left of one North Dakota defender, then another, then past the left leg pad of the goalie, inches inside the post - into Frozen Four history.

Replays showed Minnesota defenseman senior Justin Holl's game-winning shorthanded goal Thursday night - "a good bounce of the puck," as the losing coach put it - crossed the line with six-tenths of a second left, propelling the Golden Gophers into the NCAA title game Saturday night with a 2-1 win over North Dakota.

The play had started with a faceoff in the Minnesota end with nine seconds left, won by Kyle Rau. Before the puck had reached Holl, "it hit a couple of skates, it hit a couple of sticks, then it was in the back of the net,'' said North Dakota's Stephane Pattyn.

"Nothing but traffic; Zane couldn't see it,'' North Dakota's Dillon Simpson said after Holl had scored his first goal of the season.

North Dakota goalie Zane Gothberg, a Minnesota kid, from Thief River Falls, never moved, alone in his crease, as officials reviewed the replay. His right knee stayed on the ice, his stick up in the air. He stayed that way as the two teams faced off with six-tenths of a second left.

When it officially ended, teammates bent over, motionless, looking like chess pieces, while Gothberg stayed on one knee, and the Golden Gophers celebrated, moving on to face Union College Saturday.

"It's got to be the latest game-winning Frozen Four goal,'' an NCAA spokesman said, noting the clock used to be measured in seconds, not tenths of a second.

"Nine seconds left, we were just hoping we could get that nine seconds off and get to overtime,'' said Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox. When the puck hit the net, he described his reaction as "half celebration, half arms up, 'What's going on?' "

Then the replay confirmed it had beaten the clock.

"I haven't had a better feeling in my life,'' Wilcox said.

"Just get it on net,'' Holl said, still sounding kind of numb. "I honestly didn't know it had gone in for two seconds because there was a guy right in front of me. It's a pretty amazing feeling. It's surreal right now.''

If there was such a thing as momentum, UND (25-14-3) had it in the end, even before a holding penalty on Minnesota (28-6-6) gave North Dakota the power play for 1 minute and 39 seconds.

The tension had been at the highest levels throughout the third period. It wouldn't matter whether they'd played this one on a frozen Midwest pond or in an East Coast NHL arena. North Dakota and Minnesota count as blood rivals in college hockey, with rich NCAA traditions on each side of the shared border.

As scoreless minutes kept piling up, the place grew quieter. A goal for each school in a 32-second third-period span only made the place grow quieter.


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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