PHILADELPHIA — With nine seconds left in the third period of a 1-1 game and North Dakota on a power play, Minnesota was just hoping to win a defensive zone face-off and get the game to overtime. They did that and more as Justin Holl scored a dramatic shorthanded goal with 0.6 seconds remaining to send the Golden Gophers to Saturday’s national title game against Union.
An early season move by Minnesota head coach Don Lucia to move Kyle Rau from the wing to center paid off in the penultimate game of their season. Rau won that defensive zone face-off and an instinctive pinch by Holl, knowing time was running out, helped put the wheels in motion for the game winner.
“Most of us were just focusing on killing the penalty and getting to overtime,” said Holl afterward. “It just developed where there were five seconds left, and I figured might as well jump in, and it went in.”
A year ago, Minnesota saw their season come to an end against Yale in the West Regional Semifinal after an overtime goal nine seconds in. “That's the thing about this time of year,” said Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox. “Things like that can happen. You have to take care of your chances when you get them and be really good defensively.”
Lucia spoke earlier in the week about how important Wilcox, a finalist for the inaugural Mike Richter Award for the nation’s top goaltender, has been for his side this season. He’s had a penchant for coming up big in third periods and Thursday’s game against North Dakota was no different. He made four big ones in the two minutes leading up to Holl’s winner.
Saturday night’s title game versus Union will be Minnesota’s fourth under Lucia, who won back-to-back national championships in 2002 and 2003. He’s seen the ups and downs that come with coaching and that the bounces that sometimes go against you always have a way of going in your favor eventually.
“It's hard this time of year,” said Lucia. “As devastating as it was for our team last year to lose nine seconds into overtime, here you have the elation.
“Probably for me it was more relief than joy, but I'm happy for our kids that they found a way to win the game tonight.”
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