Myers: The Dutchmen beat the Gophers using a game plan they know well
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PHILADELPHIA - The Gophers were frustrated winners in their Frozen Four semifinal game versus North Dakota, knowing they had survived and advanced without playing their best hockey.
On Saturday night, they were determined that things would be different in the NCAA title game.
Well, things were definitely different.
They had allowed just four goals in their first three NCAA tournament games.
Union scored that many in the first 17 minutes on Saturday, to the delight of many of the 18.742 fans in attendance at the Wells Fargo Center, where the Dutchmen were clearly the de facto home team.
The Gophers saw Union throw the kind of high-octane, defensemen-led game that has worked to such success for the home team at Mariucci Arena coming at them. But the Gophers couldn't counter.In claiming their school's first NCAA team title in anything, Union took many of the things that have worked for Don Lucia for so long, and flipped them, beating the Gophers at their own game.
• Union shot the puck early, often and with accuracy. By the time the final horn sounded, they had 49 shots on goal - the last of which was stopped by Gophers backup Michael Shibrowski, after normally rock-solid starter Adam Wilcox was lifted. The Gophers had an 11-5 advantage in shots halfway through the first period. Union out-shot them 14-4 over the next 10 minutes, and scored three times in a brief span.
"Probably we lost in that three-minute segment in the first period when all of a sudden we started to chase and do somebody else's job," Lucia said. "That left guys open, and it's like 'why are we leaving our guy to go help out when they don't need the help?' I really believe that's just trying too hard."
• Union stayed out of the penalty box, while watching the Gophers make a virtual parade to the small place of shame. The good news was that the Gophers killed all seven of Union's power plays. The bad news was that the Gophers handed Union seven power plays - the first one coming just 19 seconds into the game.
"That hurt us because we have to use our top guys to kill, and that zaps them," Lucia said.
• Union attacked the blue paint in the crease around Wilcox, pounding away at loose pucks repeatedly until the red goal light flared. Giving up six goals, plus an empty-netter, looks on paper like a failure of goaltending, but Wilcox likely never had felt so alone, as there was often nary a Gophers defender to be found to clear space in front of the net.
"We hung our goalie out to dry," Gophers rookie Justin Kloos said. "He's been our best player all year and for us to put him through that was kind of disappointing."
• On the other hand, Union's defensemen were deadly good. Starting with Dutchmen junior Shayne Gostisbehere, the best college player ever produced by the youth hockey program in Margate, Fla. He was named the tournament's most outstanding player and recorded a goal and two assists on Saturday. Repeatedly he carried the play, attacking the Gophers, and forcing them into uncharacteristically problematic play.
"I'm not sure the mental part of our game matched the physical part," Lucia said. "We made a few mistakes tonight that we don't normally make."
• After taking early 1-0 and 2-1 leads, the Gophers found themselves down by two goals after 20 minutes, courtesy of an offensive explosion the likes of which they normally like to throw at opponents, not to have thrown at them. They got back within a goal twice, but could not get even. Just like the defensive struggles, the problems generating offense (although the Gophers had 40 shots on goal) came from mistakes, and over-efforting that was ultimately ineffective.
"We made mistakes that we haven't been making all year, and we didn't really pick a great time to do it," said Travis Boyd. "There's no excuse for it today, and there's no 'another game' where you can make up for it."
Lucia praised Union, and praised his team, saying this was a season that he wished could go on for another month. But after seeing their own brand of hockey used against them to such effect, it seemed the Gophers couldn't get out of Philadelphia quickly enough.