Column: Gophers came up short in Philadelphia, ya feel me?

Samuel Gordon

Justin Holl’s last-second goal Thursday night was without a doubt one of the most exhilarating moments in the last decade of Gophers sports.

And Dinkytown went berserk.

It seemed like a given after that — Minnesota was poised to win its first NCAA title since 2003 on Saturday night.

Union — a tiny school with an enrollment of about 2,200 and even less of a hockey tradition — was the only thing blocking Minnesota’s path toward a sixth NCAA championship.

The Gophers were the best-rounded team in the country for much of the season and consistently sat near the top of the college hockey rankings.

A strong freshman class helped create balance across Minnesota’s four lines. The Gophers’ defense was the second-best in the country going into the national championship game. When it all went wrong, Adam Wilcox was between the pipes — the best goalie in the country could erase mistakes.

None of that mattered Saturday, though, as Union dominated en route to a 7-4 win over Minnesota. A shocking upset on paper, but not a surprise to those who watched the game.

The Dutchmen out-played, out-gritted and out-toughed the Gophers for 60 minutes to win their first-ever NCAA championship. They slayed the college hockey Goliath.

Union’s three-goal flurry midway through the first period sent Minnesota into a tizzy that it never recovered from.

The Dutchmen controlled the puck for most of the game, peppering Wilcox from all angles.

He made dozens of spectacular saves, but too often his teammates were out of place.

Minnesota pulled within a goal multiple times, but it never felt like the team could complete the comeback.

While a handful of guys on this year’s Gophers team played in the 2012 Frozen Four, the team was still relatively young. That might have been part of the problem.

Minnesota head coach Don Lucia was consistent all year in reminding fans and media that his team wasn’t comprised of 20-something veterans like other college hockey teams.

A veteran Union team never seemed rattled Saturday and instead played with control and chemistry.

Union doesn’t lure elite recruits with NHL futures. It also doesn’t have guys leave the program for the pros every single year.

Saturday’s game resembled last Monday’s NCAA men’s basketball championship game. Kentucky was loaded with NBA guys set to leave after one season, but upperclassmen led Connecticut to the title.

It takes years to develop championship-caliber chemistry. That bodes well for the Gophers moving forward.

On Saturday, though, they weren’t quite ready.

Ya feel me?