ST. PAUL, Minn. — Philippe Lamoureux and North Dakota had frustrated Minnesota all game, keeping the Golden Gophers in check on the power play and permitting only two goals on 40 shots through over 63 minutes of hockey.
That’s when Blake Wheeler took matters into his own hands.
Racing down the ice after a loose puck with UND defenseman Brian Lee in tow, the sophomore center beat Lee to the puck, sliding full-length along the ice and taking a one-armed slap with his arm fully extended.
The puck flipped up and over Lamoureux’s glove and into the far side of the net to give the Golden Gophers a 3-2 overtime win and the Broadmoor Trophy as WCHA playoff champions.
“I just took a whack at it,” Wheeler said. “I couldn’t believe when the crowd started going crazy. I didn’t see it go in.”
The victory made the Gophers (30-9-3) the first team to win both the WCHA regular-season and tournament championships since Denver in 2002, but it just as easily could have been North Dakota (22-13-5) hoisting the Broadmoor Trophy in celebration.
“I thought both teams competed really, really hard,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “We just got the break at the end.”
Late in the third period with the score tied at 2, the Fighting Sioux had two chances to score the go-ahead goal.
First, UND’s Chris Porter had a bid with 20 seconds left in regulation, after intercepting a puck that Minnesota netminder Jeff Frazee attempted to play behind the net. But Porter’s centering pass found no one in front.
Then, with two seconds left, Rylan Kaip missed a wide-open net off the rebound of Erik Fabian’s wraparound attempt to send the game to overtime.
Instead, Wheeler’s goal continued his resurgence after a difficult second half, during which he had scored only three goals before this weekend. The native of Plymouth, Minn., had a hat trick Friday against Wisconsin and was named tournament Most Valuable Player for his combined heroics.
In the championship game, the Gophers were the nominal favorites by seed, but the Fighting Sioux’s hot streak had many tabbing them to win the title.
“Tonight, we came out and proved we can play with anyone,” said Minnesota captain Mike Vannelli.
With goaltending a recent concern for Minnesota, Frazee played well. Lucia started Kellen Briggs Friday, then went to the sophomore for the title game.
“Coming into this weekend, I wanted to see our goalies play well, and to compete,” said Lucia. “We accomplished that.”
The first period was a penalty-filled affair, and matters grew increasingly physical after Vannelli leveled UND’s Ryan Duncan along the boards in the neutral zone, drawing an interference penalty that turned into a Gopher power play after UND’s Taylor Chorney took offense and went after Vannelli.
The Fighting Sioux killed that man-advantage, as they did seven other Minnesota power plays. The Gophers were 0-for-8, UND 2-for-5 when skating up a man.
After the scoreless first, Minnesota defenseman Erik Johnson broke the deadlock with his fourth goal of the year.
Carrying the puck up the right side, Johnson drove to the bottom of the faceoff circle before ripping a shot that trickled through Lamoureux’s five-hole to make it 1-0 Gophers at 8:26 of the second period.
A pair of subsequent penalties left Minnesota on the short end of a five-on-three power play. Johnson went off first for delay of game after throwing a puck out of the defensive zone, and Tony Lucia followed him to the sin bin for hitting from behind.
Chorney made Minnesota pay almost single-handedly, keeping the puck in the zone with a sliding stop on a Gopher clearing attempt, then getting it back and whipping a shot to the top left corner at 13:24, tying the score at 1 with his eighth goal of the year.
Moments later, the Gophers struck back to retake the lead on a nifty three-man play. Operating along the boards to Lamoureux’s left, Vannelli dug the puck out for Wheeler, whose behind-the-back pass for Ben Gordon gave Gordon a shot through a screen that beat Lamoureux (38 saves) inside the right post.
Shortly thereafter, Ryan Flynn appeared to have given Minnesota a two-goal cushion by putting away the rebound of Vannelli’s shot from the edge of the crease, but on review the goal was disallowed because Lucia had slid into Lamoureux a split-second before the puck got onto Flynn’s stick.
Early in the third period, with North Dakota on the power play, WCHA Player of the Year Duncan made it count for the Fighting Sioux.
Taking a pass from Chorney, Duncan skated to the right faceoff dot and ripped a wrister over the left shoulder of Frazee (23 saves) to tie the game once more at 2.
Minnesota’s domination increased as the third period went along, but the Gophers’ inability to score with the man-advantage continued, leading to the Sioux’s final flurry and then overtime. Even the failed power plays, though, might have helped Minnesota.
“It was a real hard-fought game, everything it was billed to be,” said UND head coach Dave Hakstol. “I thought we spent a little too much energy killing penalties.”
Although the game had minimal NCAA tournament consequences — both teams were already in the field regardless of the outcome, and Minnesota had locked up a No. 1 seed to boot — both teams were after the hardware.
“It was a bitter pill to swallow when we saw them lift the Broadmoor Trophy,” said Duncan, whose Fighting Sioux will likely be a No. 3 seed when the field is named.
Both teams will play next weekend in the NCAA regionals, with sites and opponents to be announced during the NCAA selection show at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.