PHILADELPHIA — The steam evaporated for Minnesota in Saturday night’s NCAA Division I championship game.
The top-ranked Golden Gophers fell 7-4 to third-ranked Union (N.Y.), a defeat that was as finite as it sounds. Combine Union’s timely execution on both ends of the ice, and Minnesota mistakes in both ends, and the Golden Gophers watched the Dutchmen celebrate their first NCAA title instead of celebrating Minnesota’s sixth NCAA crown.
“I thought we had great energy,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “I’m not sure the mental part of our game matched the physical part. We made a few mistakes [Saturday] that we don’t normally make.”
The worst mistake was surrendering three Union goals in a 1:54-minute span in the first period. At the time, Minnesota led 2-1 on goals by Justin Kloos (at 2:57) and Sam Warning at (10:03). Union’s Mike Vecchione, Eli Lichtenwald and Daniel Ciampini followed each other rapid-fire — at 15:09, 16:06 and 17:03, respectively — overwhelming Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox and defying his teammates’ attempts to clear.
“We hung our goalie to dry,” Kloos said. “He’s been our best player all year, and for us to put him through that was kind of disappointing. I think we just made mental mistakes. I don’t think you can look at anyone in our locker room and say they weren’t physically trying their hardest, but mentally I think made a few too many mistakes in that segment.”
The errors didn’t stop. Eight Minnesota penalties (Union committed five) kept unwanted pressure on Wilcox; even though Union didn’t score a power-play goal, penalty killing diverted time and energy from attacking Union on the opposite end.
Taylor Cammarata’s second-period goal — the only goal scored in the second period — pulled Minnesota within 4-3 entering the third.
Enter another mistake. A mid-ice Minnesota breakdown in transition led to Max Novak’s goal at 5:31 that restored Union’s two goal lead (5-3).
“It’s a one-shot game,” Lucia said of the situation at that point. “But we made a mistake. Their guy did a nice job driving the net, and our “D” didn’t move over, tipped one by Adam and now you’re chasing again.”
The penalty capper in Lucia’s craw was a too-many-men-on-the-ice call at 11: 57 of the third period. Union continued to lead 5-3, and though the Gophers killed that penalty and Hudson Fasching’s power-play goal at 16:20 pulled them within 5-4, they’d dug themselves a real gopher hole.
“Too many men on the ice halfway through the third,” Lucia said. “You know, our guys tried. With their effort and how hard they wanted to win. Sometimes you want to win too hard, too bad. You wanted to chase rather than just play your position.”
Yet more defensive breakdowns ultimately cost Minnesota a last shot at a comeback. Kevin Sullivan’s goal at 18: 38 restored Union’s two-goal margin (6-4), and an empty-netter by Matt Bodie at 19:15 iced it for the Dutchmen.
No last-second heroics this time for the Gophers, who’d scored nearly as time expired to beat North Dakota in the national semifinals.
“I definitely thought if I got to a six-on-five situation, I was confident we could put something in in the last minute,” Minnesota center Travis Boyd said of a final effort to tie the game, ultimately sabotaged by Sullivan’s goal. “Once again, I think we made a mistake there. Turnover at their blue line. Came down, guy made a nice one‑on‑one play and ended up scoring. So once again, made a lot of mental mistakes [Saturday].”