TAMPA, Fla. — Minnesota didn’t leave much doubt in its 6-1 loss to Boston College in the semifinal of the NCAA tournament in Tampa, Fla. It became clear as the game wore on that the Eagles were the better team on the ice.
In a span of 118 seconds late in the second period, the game went from 2-0 to 4-0 in Boston College’s favor, and Gophers fans started to get quiet.
Tye Kjellberg — a lifelong Gophers fan who made the trek to Tampa with his father and a friend in hopes of witnessing a national championship — said the end of the second period was hard to watch.
“It’s deflating watching your team struggle so much,” Kjellberg said. “In the second period when they buried No. 3 and No. 4 … we pretty much gave up. It’s tough to think you’re going to come back from that against one of the best defensive teams in the country.”
When Jake Hansen scored early in the third period to cut the deficit to three goals, fans had an apprehensive sense of hope.
Pat McCarthy — a junior and a member of Minnesota’s pep band — traveled to the Frozen Four with the team charter plane and said Hansen’s goal renewed hope.
“I thought there was a chance [the Gophers could win] — not a great chance — but everyone really got back into it, and we thought, ‘maybe we can pull it off,’” McCarthy said.
That optimism was short-lived. Twenty-two seconds later, Paul Carey scored for the Eagles to slam the door shut.
“They answered it right away and that killed any momentum or hope for a comeback,” McCarthy added. “It was definitely tough to watch.”
Boston College tacked on one last goal to finalize the score at 6-1, and in the waning seconds of the game, the realization dawned that Minnesota’s season was over.
The Gophers looked on dejectedly as the Eagles bench emptied toward goaltender Parker Milner in the crease, and with one last handshake line, the season ended.
It was silent in the locker room postgame as each player soaked the loss in. It was a feeling of defeat that resonated throughout the Gophers fans, as well.
University junior Peter Thorne had student season tickets for Friday night games and went to nearly every game. He had high hopes entering the NCAA tournament.
“In comparison to the last two seasons, I thought this was a lot closer to being the year,” Thorne said.
Kjellberg, on the other hand, said he wasn’t so sure about a victory coming into the Frozen Four and managed to keep things in perspective.
“I didn’t think they were going to win it all. I honestly didn’t,” he said. “I’ve been a college hockey fan for my entire life, and this BC team is honestly the best college hockey team I’ve ever seen. This second-half team is unbelievably good.”
More than 1,500 miles from Tampa, Fla., sophomore Tyler Hamilton said there was a buzz across campus before the game Thursday.
“I know a lot of people were excited about the game on Thursday,” Hamilton said. “There were a lot of hockey jerseys out and … I think a lot of people had title hopes for the Gophers this weekend.”
Despite the painful loss, this season left a lot of hope for the next, McCarthy said.
Minnesota was led by a bulk of sophomore talent this season, and even with the chance of stud sophomore Nick Bjugstad turning pro, the team will return a lot of talent next season.
The Gophers boasted four 40-point scorers on their roster this season — Erik Haula, Kyle Rau, Nate Schmidt and Bjugstad — all of which are eligible to return next season. It will become clearer in upcoming weeks as players make the decision to return for another year or join their pro teams. Bjugstad, Haula and Rau were all drafted in the NHL.
“It was really cool to see some of the young guys on the roster light it up and step up this year … and I’m really optimistic for the future,” McCarthy said.
Thorne agreed and said the success this season has played a role in his expectation for next season.
“This season was a lot of fun to watch — Gopher hockey is always awesome, but this built a lot of anticipation for next year,” Thorne said.
Minnesota will lose seven seniors next season — most notably goaltender Kent Patterson, forward Hansen and captain Taylor Matson.
Though the senior players did not win the NCAA title that a lot of fans hoped for this season, the season was still considered a success by many fans.
“I think anytime you make the Frozen Four or the NCAA tournament in general it can be considered a successful season,” Hamilton said. “I was a little disappointed, but I’m still proud of them.”