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For the first time since 2005, the Minnesota men's hockey team will play in the NCAA Frozen Four. The Golden Gophers took down top-seeded North Dakota 5-2 in the West Regional championship at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. to earn their 20th berth in the national semifinal in program history.
The victory came one day after Minnesota won its first NCAA Tournament game in five years by vanquishing Boston University 7-3 on Saturday.
"I am really proud of our guys," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. "We had a very difficult region. To beat programs like Boston University and North Dakota is very rewarding."
The teams played evenly in the game's first ten minutes with North Dakota getting the best of the scoring chances, but it would be the Gophers who would strike first.
Redshirt sophomore Zach Budish entered the UND zone with possession of the puck 12:19 into the contest. After curling away from a defender, he fed freshman defenseman Ben Marshall with a cross-ice pass and Marshall unleashed a blistering one-time slapshot over the shoulder of North Dakota netminder Aaron Dell.
The 1-0 score held heading into the first intermission, but Minnesota wasted little time added to its lead after entering the middle stanza with 1:03 of power play time due to a late-period cross-checking penalty by Carter Rowney.
Just 20 seconds in to the period, Nick Bjugstad found fellow sophomore center Erik Haula with a pass in front of the North Dakota cage and Haula beat Dell to give his team a 2-0 advantage.
North Dakota, trying to avoid falling into a 3-0 hole in its third-straight meeting with the Gophers, responded only 1:23 later to cut the deficit in half when Danny Kristo collected a loose puck in the slot scored on a quick wrist shot into the upper right corner past Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson.
The Gophers created a little more separation later in the period when defenseman Nate Schmidt took a Jake Parenteau pass and took the puck in alone on Dell. Dell denied Schmidt, but senior captain Taylor Matson buried the rebound to end a 17-game goal-scoring drought and give his team a 3-1 lead.
Minnesota discusses the win after the game.
Freshman Travis Boyd went through his first 33 career games without scoring a goal, but chose a perfect time to break through.
With 5:32 to play in the second period, Nate Condon pulled up in the offensive zone and found Boyd parked in front of the North Dakota crease. Boyd tipped home Condon's centering pass for his first collegiate goal.
After outshooting UND 12-2 in the second period, the Gophers were outshot 15-4 in the final frame, but Patterson was sharp and didn't allow a goal until after Condon made it 5-1 with under five minutes to play by zipping a shot over Dell's shoulder.
North Dakota's Mario Lamoureux scored his third goal in two goals against Minnesota, but UND could not come up with any more offense in the final 3:53 and the Gophers prevailed 5-2.
Minnesota won its season series against UND 4-2-0 and avenged a 6-3 WCHA Final Five semifinal loss to North Dakota nine days ago.
"We have played a lot of good games this year," said Lucia. "We played North Dakota six times this season and beat them four times. That is not easy to do. We knew it would have to be a great effort today and it was."
The Gophers will face either No. 1 overall Boston College or reigning national champion Minnesota-Duluth on April 5 in the Frozen Four semifinal.
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