Gophers lose first game in Big Ten finale, still earn top seed for NCAA Tournament

Minnesota set a new record for NCAA Tournament bids Sunday at 37.

Goaltender Eric Schierhorn watches forward Leon Bristedt reach to block a pass against Wisconsin on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 at Mariucci Arena.

Carter Jones

Goaltender Eric Schierhorn watches forward Leon Bristedt reach to block a pass against Wisconsin on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 at Mariucci Arena.

by Drew Cove

Minnesota fell out of the Big Ten Tournament in its first game Friday, but the Gophers still finished the weekend on top.

While the team didn’t win, the Gophers were selected as a one-seed for the NCAA Tournament Sunday and will play No. 10 seed Notre Dame in Manchester, New Hampshire on Saturday.

The rollercoaster weekend for Minnesota started Friday when the team played the longest game in Big Ten Tournament history with Penn State.

The Gophers looked poised to hold off the Nittany Lions offense in the second overtime period, but the lone penalty in extra minutes on Minnesota proved fatal.

A turnover along the boards put the Nittany Lions defenseman Erik Autio open in front of the Minnesota net and he broke the 3-3 tie 93:33 into the conference game, sending Penn State to its first Big Ten Tournament title game.

Minnesota’s key to the extended game was its goaltender — Eric Schierhorn.

In one of the strongest performances in his two years with the Gophers, the sophomore goalie faced 63 shots and saved 59 of them, a career-high for saves in a game.

“The goalies played [well],” head coach Don Lucia told the media Friday. “I was very happy [with] the way Eric played. [He’s] played well the second half of the season.”

Facing a total of 20 shots in the two overtime periods, and 43 in the first three frames, Schierhorn kept Minnesota in the game to prolong the Gopher’s hopes.

Schierhorn has kept pace with his statistics from his freshman season and improved his save percentage to .908 and his goals against average to 2.60 this season.

Minnesota was outshot 63-40, but managed to keep pace with a strong Penn State offense that was able to find its way through the Gophers’ defense.

Minnesota led once in the game at the end of the first period, but Penn State took control from there and led 3-2 in the third period.

One of Minnesota’s highest scorers, defenseman Jack Sadek, was able to break through and scored the equalizer, his third goal in three games.

“It somehow popped out to me,” Sadek said to the media. “I just one-timed the puck. That’s what the coaches are kind of harping on us to do, the defensemen.”

Penn State wasn’t involved in just one double overtime game during the Big Ten Tournament.

The championship tilt between Wisconsin and Penn State also went to a second overtime period, but didn’t last as long as the semifinal game.

Although Minnesota has won all four Big Ten regular season titles, it has only won one of the four tournaments.

With Penn State’s victory and tournament title, the Gophers were confirmed as one of the four number-one seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Minnesota will enter the NCAA Tournament for its 37th time, a tournament record, which broke a tie that the team previously held with Michigan at 36.

Minnesota had not played Notre Dame since last season, splitting the series that came in November of 2015.

The Gophers are 1-0 against Notre Dame all-time in NCAA tournament games.

“We haven’t played them this year, but we played them a little bit last year,” captain Justin Kloos said Sunday. “So we kind of know their style, they’re good offensively, [they have] offensive defensemen [who] like to get up in the play.”