PHILADELPHIA -- Forget the goal as time expired on Thursday’s second national semifinal at the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Frozen Four — the riotous celebration by Minnesota and North Dakota’s gape-mouthed devastation.
Minnesota’s less-than-last-second 2-1 victory had eliminated the Gophers’ longtime Midwestern rival, and, as shock resonated an emptying Wells Fargo Arena, North Dakota senior caption Dillon Simpson did what captains do.
The two players stood clasped together at the front of their bench, surrounded only by television crews retrieving cables, their teammates already having vanished to the locker room.
“A guy like that who's been battling all year and winning big games for us all year, I just told him how much he’s done for the team this year,” Simpson said. “How much everyone’s got his back, and what a great teammate he is.”
Gothberg needed the reinforcement.
Minnesota senior defenseman Justin Holl’s goal at 19:59 of the third period came in excruciating fashion -- a put-back of Kyle’s Rau’s initial shot that whistled under Gothberg’s glove as both teams, and likely the 17,000 other people present, expected overtime. It was Holl’s first goal of the season, on a final rush of North Dakota’s zone.
Gothberg stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced. Across the rink, Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox, a finalist for the inaugural Mike Richter Award for nation’s outstanding collegiate goalie, stopped 36 of 37. Neither team scored until the third period.
“It was engaging the whole time,” Simpson said. “Back-and-forth hockey. Both teams played hard. It was a fun game to be a part of.”
Didn’t matter, from a North Dakota perspective. Minnesota won.
“Zane’s an extremely competitive and compassionate guy,” Simpson said of his sophomore goalie. “He cares a lot about his teammates. And as much as that goal is not his fault, he seems to take a lot of pride in his game and take some of the fall. Like a lot of us, he was pretty devastated after the game.”
It was sudden death before a sudden-death overtime. Ingrained in North Dakota’s angst was the fact it was Minnesota that administered the dagger. Gophers and North Dakota have played since 1947-48, with Minnesota winning meeting No. 282. The Gophers now hold an 137-129-15 edge in the rivalry.
“When you get to this time of the season you're going to see great teams and great programs and great coaching,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, in his 15th season at the school. “It’s just the way it is. And, hey, I've been on the other side of that. It's no fun. I feel bad for them.”
Although Wilcox said he wasn’t thinking of North Dakota’s emotions, since Minnesota’s were so high at the time, he’s experienced similar dregs.
“It's a tough feeling,” Wilcox said. “We went through it last year. No one likes to go through that. It's a disappointing way to go out.”
“As a senior, losing like that to Minnesota, that’s something that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life,” Simpson said. “Stuff like that happens in the last seconds of a hockey game. It’s hockey breaks and obviously we’re really disappointed and down about it. But at the end of the day, we had as chance to win the national championship and didn’t get it done.”
Simpson got it done in another way. Hugging and reassuring Gotherberg eased a little pain for everyone wearing North Dakota green and white.
“I saw a lot of guys talking to him and him breaking down a little bit,” Simpson said of his motivation. “He’s a guy who cares so much -- you hate to see a teammate like that. So at a time like that you gotta show him how much you appreciate him and how much guys love him.”