A much-anticipated battle of top-10 opponents turned into an overtime thriller as fourth-ranked Minnesota edged No. 6 Northeastern 3-2 to win the Dodge Holiday Classic tournament title.
Patrick White scored the game winner for Minnesota at 1:38 of the extra session, just seven seconds after Northeastern goaltender Brad Thiessen was whistled for delay of game after shooting the puck over the side boards.
After a faceoff win, Jay Barriball sent the puck to White, who was unmarked on the back side, and White flipped the puck into the half-open net for his third goal of the season and the Gopher win.
Understandably, the call didnâ€™t sit well with Northeastern head coach Greg Cronin.
â€œI totally disagree with it, but Iâ€™m not a referee,â€ said Cronin, who said he was told that the WCHAâ€™s interpretation of the delay-of-game rule differs from Hockey East, where the Huskies reside.
â€œItâ€™s just a crappy way to end a really entertaining game between two heavyweights.â€
Minnesota assistant John Hill, acting as bench boss as head coach Don Lucia watched from the press box Saturday, was much happier but also uncertain of the call.
â€œThat makes two of us that were confused,â€ said Hill when told of Croninâ€™s consternation. â€œIâ€™m a little embarrassed because I got put on the [NCAA] rules committee, and I donâ€™t know.â€
The delay of game was one of few miscues for the Husky netminder, who made 27 saves and was named to the all-tournament team.
â€œIt is a little ironic,â€ said White of Thiessenâ€™s penalty, â€œbut itâ€™s safe to say that he did his job. He made saves for them that most goalies canâ€™t make.â€
The victory gave Minnesota its 12th Dodge Classic title and helped erase memories of last season, when the Gophers lost in the first round to RIT.
â€œIt was great for us to get a good win in Brown and then a tough win in Northeastern,â€ said White.
With Minnesota down 2-1 midway through the third period, defenseman Aaron Ness picked an opportune time to score his first collegiate goal.
Operating out near the offensive blue line, the freshman from Roseau, Minn., collected a loose puck above the left faceoff circle and unleashed a high knuckler that got through traffic and beat Thiessen over his glove at 11:32.
Ness, who was named tournament MVP for his one-goal, two-assist weekend, was relieved to finally put a puck away.
â€œItâ€™s about time,â€ Ness quipped. â€œI just shot, put it on net, and it [got] over everybody.â€
Northeastern’s Wade MacLeod came within an eyelash of untying it two minutes later, hitting the left post on a two-on-one, but neither team managed another goal in regulation, sending the game to overtime.
â€œOur guys were resilient on a night that we had to be,â€ said Hill, adding, â€œItâ€™s big for us to get this win as we get ready to head up to North Dakota.â€
The team will make that trip without Lucia, who announced during the game that he will have more tests to try to determine the source of his recent illness. Nevertheless, his presence Saturday was clearly appreciated.
â€œIt was good to have Don in the building tonight and to have his input from upstairs between periods,â€ said Hill.
Early on, Northeastern tallied the game’s first goal. After a turnover in the Gophers’ offensive zone — on which the Minnesota partisans wanted a penalty against NU — the Huskies broke loose on a four-on-one.
Louis Liotti fed MacLeod, who led the rush up the left side, kept the puck and beat Minnesota netminder Alex Kangas (26 saves) with a pinpoint shot to the far side, just under the crossbar. MacLeod’s seventh goal of the season gave NU a 1-0 lead at 14:28 of the first period.
But with Liotti in the box for boarding minutes later, the Gophers evened the score. A diagonal pass from Barriball led to Ness’ shot-pass that hit Tony Lucia in the leg and ricocheted straight into the net behind a helpless Thiessen at 18:33.
Kangas stopped a stuff attempt by NU captain Joe Vitale to open the second period, but the Huskies retook the lead at 8:58 on sophomore Tyler McNeely’s seventh goal of the season.
Taking a headman pass from Dennis McCauley, McNeely broke up the left side and scored from short range to give NU a 2-1 advantage. The second assist went to none other than Thiessen, his first point of the season.
The rest of the second period was peppered with near-misses by both teams, and grew chippy as it went along, punctuated by a couple of miniature scrums after scoring chances.
With Northeastern still up one early in the third, McCauley nearly made it a two-goal lead for the Huskies, clanging a shot off the pipe after a rush up the left side.
But the lead remained at one, setting up Nessâ€™ tying goal and the overtime win for the Gophers.
Up next for Minnesota (10-3-5) is a road series against WCHA rival North Dakota Friday and Saturday, while Hockey East-leading Northeastern (12-4-2) returns to conference play as well with a home-and-home versus Merrimack.