TAMPA, Fla. — Minnesota ended its season with a whimper Thursday in a 6-1 loss to Boston College in the semifinal of the NCAA tournament.
There was complete silence in the Gophers’ locker room after the loss, and the pain in the face of every player said what words struggled to.
It was all over.
A fierce run through the NCAA tournament with a chance to capture Minnesota’s first national title since 2003 was over.
A rollercoaster ride of a season, in which the team exceeded the expectations of many, was over.
And careers at first filled with frustration for every senior on the team — careers that at last culminated with the Gophers’ first MacNaughton Cup trophy since 2007 and their first trip to the Frozen Four since 2005 — were over.
“It just hurts so bad because we had such a great team,” said senior Jake Hansen, trying to fight back his emotion after the game. “It’s really embarrassing because it just got out of our control. … More than anything, it just hurts so bad.”
Even before the game started, the Eagles were the favorite in the matchup. But not many expected a five-goal beat down.
Boston College took a one-goal lead early in the game with a perfectly executed give-and-go and never looked back.
It didn’t need to — goaltender Parker Milner was a conundrum the Gophers couldn’t solve.
Milner was sensational on the night — as he had been for the entire NCAA tournament — and finished with 30 saves to pace the Eagles to a date with Ferris State in the championship game.
Boston College did not miss a beat in the title game and defeated Ferris State 4-1 to win the NCAA championship.
Steven Whitney scored the first goal just 6:03 into the game to give Boston College a 1-0 lead, but Minnesota seemed in control for most of the period.
“Parker was just big in the net,” Boston College head coach Jerry York said. “He was very confident and really fueled us to stay in the game.”
The Gophers got the puck to the net any chance they could in the frame and outshot the Eagles 10-5, but whenever a scoring chance arose, Milner was there to thwart the attack.
His defining save came late in the first period to protect the 1-0 lead.
Nick Bjugstad blistered a cross-ice pass to Taylor Matson, who was alone near the right post for what looked like a tap-in goal. But Milner somehow sprawled across the crease to get his left pad on the puck.
“He’s been hot for the last 17 games,” Matson said. “We knew that we had to get to the net to score, but unfortunately those bounces didn’t happen tonight.”
Although Boston College didn’t pepper Gophers goalie Kent Patterson with the same intensity, it capitalized when it did get the puck to the net.
After a hooking call on Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt early in the frame, Kevin Hayes lifted a wrist shot over Patterson’s right shoulder.
Milner continued his stellar play the rest of the period and frustrated Minnesota’s attack.
Boston College scored twice more in the final 2:15 of the second and left no chance for a third-period comeback.
“We came out and played a real good first period,” head coach Don Lucia said. “Even in the second we had some good play, and the game got away in about a two-minute span … and it went from 2-0 to 4-0, and that was basically the game.”
Milner allowed his first goal of the NCAA tournament early in the third period when a pass went off the skate of Jake Hansen as he crashed the net, but the damage had already been done.
Minnesota tried to establish momentum after the goal, but just 22 seconds later, Paul Carey scored his second goal of the game to stretch Boston College’s lead to 5-1. Brian Dumoulin tacked on a fluky power-play goal less than four minutes later to rub salt in the wound.
With the game well in hand for the Eagles and the season undoubtedly over for the Gophers, tempers flared in the third period.
Matson clearly took a penalty out of frustration with a slash to a Boston College player, and Nate Condon was ejected for contact to the head in the same sequence.
Matson was visibly distraught in the locker room postgame, but he said he is also proud of what this season meant.
“I’m also proud right now,” Matson said amid the devastated look on his face. “We’ve been trying to get this program back where it needed to be, and I can’t say enough about this group.”
Senior captain Matson signed an amateur tryout contract with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, the Wolves announced Saturday.