Gophers stake a claim at first North Star Cup

Minnesota beat Duluth in a penalty shootout to close the inaugural cup.

Minneota goalie Adam Wilcox attempts to block an incoming puck during their first game of the North Star College Cup against St. Cloud State on Friday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minneota goalie Adam Wilcox attempts to block an incoming puck during their first game of the North Star College Cup against St. Cloud State on Friday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Megan Ryan

As expected, the No. 1 Gophers men’s hockey team asserted itself as the best program in the state Saturday.

Minnesota won the inaugural North Star College Cup on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center after a 4-4 tie and 2-0 shootout victory against Minnesota-Duluth. The Gophers beat St. Cloud State 4-1 on Friday to reach the championship game.

Minnesota sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox earned tournament MVP honors after he recorded a career-high 38 saves in both games and won his first shootout after three failed attempts earlier this season.

“This was kind of one of our only chances to really win that in-state championship,” Wilcox said. “And even if it came in a shootout, we got the trophy for a year, so I know the guys are excited about that.”

The Bulldogs dismantled the Gophers 6-2 at Mariucci Arena in November, and Minnesota used that as fuel for its last nonconference matchup of the season.

“They kind of, unfortunately, ran us out of our own building,” junior forward Travis Boyd said of the four-goal loss.

While the Gophers didn’t quite run the Bulldogs out of the Xcel Energy Center, they did manage to take the new wooden trophy from the North Star College Cup.

The tit-for-tat game started halfway through the first period when Minnesota junior forward and captain Kyle Rau put away an unassisted goal to give his team the lead. Less than 20 seconds later, the Bulldogs’ Caleb Herbert scored his own unassisted goal to tie it up at 1-1.

Another 20 seconds later, Austin Farley gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the game.

That lead held until senior forward Nate Condon knotted the score up again with a power-play goal four minutes later.

While the second period was quiet aside from junior defenseman Ben Marshall’s ejection for contact to the head, the third period more than made up for it.

The Gophers’ traditionally inconsistent special teams play showed just how much it had come alive this weekend in the period, ignited by freshman forward Hudson Fasching’s power-play goal about a minute into the third.

The Bulldogs responded again less than three minutes later with a power-play goal of their own from Farley.

The Gophers seemed to have sealed the game when Boyd scored on the power play in the third, but Joe Basaraba forced overtime with about two minutes to play.

After a scoreless five minutes, Wilcox blocked the Bulldogs’ first two shootout tries. Rau and junior forward Seth Ambroz sank theirs to win the cup.

“It’s one of the better tournaments I’ve been a part of,” Ambroz said. “It was a great experience, obviously, being the first one to come out on top.”

Minnesota reached Saturday’s game with a win over No. 5 St. Cloud State on Friday. Boyd started the Gophers’ scoring with a power-play goal in the ninth minute.

Jonny Brodzinski, brother of the Gophers’ Michael Brodzinski, leveled the score about 11 minutes into the second period.

That was the Huskies’ only goal of the night, though.

Minnesota got power-play goals from Condon and Fasching in the second period, and Ambroz sunk another of his patented empty-netters with 30 seconds left.

The inaugural North Star College Cup attracted announced crowds of more than 14,000 for each of the Gophers’ games and provided valuable ice time at the Xcel Center, which will host the Big Ten tournament and NCAA West Regional later this season.

Gophers head coach Don Lucia said he felt the North Star College Cup accomplished what it set out to do.

“I think you saw that the in-state pride was there, which was good,” he said. “I do think it’s a bit different when you’re not playing for points, but all in all, it was a good, entertaining weekend of college hockey.”