The Heartstoppers

With the season on the line, there hasn’t been a team this season that has impressed more than the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

After starting the season 0-5-9 in overtime games, the Gophers have now won three straight, all coming in their last four games, and with elimination facing them each and every time.

Now, with their latest victory, the Gophers are poised on the edge of a complete resurrection of what had been a miserable season. Now assured of a bid in the NCAA Tournament, Minnesota will have the opportunity to defend their Broadmoor Trophy championship, with the chance to become the first team to take the Final Five crown after playing through the Thursday play-in game.

“I give them a lot of credit,” Colorado College coach Scott Owens said. “They’re running on fumes, but they’ve got a little magic going. How else would that winning goal go in other than to ricochet off a skate?”

How else indeed? The Gophers have made their living over the past week by eking out victories on bounces and misplayed pucks, from Tony Lucia’s rebound under Mankato’s Mike Zacharias to Mike Howe’s pick up of a bouncing puck that beat St. Cloud’s Jase Weslosky.

After all, sometimes all it takes is a little bit of puck luck along with hard work to keep things going in the right direction.

That hard work is coming from young players, especially freshman netminder Alex Kangas, who refused to blink in a classic goaltenders’ duel last weekend with Zacharias, who played mature, focused hockey to outlast Weslosky last night, and who was good enough tonight to beat out the WCHA Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and First Team goaltender rolled into one, Richard Bachman.

“This team never ceases to amaze me,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “I think we’ve enjoyed (being the underdog). This isn’t the most talented team; there’s a reason that we finished with the record that we did. In some ways, that’s the enjoyable part with this group. Maybe this team, in some ways, is overachieving a little bit, but it’s rewarding as a coach to watch them go through struggles and get through it. You watch them grow as players and as people.”

Now, the team that many had laughed off and disregarded early on in the season is standing at the edge of great things.

“They don’t look tired at all,” Owens said. “They just keep coming and coming and coming. They’re on autopilot, in a good way.”