If you were in the building and weren’t excited, you probably should have been checked for a pulse.
A group of 19,353 — the largest single crowd in WCHA Final Five history — watched a true barnburner at the Xcel Energy Center on Friday night.
Perhaps the first true harbinger of the war to come came during the pre-game ceremonial faceoff. Usually a fairly placid affair, Minnesota captain Gino Guyer and St. Cloud State captain Casey Borer both moved to “win” the puck drop from NHL legend and Michigan Tech alum Tony Esposito.
The fireworks were just beginning.
After a back-and-forth first period in which St. Cloud proved it was game, the teams exploded for a combined seven goals in the second period. With a one-goal lead, the Huskies hung on for dear life for the first 16 minutes of the third before an untimely Minnesota turnover was taken for a breakaway and buried by Brock Hooton.
That goal was quickly answered by Minnesota’s Danny Irmen, forcing the Huskies to try hanging on again. With 14.6 seconds left, Ryan Potulny came through with his fourth tally of the game to tie the game at 7, simultaneously breaking St. Cloud hearts and elating the Gopher faithful.
But Matt Hartman’s goal about ten minutes into overtime ended the game in a complete reversal as a sea of red engulfed the ice to celebrate.
In all, the lead changed hands six times on the evening. Minnesota held two one-goal leads during the first period, and St. Cloud State two three-goal leads during the wild second.
The St. Cloud victory was the first in the semifinals for a WCHA play-in team in a decade — the only previous teams to successfully reach the WCHA championship game were Northern Michigan in 1993, and Michigan Tech in 1996. Neither team was able to take home the Broadmoor Trophy.
Minnesota, appearing in their its consecutive Final Five, was left dumbfounded. Seven goals, including Potulny’s four, could not secure a chance to play for its second Broadmoor in four years, nor try to repeat Denver’s rare triple sweep of the MacNaughton, Broadmoor and NCAA championship titles just a year ago.
The Gophers have just one WCHA tournament title to show for their Final Five streak despite the fact that all eight tournaments have taken place on their home turf in the Twin Cities.
The motivation for St. Cloud may have come just after the first semifinal of the afternoon concluded.
“North Dakota will take on Minnesota in the WCHA championship game tomorrow night at 7:37 p.m.,” boomed the public address announcer following the Fighting Sioux’s victory over Wisconsin, more than an hour and a half prior to the puck drop of the nightcap.
Talk about jumping the gun.
“We were in the lobby of the hotel, and some of us were watching the North Dakota game,” said Hooton. “We’d heard rumors that they’d announced Minnesota already. We just sorta decided that we’d come out and show that we deserve to be in these games.”
The game was 21st of the season in which St. Cloud State scored at least three goals, and the Huskies now have a record of 18-1-2 in those games, although this was only the second of those wins to also include giving up three or more goals.
The eight-goal showing for St. Cloud also set a school record for goals in a Final Five game, eclipsing the previous mark by two. Minnesota last scored seven in the 2004 tournament during a semifinal victory over Minnesota-Duluth.
Saturday’s contest will be a rematch of the 2001 title game, which was won by St. Cloud State in a 6-5 overtime game, the first championship to take place at the Xcel Energy Center.