GRAND FORKS, N.D. — In its NCAA tournament opener, among Holy Cross’ best weapons were determination and quiet confidence — not to mention the raucous approval of a record crowd at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Friday, the Crusaders turned those advantages into arguably the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament, stunning top-seeded Minnesota 4-3 in overtime in the semifinals of the West Regional.
Tyler McGregor scored the winner just 53 seconds into the extra session. The senior winger’s second goal of the game, his team-leading 26th of the season, came on a rush up the left side.
“I was actually looking for a linemate,” said McGregor of the play. “The pass across hit the inside of the defenseman’s skate. It came right back to my stick, and I didn’t think too much after that.”
What McGregor did do was fire the puck into the Minnesota net behind Kellen Briggs, who was moving away from McGregor to play the pass. And with his teammates pouring onto the ice in celebration, McGregor still didn’t have to think much.
“I saw a bunch of guys coming at me, and just tried not to get killed,” he quipped.
Netminder Tony Quesada — Holy Cross’ all-time leader in a pile of statistical categories — was another key ingredient, stopping 35 of 38 Minnesota shots.
“Their goalie obviously made some good saves,” said Minnesota’s Chris Harrington. “He probably was the best player on the ice tonight.”
Quesada was less impressed with himself.
“I was actually pretty surprised,” he said. “Going against a team with that kind of offensive firepower, I expected to have to make a bunch of great saves.”
Minnesota looked lethargic early, leading to questions about the Gophers’ emotional state after a lost weekend at the WCHA Final Five.
“Chris [Harrington], I thought, summed it up: he felt no emotion,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia after congratulating the Crusaders on their win. “This time of year, you need to feel emotion.”
On the other hand, Holy Cross was pumped up by the prospect of defying expectations, not to mention the support of the crowd — though it might have been more anti-Gopher than pro-Crusader.
“We were pretty much aware that we weren’t supposed to win,” said McGregor. “We weren’t cocky by any means, but we were confident.”
With the score knotted at 2 after two periods, it seemed like Minnesota might have found its emotion. Blueliner Alex Goligoski gave Minnesota its first lead of the game at 2:17 of the third, sidestepping a defender and snapping his shot past Quesada to make it 3-2 Gophers.
The Gophers then fought off Holy Cross’ second five-on-three of the game, clearing the puck four times during the two-man disadvantage. And with the power play reduced to the standard variety, Briggs finished the job by stoning Blair Bartlett on a redirection.
But after Gopher freshman Blake Wheeler hit the pipe at the seven-minute mark, Holy Cross tied the game one last time at 7:53. Jon Landry’s shot from the right point hit the post on an apparent tip by Sean Nappo, rebounding into the slot. There, Pierre Napert-Frenette swooped in and banged the loose puck past a motionless Briggs, who apparently thought the play had been blown dead.
Quesada preserved the tie with two big stops around the 15-minute mark, including a glove save on Andy Sertich’s slapper from the point that was ticketed for the far inside edge.
“I thought [Quesada] had four or five outstanding saves,” Holy Cross head coach Pearl said, “but in order for us to win that game, that’s what he has to do.”
Early on, the Crusaders were buzzing, and though the Gophers appeared to get going midway through the frame, neither team put the puck in the net in an uneventful first period. Minnesota turned up the heat early in the second, pummeling Quesada on the power play, but again without results.
Instead, the Crusaders brought the crowd at the Ralph — announced as 11,153 paid, a West/Midwest Regional record — to its feet.
At 8:49, Dale Reinhardt put Holy Cross on top with his 11th goal of the season. Off a turnover in the Minnesota end, Bartlett’s drop pass from along the goal line left Reinhardt wide-open for a scoop shot over Briggs’ glove and a 1-0 lead.
The Crusaders had a chance to extend the lead on another power play after a Kris Chucko trip, but instead Minnesota knotted it up on a shorthander. Guyer led the play, hustling after a loose puck and feeding Mike Howe on a rush. Howe banged his shot off the post, then fired the rebound behind Quesada at 13:15.
With the Holy Cross power play back on, McGregor again electrified the crowd just 31 seconds after Howe’s tally. With Phil Kessel off for a high-stick — making the Crusader advantage a five-on-three — McGregor took a cross-ice pass from James Sixsmith and powered a slapshot inside the left post for a 2-1 lead.
Kessel, meanwhile, redeemed himself seconds after he stepped out of the box, joining Evan Kaufmann for a two-on-one that finished with Kessel slipping the puck through Quesada to draw the Gophers even at 15:45.
Shots on goal in the second period were 14-6 in favor of Minnesota, but the scoreboard told of a even contest and a coming 20-minute tiebreaker — and when the third period failed to yield results, overtime and McGregor’s historic goal.
That tally sends Minnesota home wondering what might have been, but the Gophers were sure that they didn’t look past their vanquishers.
“It’s a one-and-done deal,” said Harrington of the NCAA tournament format. “There’s no way you can overlook a team. No. No.
Minnesota (27-9-5) ends its season short of the Frozen Four for just the second time in five seasons, while Holy Cross (27-9-2) will attempt to make more history Saturday against the winner of the North Dakota-Michigan semifinal, with the victor in that game advancing to Milwaukee.
“After we had a bit of a celebration there, we started talking about [the next game],” Pearl said. “We lived to play another day, and now I guess the motto is that we want to practice on Tuesday.”