Gophers rocked in first round

Chris Lempesis

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – To say you’d need to have seen it to believe it is cliché. And in this case, it’s also not true.

Belief doesn’t set in the moment you see Minnesota men’s hockey goalie Kellen Briggs wrongly anticipate the play, leaving half the net wide open.

And it doesn’t set in when you see Holy Cross forward Tyler McGregor fire the puck into the net.

No, belief doesn’t set in until a couple of minutes later, when you see the blank, devastated looks on the faces of the Gophers after the seemingly unbelievable happened. That’s when it sets in.

The season is over.

“I have no emotion,” senior defenseman Chris Harrington said. “I can’t even believe that happened.”

McGregor’s goal, just 53 seconds into overtime, sealed one of college hockey’s all-time biggest tournament upsets as Holy Cross defeated Minnesota 4-3 in the NCAA West Region semifinal Friday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

The Crusaders’ win was the first time a No. 4 seed has defeated a No. 1 seed since the NCAA Tournament went to a 16-team format. The Gophers end the 2005-2006 season with a 27-9-5 record.

“I’m still kind of in shock a little bit,” senior forward Gino Guyer said. “It’s just a blank right now in my mind.”

A turnover by junior forward Ryan Potulny in the Holy Cross zone led to a three-on-two for the Crusaders, with McGregor leading the way down the left side.

McGregor tried to center a pass to forward Dale Reinhardt in front of the net, but the puck deflected off the skate of Minnesota defenseman P.J. Atherton and went right back to McGregor. The rest was history.

“(It was) kind of slow motion,” Briggs said. “Because I was going across and anticipating it (would) hit the other guy. And when it bounced back, I stopped and tried to get back. But it just didn’t happen.”

The loss is indeed a shocker, but it becomes a little less so when viewing Minnesota’s performance in the contest.

Outside a few moments, Minnesota was sloppy and without the necessary emotion from the start. Holy Cross (27-9-2), on the other hand, played with intensity.

While neither team scored in the first period, the effort was telling and ultimately reflected on the scoreboard, as Reinhardt buried a shot past Briggs at 11:11 of the second to put the Crusaders ahead. McGregor said the goal solidified the fact that Holy Cross could play with the Gophers.

“It was funny,” McGregor said. “Talking to my brother (Reid), he said, ‘The only thing you gotta do is get the first goal and it’ll make the noose a little tighter around their neck.’ Sure enough, (he) was right.”

Even when Minnesota tied it two minutes later on a shorthanded goal from sophomore forward Mike Howe, it didn’t take long for the Crusaders to charge right back, regaining the lead just 31 seconds later on McGregor’s first goal of the night, which came on a five-on-three power play.

The person who remained in the box after McGregor’s goal, freshman forward Phil Kessel, brought the Gophers even again at 15:45 of the frame. Just as his penalty expired, Kessel jumped out of the box for a two-on-one with sophomore forward Evan Kaufmann. Kaufmann slid Kessel a pass and Kessel flung a shot by Holy Cross goalie Tony Quesada.

And early in the third when sophomore defenseman Alex Goligoski snapped a shot past Quesada after wisely waiting for a Holy Cross defender to overplay him and slide past, it seemed that Minnesota might just have too much talent for the team from Worcester, Mass.

“I thought once we scored to get up 3-2 that, ‘OK, now maybe we can put them behind us,’ ” coach Don Lucia said. “But we weren’t able to do that.”

The Crusaders brought it to 3-3 on a fluke goal from forward Pierre Napert-Frenet at 7:53 of the third. After Briggs saved a shot from the right point by Sean Nappo, Napert-Frenet beat Guyer to a loose puck out front by a split second and poked it in.

Even though the Gophers never fully played up to their talent level in the contest, Guyer said the mood in the locker room before the extra session was positive.

“We were there for each other,” he said. “We were trying to (motivate), ‘Who’s going to be the guy to get the goal?’ And we knew we had enough firepower to score a goal in overtime, obviously.”

With players such as national scoring leader Ryan Potulny, that would seem to be true. But Potulny was basically a nonfactor throughout the game.

Potulny’s performance was indicative of the team as a whole, as the Gophers considerable firepower vanished in overtime.

And, in the end, so did any chance of a national championship that seemed a very distinct probability just two weeks ago.

What remained was shock, one that might remain until long after a champion is crowned in Milwaukee two weeks from now.

“I don’t know if it’ll really sink in fully until, maybe Monday morning when we’re not waking up and going to class and then heading to the rink (for practice),” sophomore forward Ben Gordon said. “But, I mean, right now, it’s a disappointing feeling and it’s just something I hope I never have to go through again.”