ST. PAUL, Minn. — The WCHA Final Five’s third-place game wasn’t so bad after all.
Minnesota coach Don Lucia and Colorado College coach Scott Owens had dismissed the game as one they didn’t want to play, even before they knew they were resigned to that fate after Friday’s games.
But on Saturday, things turned entertaining, especially in the final minutes.
CC’s Justin Morrison scored unassisted with 3 minutes, 5 seconds left, the third goal in the last 5:31 of the game, and the Tigers downed the Gophers 5-4 in front of 11,299 at the Xcel Energy Center.
“You think, ‘It’s a third-place game, and let’s just get this thing over with,’” Colorado College coach Scott Owens said, “but the second the puck drops, it’s entirely different. That was as difficult of a game for us to play as it was Thursday night.”
Morrison got the winner — sneaking a shot off a turnover between the pads of Minnesota goaltender Pete Samargia — but Mark Cullen figured into the real turning point of the game.
With the Tigers (26-12-1) trailing 3-1 in the second period, Cullen got hit from behind by Minnesota’s Matt DeMarchi, sending the CC junior forward into the boards face-first.
Cullen got some stitches and probably a broken nose; DeMarchi got a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
The latter helped turn the game around. Without DeMarchi, one of the Gophers’ top defenders, and Aaron Miskovich, who left the game with a concussion, the Gophers (27-11-2) lost some of their penalty-killing power and the Tigers scored twice to tie the game.
Joe Cullen scored just over a minute into the power play to cut the lead to one, and Mike Stuart tied the game with just over five minutes left in the second period.
“It was nice to come back into the locker room and find out the score was 3-3,” Mark Cullen said. “The guys really picked it up and scored a couple key goals, and it was nice to be a part in that fourth goal too.”
Cullen added an assist on the fourth goal — scored by Peter Sejna’s with 5:31 remaining, one which gave CC a 4-3 lead. He scored shorthanded early to give CC a 1-0 lead and extend his point-scoring streak to 26 games, a school record.
“He’s one of those guys that can stickhandle in a phone booth,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “You don’t see a lot of those guys anymore.”
As it turned out, little was riding on the outcome of the game. Both teams had gained entry in the 12-team NCAA tournament field and couldn’t gain a first-round bye.
But that didn’t stop them from making the most out of what could have been a pointless game.
“The guys played a pretty spirited game for coming back and playing an afternoon game,” Lucia said.
Minnesota was even able to regain some of the confidence it lost in a 3-0 loss to St. Cloud State in the semifinals on Friday.
Erik Westrum scored two goals and added an assist for the Gophers, who are just 4-4 in their last eight games going into the national tournament.
“It’s a big weekend coming up next weekend, and more than anything we wanted to play well,” Minnesota winger Johnny Pohl said. “I think we’re feeling a little better about ourselves.”
Morrison’s winner was just part of a frantic last half of the third period. Sejna’s slapshot off Mark Cullen’s feed put the Tigers ahead 4-3. Just 49 seconds later, Pohl evened things seven seconds into a power play.
He cut to the net untouched to get a rebound of Jordan Leopold’s point shot and had an easy putback.
But Morrison and CC responded. Morrison took the puck away from a Minnesota player in his attacking zone and fired from the bottom of the left circle. Samargia, playing in place of Adam Hauser, didn’t move as the puck went straight through his pads.
“I feel bad that Morrison threaded the needle there at the end,” Samargia said. “I was really hoping to get us into OT or get a W out of this.”
After Mark Cullen’s goal, Minnesota responded with three straight and a 3-1 lead. Westrum sandwiched goals around Troy Riddle’s 16th of the season.
But Colorado College goaltender Jeff Sanger kept the Gophers mostly at bay from then on. He made 37 saves and set the CC record for career victories with 54.
“It just happens,” Sanger said. “You don’t really think about it when you’re playing. It doesn’t play in very much, you just want to win every game.”