ST. PAUL, Minn. — No one expected a goaltending duel in Thursday’s semifinal between Minnesota and Michigan, but Adam Hauser and Josh Blackburn put on an electrifying show as the Golden Gophers beat the Wolverines 3-2 to advance to Saturday’s NCAA championship game against Maine.
The fans came to see their hometown heroes, and for 53:55 Minnesota and Hauser were perfect, taking a 3-0 lead into the final ten minutes of the contest. Grant Potulny netted goals in the first and second periods, and Jeff Taffe’s tally at 1:40 in the third held up as the game-winner.
“Number one, Adam was outstanding tonight,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “He made some big-time saves, especially early in the game. I think our guys were nervous, having not played in so long. I think they had a hard time catching their wind all night long.”
Michigan made it interesting, ruining Hauser’s shutout at 13:55 in the third, and pulling within one with an extra attacker at 18:26, but for the Wolverines, it was too little and too late.
“I thought Josh Blackburn gave us a chance,” said Red Berenson, Michigan head coach. “They had some good offensive chances. Blacky had a strong game for us, and we couldn’t get the goals we needed until it was just about too late.”
Hauser finished the game with 27 saves on 29 shots; Blackburn stopped 23 of Minnesota’s 26 shots on goal.
Michigan forced Hauser to work early, when he stopped a point-blank five-hole attempt, then stopped Mike Roemensky’s tougher rebound shot just over two minutes into the game.
Twenty seconds before Potulny’s first goal, Hauser thwarted Jason Ryznar point-blank with Michigan breaking in two-on-one. Potulny’s first goal was Minnesota’s second shot on net, and at that early point in the game, the Wolverines were outshooting the Gophers 4-2.
Potulny then scored at 4:20 in the first when Wolverine Eric Werner tried to pass up and out of the Michigan zone from behind the net. Instead of clearing the puck, Werner hit the skate of Minnesota’s Jeff Taffe, forcing Blackburn to react quickly to stop the puck, which ricocheted back toward the Wolverine cage.
With Blackburn sprawled and the net empty, Potulny had an easy shot for the 1-0 lead.
Early in the second, the Wolverines paid dearly for a too-many-men penalty when Potulny notched his second of the evening, redirecting Jordan Leopold’s shot from the slot through Blackburn’s five-hole at 4:33, just 10 seconds after Jason Ryznar went to the box to sit for the infraction.
“Grant’s not the flashiest player,” said Lucia, “but he’s good around the net. He’s a mucker and a grinder; he’s not pretty, but he’s got great character and he seems to come up big in a game like that.”
The rest of the middle stanza was a mix of bad blood and spectacular goaltending, with Blackburn and Hauser exchanging highlight-reel stops. Near the midway point in the stanza, Blackburn kept the Minnesota lead to two goals with a superhero save that stoned Dan Welch.
First Blackburn stopped Taffe’s shot from close in on the right side, then dived across the crease, extending himself to deflect Welch’s shot on Taffe’s rebound from the opposite side. Taffe then picked up Welch’s rebound and hit the right post.
At the end of the period, Michigan’s Eric Nystrom and Minnesota’s Matt Koalska were each assessed two minutes for hitting after the whistle when time expired, perpetuating a pattern created by Keith Ballard and Mike Cammalleri, who each had been called for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of the first.
Taffe finally found the net at 1:40 in the third, scoring on a breakaway, and that seemed to be the end of it for Michigan — until J.J. Swistak scored shorthanded at 13:55 on his own break, crossing over from left to right in front of the Minnesota net and backhanding in Michigan’s first goal through Hauser’s five-hole to make it a 3-1 game.
Jed Ortmeyer cut Minnesota’s lead to one goal with 1:34 remaining in regulation, after Michigan pulled Blackburn in favor of an extra skater. Ortmeyer scored from the goal line right of the net, banking the puck in five-hole off of Hauser’s left leg.
During the remaining minute, Minnesota tried to find the empty net, but the Wolverines continued to pressure; Werner redeemed himself for his first-period turnover with a genuine save on John Pohl.
“I’m glad I have something to drink,” said Lucia at the postgame press conference, “because I tell you what, that third period, I couldn’t lick a postage stamp.”
Minnesota held Michigan scoreless on six power-play chances including a key five-on-three Wolverine advantage late in the second when the score was 2-0.
“Penalty killing, we felt, was going to be extremely important,” said Lucia. “I never dreamed there would be so much specialties tonight, but that’s the way the game unfolded. We really worked on it more than usual, on our penalty kill. I think our guys were mentally into it … and also, your goaltender has to play big too. The best penalty killing is a hot goaltender and Adam was very good tonight.”
Hauser, often blamed when the Gophers lose, was outstanding in net. “I felt good the first two periods. Things seemed to be going very well. Guys were clearing pucks away very well. It just seemed like Michigan wasn’t quite getting all the pucks. I think we were getting those breaks early on. I was able to see a lot of pucks, and when you see the puck, it’s definitely a lot easier to stop.”
Even down 3-0 and seemingly unable to solve Hauser, the Wolverines never stopped trying. “We’d been behind before this year, and we know what it takes to come back,” said Ortmeyer. “We had a lot of time left on the clock, and we wanted to go out there and keep grinding, trying to get the pucks to the net as much as we could.”
“We just didn’t get the kind of flow that we needed,” said Berenson. “Obviously, getting behind early didn’t help. We struggled finishing on Hauser; Hauser had a great game, and Minnesota’s a great team.
“I admire our team. They’ve had an unbelievable season. They’ve fought through a lot of adversity and injuries and absences, and they’ve come together. They probably had the toughest bracket just to get here.”
The Wolverines finish the 2001-02 season 28-11-5. Minnesota (31-8-4) faces off against Maine at 6:00 CT Saturday night.
“We hung on at the end, and now we get a chance to play for a national title,” said Lucia, “and I’m just extremely proud of our players and happy for them and how hard they’ve worked for this opportunity.”