MINNEAPOLIS — No. 5 Minnesota stormed back from a two-goal deficit midway through the game to rout Alaska-Anchorage 7-3, earning its first appearance at the WCHA Final Five since 2009.
“It’s definitely very exciting, I can’t wait,” said Minnesota forward Erik Haula on his first trip to the Final Five. “I can’t say how excited our team is to make it to the [Xcel Energy Center].”
“I am just happy for our seniors right now,” added Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “They’re going to be playing at the Xcel in the next couple weeks.”
The win also ensures Minnesota a bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. As a host school for the Western regional, Minnesota will also play on March 24 at the Xcel.
“We needed this,” said Lucia. “We got punched in the nose a little bit tonight by getting down 3-1 and responded with six goals.”
Haula’s two goals 18 seconds apart in the second put the Gophers up for good. The first came on a breakaway on a cross-zone pass by Kyle Rau on a line change. Haula beat UAA goalie Chris Kamal five hole while on the backhand.
Haula crashed the net for his second goal picking up a rebound off a shot by Sam Warning.
“It’s always great for our team to come back from a 3-1 lead,” remarked Haula.
Seth Helgeson and Warning capped off the Gopher scoring.
“At the end of the day, we ran out of gas,” Alaska-Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak said. “We got tired, fatigued, and made mistakes, and they took advantage of that.”
In a classy move, with a minute left in the game, the Minnesota coaching staff put in senior netminder Jake Kremer for the first action of his career.
“It was great for Kremer to get in there for the last minute as a senior for all he has meant to our program in practice,” remarked Lucia.
The Seawolves’ power play got red-hot in the second period, converting on three straight chances to put the Seawolves up 3-1.
The first was just 35 seconds into the second where the Seawolves tied the game up while on the power play. Matt Bailey scored by picking up a rebound that went far weak side, turned, and fired past Minnesota goalie Kent Patterson.
At 12:49, Minnesota took two minor penalties – both by players named Seth. The first was on Seth Helgeson for roughing, the second on Seth Ambroz for roughing.
A minute later, Anchorage tallied two quick goals. The first was a one-timer by Bailey from 15 feet directly in front of the net. The play was set up by two quick passes from Austin Caldwell and Jordan Kwas.
The second was just 23 seconds later on a blocked shot that fell in the slot. Scott Allen made a quick turnaround shot, catching Patterson out of position.
“They were really good on the power play this weekend [and] we are going to have to work on our PK,” Haula said.
At 11:16, Zach Budish started the Gopher rally, completing a two-on-one rush with a one-time of a pass from Kyle Rau.
“We had them back on their heels and then it flip flopped,” said Shyiak.
Nick Bjugstad’s goal with 46 seconds left while on the power play tied the game headed into the third.
“When you take that many penalties against a good team, sooner or later they’re going to score,” Shyiak said. “I thought the third goal for them was the key.”
Minnesota started the scoring early as Jake Hansen redirected a shot by Ben Marshall from the point. Marshall’s shot was low. Hansen’s tip put the puck in the far upper corner of the net over the left shoulder of Kamal.
Despite three power-play chances, the Gophers failed to extend the lead, giving the Seawolves hope entering the second period.
The Gophers now await their opponent in the Friday night game of the WCHA tournament, while the loss ended the Seawolves’ season.