ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota did not put together a perfect game on Saturday afternoon, but in the end its senior leaders and freshmen stepped up to overpower an upset-minded team.
The Gophers downed Robert Morris 7-3 in a semifinal game of the NCAA West Regional at the Xcel Energy Center.
2014 NCAA West Regional
“We wanted to have a good start, and I thought we did,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. “I was told by a couple of coaches that have played Minnesota that if you let them score one, you have to have some bounce-back shifts, because one can turn into three.”
One goal did indeed turn into three as Minnesota scored three times in the period’s final five minutes.
Nate Condon took things into his own hands when he gathered a puck behind the Gophers’ goal line and went coast-to-coast, dancing around some Colonials defenders along the way, and beat Dalton Izyk with a quick wrist shot to make it 1-0.
“I sort of came down the ice and shot it through a screen and it went in the lower corner,” Condon said. “I used the defenseman as a screen and used my speed to push the pace a little bit.”
Minnesota coach Don Lucia said Condon’s goal was key in terms of relaxing a Gophers squad that has tended to either score goals in bunches or struggle scoring at all.
“We kind of seized control of the game,” he said. “That’s the way we need to play.”
Minnesota made it 2-0 a minute and a half later when Kyle Rau won a faceoff back to Ben Marshall and the junior defenseman hit his partner Michael Brodzinski with a one-time pass on the blue line. The freshman’s laser shot from the point was his sixth goal of the season.
Justin Kloos made it 3-0 Minnesota with 17 seconds left in the game’s first period when he hammered home a rebound in the slot. The juicy rebound came from Brady Skjei’s shot.
Minnesota made it 4-0 at the 8:12 mark of the second period when Justin Holl’s shot found its way onto Kyle Rau’s stick in the high slot. The senior didn’t have possession of the puck for long as he spun around and got it past Izyk low on the stick side.
Izyk had 41 saves despite giving up five goals in the game. Schooley heaped praise on his freshman backstop that took over in the net late in the season because of injury.
“Our goalie was outstanding,” he said. “For a freshman that hadn’t started a game since Dec. 4 to go 5-1 and lead us to a national tournament, he played well.”
Robert Morris stopped the bleeding with six minutes left in the second period when Cody Wydo beat Adam Wilcox with a wrist shot.
The goal led to some weird events as Wydo was sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct before the faceoff at center ice that followed his goal. Wydo kicked Seth Ambroz’s shin before the puck was dropped, a move that was in plain sight of two referees. Minnesota was unsuccessful on the power play that ensued.
Schooley didn’t have much to say about that particular incident after the game.
“That was a weird sequence of events, I’ll leave it at that,” he said with a chuckle.
Zac Lynch cut the Gophers’ lead to two in the final minute of the second when he scored on a two-on-one chance after a pass from Wydo.
“They took advantage of a couple mistakes that we made and got to within striking distance,” Lucia said. “They pushed right to the end, which is not a surprise this time of year.”
Hudson Fasching looked to have quashed any hopes of a comeback when he scored his 13th goal of the season on the power play on a rebound.
Robert Morris’ David Friedmann answered Fasching’s goal less than a minute later and cut the lead back to two, but a comeback was not in the cards for the Colonials.
“This time of the year no one is going to give up; it’s their season on the line,” Rau said. “We need to take that into account and use it for tomorrow, because we know no one is going to fold over for us.”
Condon scored his second goal of the game on a short-handed, empty-net goal from center ice with 1:48 remaining in the game. The goal was his 100th career point at Minnesota. Mike Reilly added another goal after Condon’s goal to make it 7-3.
“This time of year the seniors have great energy. I think you saw that in Nate Condon’s play tonight,” Lucia said. “He had a great week of practice and I’m not surprised that he scored a couple key goals tonight.”
Colonials backup goaltender Brandon Lane came into the game after Robert Morris pulled the goaltender; he stopped one of two shots he saw.
Minnesota will face the winner of St. Cloud State and Notre Dame on Sunday. Lucia said that putting seven goals up on the board should give Minnesota a wave of momentum to ride into that contest.
“When offensive players score, they feel good,” he said. “Hopefully they can continue and score a few tomorrow. We know we’re not going to get seven tomorrow; we’re going to have to win a 2-1 or 3-2 game no matter who we play.”
Lucia added that he “selfishly” hopes that Notre Dame will be Minnesota’s foe tomorrow because his son Mario is a forward for the Irish and it would guarantee that a Lucia would advance to the Frozen Four.