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Gophers headed back to championship after 2-1 OT win

The Minnesota men’s hockey team has done the improbable, the unlikely, and as Denver coach George Gwozdecky put it, “the inspiring” to run the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs and make it back to its second-straight conference championship game with a 2-1 overtime win over top-seeded Colorado College tonight.

The defending Broadmoor Trophy winners won their first road playoff series in eight years after dropping the first game in double overtime, lost one of their seniors to a serious injury and beat St. Cloud State in dramatic fashion Thursday night to get this far.

But tonight may have been the Gophers biggest accomplishment yet ñ knocking off MacNaughton Cup winner and top-seeded Colorado College.

And which Gophers skater sent the team to the championship game?

One who wasn’t even on the roster when Minnesota won the trophy last season ñ freshman forward Mike Hoeffel.

Hoeffel picked up both of the Gophers goals including the game-winner 4:47 into the overtime period.

The freshman bounced a centering shot from an acute angle off a Colorado College defenseman, then off the crossbar and in all before freshman goalie Richard Bachman could react for Hoeffel’s ninth goal of the year.

“I was just going to the net and I tried putting it in there for it to either hit the goalie or if Jay (Barriball) could get a stick on it,” Hoeffel said of his game-winner. “Luckily, I don’t know how, but it deflected into the net.”

But Hoeffel wasn’t the only freshman acting like this wasn’t his first time at the Final Five ñ freshman goalie Alex Kangas turned in his second win in as many games, this time stopping 37 of 38 saves.

“Certainly it starts with your goaltender, he’s been brilliant,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said.

“The one constant has been our goaltender, he’s kind of put the team on his back and willed us to win.”

The two teams played over 59 minutes of shutout hockey in regulation ñ both goals came within a minute of each other early in the second period.

First, sophomore forward Andreas bounced a shot off Minnesota senior defenseman Derek Peltier and past freshman goalie Alex Kangas just 39 seconds into the second stanza for his 30th point of the season. Senior defenseman Jack Hillen and sophomore blue-liner Nate Prosser assisted on the play.

Then 59 seconds later, the Gophers struck back with Hoeffel’s first goal of the night.

The North Oaks native was waiting wide-open in the slot when sophomore forward Jay Barriball slipped him the puck in route to Hoeffel’s first spurt of scoring in the win.

That was it for scoring in regulation ñ 59 seconds of relevance.

“We played the game we needed to play. We certainly weren’t going to establish a hard forechecking game tonight with our energy level,” Lucia said. “But we were patient, we tried to clog lanes and counter-attack a little bit.”

Lucia also added that injured senior forward Tom Pohl was released from the hospital today and was given clearance to travel with the team for the NCAA tournament ñ which Minnesota locked up a spot in with tonight’s win.

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