Minnesota blows two-goal lead to set up early NCAA exit
Manchester, NH – Despite a successful regular season and a great start to their opening-round NCAA tournament game, the Minnesota Gophers (23-12-3) let it slip through their collective fingers on Saturday, blowing a two-goal lead to the fourth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish (22-11-5) to end their season.
The Gophers got on the board early, with Connor Reilly scoring his first of the season just 2:07 into the period. Minnesota dominated the period from there, controlling the play and generating plenty of shots and scoring chances. They were not able to get any more goals, though, and had to settle for a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Minnesota started the second with a powerplay and scored early on a great team effort, as Vinni Lettieri buried a Taylor Cammarata weak-side pass to put the Gophers up 2-0 at 0:30 of the period. The Gophers continued to dominate the period, and their good players like Justin Kloos had quality scoring chances, but they could not sneak another puck past Notre Dame’s Cal Peterson.
The game changed entirely on a bad line-change late in the second for the Gophers. ND’s Peterson fired a pass up the ice and caught the Gophers changing, and ND’s Andrew Oglevie beat Eric Schierhorn high-glove on a two-on-one. Less than a minute later, bad defensive zone coverage resulted in a Anders Bjork goal to tie it at 2-2.
The Gophers drew a powerplay to end the second, but couldn’t get anything going early in the third, as the team looked tired and slow. Notre Dame had the jump in the third, and capitalized on their only powerplay of the third as Anders Bjork put ND up 3-2 at the halfway mark of the 3rd.
Minnesota drew another powerplay chance at 10:08 of the third, but weren’t able to muster much of an offense. As time wound down the Gophers got a few solid chances, and they pulled Schierhorn with just over a minute left to try and tie it, but a season of brilliant comebacks fell one-goal short, and as the clock hit triple-zeroes it was Notre Dame celebrating a 3-2 victory and a chance to advance to the Frozen Four.
The loss is the Gophers’ second first-round exit in the last three seasons, with the team failing to make the NCAA tournament last year and falling in a lackluster effort against UMD the year before. It also marks the last career game of a senior class that included Justin Kloos, Jake Bischoff, Vinni Lettieri, Taylor Cammarata, Connor Reilly and Mitch Rogge. While they advanced to the NCAA championship game in their freshman season, won four-consecutive Big Ten championships, and were all great program players, it’s hard to say looking back on it that their teams did anything other than underachieve on the big stage.
The Gophers look ahead to next year, and when a program with expectations as high as Minnesota loses earlier than they maybe should have questions will always start to surface about their coaching situation. It will be interesting to see if Don Lucia is back behind the bench next season for the Gophers, or if new AD Mark Coyle will want to look another direction for the seemingly underachieving squad.
2017-2018 looks bright for Minnesota, with Eden Prairie phenom and likely top-10 NHL draft pick Casey Mittlestadt coming in as a freshman next year. Hopefully the Gophers can reverse the trend of early NCAA exits and make a deep run next season.
As always, go Gophers!