Great escape by the great lake: Gophers rally in Duluth for OT win
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Nate Condon's first goal of the season was the Gophers biggest so far. In overtime, Condon poked a centering pass between the pads of Minnesota Duluth goalie Kenny Reiter, lifting Minnesota to a 5-4 win in the WCHA opener for both teams.
It was improbable just to get to overtime, as the Bulldogs had taken a 4-3 lead with just two minutes to play in regulation. But with goalie Kent Patterson on the bench, Haula banked a puck off the skate of a Duluth defenseman and in to force overtime.
Anyone who expected the youthful Gophers to be intimidated entering the home of the defending national champs got an immediate correction, as Minnesota jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes on power play goals by Erik Haula and Kyle Rau. Facing Duluth's scary good offense, the Gophers played a well-executed puck control game early, forcing the home club to play more defense than they're used to.
The middle period looked more like an officiating clinic, as both teams formed a parade to and from the penalty box, and two players - Zach Budish of the Gophers and Luke McManus of the Bulldogs - were tossed due to controversial checking from behind penalties. When all of the dust had cleared, the score stood at 3-3.
After barely breaking a sweat last weekend, when the Gophers swept Sacred Heart and out-scored the Pioneers, who knew how they'd respond when facing true adversity. Being down by a goal late, on the road, was something they hadn't faced in a while.
"We haven't really dealt with that so far this year," Condon said afterward. "But I think that we've got a lot of good senior leadership on our team - (Taylor) Mattson, (Jake) Hansen and all those guys are really getting us going on the bench, so I don't think there was really any worry on our part that we were going to come back."
The same could be said for the Bulldogs, who seemed awfully poised despite falling into a 2-0 hole after 20 minutes, and rallied to tie the game in seemingly the blink of an eye in the second period.
After a mess of penalties, a few more goals, and the drama of the final two minutes, it came down to Mattson flipping a puck to the slot, where Condon was crashing to the net. The puck was bouncing, leaving only a baseball-style swat for Condon, which was enough to get the puck past Reiter for the win.
"I came off the bench and luckily no one saw me," said Condon. "Mattson threw the puck right to me, and speaking of getting lucky, I swung at it out of the air and it kinda went in."
Fans will remember the drama of the final seven minutes, but the true turning point came in the opening period, as the Gophers refused to be intimidated, controlled the puck, capitalized on power plays and built an important lead.
"I thought we came out and played very well in the first period," said Gophers coach Don Lucia. "We were able to dictate some things, the power play was sharp, so we were able to convert on that. We probably won the game because of our special teams."
• 40: Minutes in penalties handed out to both teams in the 20-minute second period.
• 50: Shots faced by Patterson.
• 3/15/2008: The last time the Bulldogs had a sub-.500 record.
• 10-3-1: Minnesota's record versus the defending national champions in the past decade.
"I like those games. It keeps me on my toes." - Kent Patterson.
The Gophers emerged healthy. The Bulldogs have not been so lucky, as senior forward Cody Danberg has been lost for at least half the season due to a shoulder injury suffered last weekend versus Notre Dame.
Gophers - Erik Haula 4 (Schmidt, Bjugstad), 4:55, PPG
Gophers - Kyle Rau 2 (Hansen, Condon), 11:32, PPG
Bulldogs - Caleb Herbert 1 (Crandall, Lamb), 5:12
Bulldogs - Travis Oleksuk 3 (Connolly, Kishel), 6:57, PPG
Gophers - Rau 3 (Haula, Schmidt), 10:59, PPG
Bulldogs - Drew Olson 1 (Herbert, Bergman), 16:58
Bulldogs - Justin Crandall 1 (Grun), 18:00
Gophers - Haula 5 (Bjugstad), 19:16
Gophers - Nate Condon 1 (Mattson), 4:04
Shots: Gophers 20-12-7-5-44; Bulldogs 16-16-15-3-50. Saves: Gophers, Kent Patterson (46-50); Bulldogs, Kenny Reiter (39-44). Power plays: Gophers 3-for-6, Bulldogs 1-5.
Minnesota will try to take an early lead in the WCHA standings with a sweep, while UMD will try to avoid falling two games under .500 in the series finale, 7 p.m. at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
"We have some guys that can play better tomorrow," Lucia said. "There's no doubt some guys were jittery."