Minnesota edges State 3-2 in double OT to advance to Final Five

The Gophers nipped Mankato in the third overtime game in as many days.

by Brian Deutsch

It seems fitting that the most important game of the Minnesota men’s hockey team’s season would come down to overtime.

That was just the case Sunday night as the sophomore forward Tony Lucia punched a rebound past Minnesota State netminder Mike Zacharias to break a 2-2 tie nearly 17 minutes into the game’s second overtime period.

“I’ve never scored a bigger goal in my life,” Lucia said. “Our season was riding on it, that’s for sure.”

After dropping a heart-breaking 1-0 double overtime loss Friday night only to come back and take game two with a 2-1 overtime win Saturday, Sunday’s victory clinched the best-of-three series for Minnesota and sends the Gophers onward to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five next weekend.

Minnesota (17-15-9) will take on St. Cloud State in this Thursday’s play-in game to open up the tournament.

“There’s no loser this weekend,” coach Don Lucia said. “My heart goes out to Minnesota State for how well they played.”

Sophomore forward Jay Barriball and freshman forward Patrick White both tallied goals in regulation to erase an early 1-0 Mavericks lead and then jump ahead 2-1.

But Minnesota State forward Kael Mouillierat sent the game into overtime when he scored a goal at the 16:59 mark of the third period.

Only one other WCHA playoff series has featured all three games going into overtime ñ a dual that saw Minnesota-Duluth best North Dakota in the first round of playoffs for the 1991-1992 season. Two of those games went into a third overtime period ñ but all three had many more goals.

This weekend’s series didn’t have many goals ñ only nine spread out over the equivalent of about 13 complete periods ñ thanks largely to goaltending on both sides.

Freshman goalie Alex Kangas showed veteran like ability over the weekend allowing just four goals in the series and making 44-of-46 saves in Sunday’s rubber match.

Kangas, who has made 27 appearances in his first season at Minnesota including all 15 of the team’s overtime contests, was the biggest factor in the Gophers stealing their first two overtime wins of the year.

“The goaltending was as good as I’ve seen,” Don Lucia said. “I’ve been coaching a long time and I’ve never been a part of a weekend like this. I guess when you coach long enough, you get to see a little bit of everything.”

Zacharias matched the freshman all weekend and for the third contest in a row, the game came down to goaltending battle with the sophomore making 47 saves of his own.

“I’ve found myself in a zone the past couple weeks and just playing consistent is what I’ve been aiming for,” Kangas said. “When you have Zacharias at the other end matching me save for save, it just pushes you that much more.”