Gophers’ season ends with upset loss to Yale

Minnesota lost nine seconds into overtime in its NCAA regional.

Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad tries to keep the puck away from Colorado College on Friday, March 22, 2013, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Image by Bridget Bennett

Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad tries to keep the puck away from Colorado College on Friday, March 22, 2013, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

by Drew Claussen

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Minnesota freshman goaltender Adam Wilcox probably didn’t see the goal that ended the Gophers’ season go by him nine seconds into overtime Friday afternoon.

He definitely didn’t have time to react to the play, which gave Yale a 3-2 overtime victory over Minnesota in the NCAA West Regional.

“Bad bounce, came into our zone, went behind our net,” Wilcox said. “I kind of lost [the puck] there for a second, and before I knew, it passed right to the guy out in front.

“That was the end of it.”

Jesse Root’s game-winning goal came before many fans, players, coaches and media members had settled in for overtime at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“I’m not even sure what happened on that play,” head coach Don Lucia said.

Yale beat North Dakota 4-1 in Saturday’s regional championship game to advance to the Frozen Four.

The Gophers played like a team capable of winning an NCAA championship for the last 10 minutes of the third period in the game against Yale. But for the other 50 minutes of regulation, they played like a team that didn’t belong in the tournament.

“The effort was there — we attempted 80 some shots,” Lucia said. “We just missed too many.”

Like they had throughout the playoffs, the Gophers struggled to simply get the puck on net. Minnesota attempted 81 shots Friday, but 25 were blocked by the defense, and 27 did not hit the net.

“When you’re not getting pucks to the net, you don’t get an opportunity to get second shots,” Lucia said. “You don’t get an opportunity to create some momentum.”

The Gophers held the momentum entering overtime after juniors Nate Schmidt and Zach Budish scored in the game’s final 10 minutes to tie it at 2-2.

“We’re a confident team, and then we got those two goals in the third,” Budish said. “It just ended so quickly.”

The Gophers had a couple of chances to score the game-winner after Budish’s goal. They outshot the Bulldogs 12-6 in the third period but to no avail.

Then in overtime, Root’s goal happened in the blink of an eye.

The Gophers won the faceoff, and sophomore Ben Marshall corralled the puck behind the net. In one fluid motion, Yale’s Kenny Agostino robbed Marshall of the puck and passed it to Root, who was waiting on the back door.

“I tried laying down in front, trying to block the pass,” Gophers junior Nick Bjugstad said, “and it was in the back of the net before I could even see anything.”

Schmidt, Budish and Erik Haula represented the Gophers in the postgame press conference. Many fans wonder whether any of them will return for their senior seasons at Minnesota or sign professional contracts.

Budish was the only one who gave a verbal commitment that he will return. Haula and Schmidt said they hadn’t put any thought into the situation yet.

“We’ve got a veteran team, and with only one senior, we should have a group of guys coming back,” Budish said. “I can’t wait to play again in six months.”

Minnesota’s locker room was dead silent after the game as players sat in their lockers with blank stares on their faces.

More than 30 minutes had passed since Yale won, but Bjugstad was still wearing all of his equipment, including his skates. Bjugstad is another Gophers player whom many have speculated will leave the team after this season.

“This is one of the best years of my life, one of the best group of guys I’ve ever been with,” Bjugstad said after Friday’s loss. “I don’t even want to think about it right now. I get choked up thinking about it.”