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17-year-old freshman leads Boston U. past Gophers for Frozen Four ticket

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The Gophers entered Saturday's NCAA Sioux Falls Regional final against Boston University with a couple things squarely in their favor: a largely pro-Minnesota crowd at the Denny Sanford Premier Center and red-hot senior center Jaxon Nelson.

After scoring the tying and winning goals two nights earlier against Nebraska Omaha, Nelson was back, close to his hometown of Magnolia, Minn., playing on his 24th birthday.

Boston University countered with two difference-makers in All-America defenseman Lane Hutson and freshman sensation Macklin Celebrini, the likely No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NHL draft.

Turns out, there was no storybook ending for the Gophers, who couldn't complete their goal of returning to the Frozen Four for a third consecutive year, this time in St. Paul. Instead, the Terriers will be Xcel Energy Center-bound after their 6-3 victory keyed by Celebrini and Hutson.

"Kind of simple," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. "We had a great first period. We made a mistake in the last minute of the period, lost a little momentum there. . . . We had a couple critical [second period] mistakes against a really talented team, and that was it."

Celebrini, who was named the regional's most outstanding player, set up two goals in the first 5:25 of the second period, as the Terriers took a 3-2 lead after trailing 2-0 in the first period. Then Hutson scored to put Boston U. up 4-3 with 4:24 left in the second, a lead the Terriers would not relinquish, as they added two empty-net goals.

Nelson and Bryce Brodzinski scored first-period goals to put the Gophers up 2-0, and Aaron Huglen tied it 3-3 midway through the second period. Justen Close made 32 saves.

"It was set up to be a classic game," Motzko said, "and we just couldn't — couple mistakes that a couple of their players capitalized on, and we just couldn't get it tied up."

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BOXSCORE: Boston University 6, Gophers 3

The Terriers (28-9-2) will face Denver — which beat Cornell 2-1 in the Providence Regional final — in the Frozen Four semifinals April 11. The other two Frozen Four qualifiers will be determined Sunday, when Boston College plays Quinnipiac and Michigan State faces Michigan.

The Gophers finished 23-11-5, falling short after losing 3-2 in overtime to Quinnipiac in last year's NCAA championship game. To reach that championship game, the Gophers first had to play Boston U. in the Frozen Four semis and won that one 6-2.

The Terriers came out strong this time, but Close made some big saves, and Brodzinski fed Nelson, who beat goalie Mathieu Caron on a shot from the right circle.

Boston U. had a 14-4 edge in shots later in the first period, but the Gophers punched back, taking a 2-0 lead on Brodzinski's goal off a feed from Rhett Pitlick.

The Terriers got back in the game at 18:01, when Quinn Hutson chipped in puck that Close couldn't handle cleanly.

"It was good to get up early. We had to stick with it," Gophers forward Brody Lamb said. "Obviously that goal late [in the first period] kind of cut the momentum a little bit."

The Terriers quickly tied it 2-2 in the second on a spectacular play by Celebrini. The 17-year-old got the puck at the Gophers blue line, stickhandled through a Minnesota defender, drove to the right and then spun around to send a pass to Shane Lachance, who beat Close at 1:17.

Celebrini's work in the Minnesota zone set up the go-ahead goal for the Terriers. His strong forecheck knocked the puck loose, and he collected it behind the net, feeding Jack Harvey for a quick shot that beat Close for a 3-2 lead at 5:25.

After Huglen's goal tied it midway through the second, Nelson had a breakaway, but Caron made a stick save. Hutson's goal put Boston U. back in front, and the Terriers spent the third period frustrating the Gophers.

"They must have blocked 20 shots in the third period," Motzko said.

With 13:23 remaining in the game, Nelson led a two-on-one break and fed Brodzinski for a one-timer, but the senior from Blaine couldn't get off a good shot. Afterward, Gophers sophomore Luke Mittelstadt was asked about the senior line of Nelson, Brodzinski and Mason Nevers.

"I mean, those guys," Mittelstadt said, smiling, before fighting back tears. "I mean, they work. They're all good guys. I'm going to miss them like hell."