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Men's hockey: Gophs to face Union in Frozen Four title game

By Tim Leighton

St. Paul Pioneer Press

PHILADELPHIA — The euphoria of Thursday’s last-second, national semifinal victory over North Dakota had the Minnesota men’s hockey team running on fumes Friday.

But the top-ranked, top-seeded Gophers vowed there will be no letdown in today’s championship game against Union.

“We didn’t come here to get second place,” senior captain Nate Condon said.

The Gophers (28-6-6) were understandably amped after beating North Dakota 2-1 on unlikely hero Justin Holl’s short-handed goal with 0.6 of a second left, and heart rates didn’t begin to slow until the early morning — just hours before they had to return to Wells Fargo Arena for practice.

Union (31-6-4) beat Boston College 5-4 in Thursday’s other semifinal, extending its unbeaten streak to 16 games.

“Who wants to go out with a loss at the end of the year?” Condon said. “Certainly, not us. We don’t want to be that team. It is our opportunity and I think we will seize it.”

The Gophers are trying to win their sixth national championship, and first in 11 years. Union, a college with an enrollment of 2,200 in Schenectady, N.Y., hasn’t won a national championship in any sport since lacrosse in 1929.

Thursday’s victory triggered elation and a degree of mayhem in Minnesota. In Dinkytown, University of Minnesota students converged in the streets and were met by police in riot gear, a less intense version of the riots that followed NCAA men’s hockey titles in 2002 and 2003.

The dramatic finish, certain to be remember for years, reminded many of the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey victory over Russia in the semifinals in Lake Placid, N.Y. After that game, coach Herb Brooks — the St. Paul native who led the Gophers to three national titles in the 1970s — told his team the victory over Russia would mean nothing if they didn’t beat Finland to win the gold medal.

Condon doesn’t expect a similar speech from coach Don Lucia.

The Dutchmen also are trying to prevent any kind of letdown in the championship game.

“You want to get out to a quick start, and hopefully we can learn (from the semifinal win) that you’ve got to bring it from the opening shift,” Union’s Mat Bodie said.

Minnesota sophomore goalie Adam Wilcox, who made 36 saves against North Dakota, appeared ready to play the championship game right away.

“This is why we play, to be on the big stage,” the South St. Paul native said. “This is what you come for when you sign up to play at Minnesota. It’s nice to have that pressure and have that support.

“It won’t be a letdown if we lose to Union because they are really a great team. We would be big-time disappointed, though, if we went out there and didn’t give it our best. Now, that would be a huge letdown. (But) we aren’t wired that way. I think we are going to be just fine.”

The Gophers planned to spend the bulk of Friday resting. Film study and team meetings follow today. Many have been here before, losing to Boston College 6-1 in the semifinals of 2012 Frozen Four in Tampa.

“We are going to take the lead of our older guys,” freshman Hudson Fasching said. “We will do our individual preparation and then come together as a team. It will be exciting for us. This is why we play, to be in these kinds of games.”

Lucia was thankful for a day to decompress after his team’s dramatic semifinal victory.

“We need to go through a 30- to 40-minute practice and recover, then just get mentally focused,” he said. “We need to play better to beat Union than we played last night. ... I thought we were fortunate in some regard (Thursday) to be moving on, but sometimes you have to find a way to win.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.