PHILADELPHIA — At first, reactions were predictable after Minnesota beat North Dakota in the waning seconds of the Frozen Four semifinal.
Gophers senior defenseman Justin Holl scored his first goal of the season with 0.6 seconds left in the game to give Minnesota the dramatic 2-1 win over its longtime rival.
Minnesota players mobbed Holl in a huge dog pile at center ice after he scored, while North Dakota players stood listless, lost.
While reactions were predictable after the game, reactions postgame weren’t as expected.
North Dakota players, though their eyes were noticeably puffy, remained stoic.
“Disbelief. Straight disbelief,” Mark MacMillan said. “I think all of us on the bench when it crossed the goal line said, ‘No way it went in before the buzzer.’ And unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.”
Minnesota players were also fairly subdued -- business as usual even after another Sportscenter-worthy goal.
“It's a great feeling,” Holl said, “but it doesn't mean anything if we don't do well on Saturday.”
As Gophers head coach Don Lucia put it, “Another boring Minnesota/North Dakota game.”
The two teams, which Lucia had called striking similar in roster and style, stayed scoreless for more than 50 minutes of play. And while North Dakota looked largely more offensive, the Gophers struck first.
Minnesota junior forward Sam Warning notched the breakthrough at 10:51 in the third period. Not more than a minute later, Connor Gaarder pulled North Dakota level again.
And then came Holl’s improbable miracle goal.
The Gophers took a penalty with less than two minutes to play, and were seemingly playing for overtime. Holl surprised everyone by going for the goal amid traffic.
“I figured might as well jump in,” he said. “And it went in.”
North Dakota outshot the Gophers 37-28, and Lucia said the opponent deserved better from the game in many ways.
He also acknowledged in postseason, an unbelievable goal or fluky bounce of the puck can be the difference between a season’s end and a national title.
The Gophers will face Union, which beat Boston College 5-4 earlier Thursday, in the national championship Saturday in Philadelphia.