2014 Frozen Four: With one shot Justin Holl cemented his place forever in Gopher hockey history

Minnesota getting off the bench to celebrate Justin Holl's goal with .6 second left - Matt Dewkett

One of the greatest endings in Frozen Four history was a defenseman turned forward turned back defenseman's first goal of the season.

PHILADELPHIA -- For 59 minutes, the result didn't matter. For 59 minutes Minnesota and North Dakota had played a Frozen Four semifinal that more than lived up to the high expectations that come with the rivalry between the two teams.

"It's amazing. Coming to North Dakota, these are the games you want to have with everything on the line, playing your biggest rival," said UND junior Nick Mattson about the two teams, which didn't meet in the regular season for the first time since 1948.

Thursday's game in Philadelphia wasn't perfect, but it didn't matter that it wasn't. There was no high scoring. It wasn't a physically punishing game. In the home of ECW, there were no big hits or brawls that were fit for Youtube highlight reels or dubs.

That didn't matter. It was Minnesota-North Dakota hockey.

More importantly, the 17,311 fans at Wells Fargo Center got that and more. Every punch was countered; every move was deflected like two heavyweight boxers three steps ahead. Even the first two goals were 32 seconds apart. Both goalies, North Dakota's Zane Gothberg and Minnesota's Adam Wilcox showed why the pair has allowed the fewest goals against average since Thanksgiving.

(Honestly you can make a case both goalies kept their team in the game and, in Minnesota's case, won it given how much Wilcox was counted on late when the team had to kill a penalty in the final 1:39.)

This was going to be the postgame column, one which touched upon how everyone won Thursday with two great and different games. Even the team that inevitably would have had to be in the quiet locker room, the contemplative one which contrasts horribly with the festive joy next door.

Well it was for 59 minutes and 59 seconds .

In the final second of regulation senior defenseman Justin Holl beat Gothberg to give Minnesota a 2-1 victory on his first goal of the year; a shorthanded one. With it, he earned his place in Gopher hockey history. Everyone - the players on the ice for on both teams (for different reasons), those on the bench getting ready for overtime, the fans, even those in the media - was in a state of shock that still continues.

It was a moment that he didn't even see at the time nor was sure counted.

"Everyone jumped on me. I was dying on the bottom of the pile," Holl said following the win, which gives the team a chance at its sixth NCAA national championship Saturday against Union. (The Dutchmen defeated BC 5-4.) "But I was like I didn't know how much time was left on the clock. It was zero seconds. Let's relax a little bit because we're not sure if it's going to count yet."

His teammate Kyle Rau was just as excited after the game, adding, "I knew that it was Justin and saw that it went in. I was like, ‘did I hear a horn?' Then I heard the horn and was like ‘no way, this is awesome."

The players can be excused for over-celebrating given how much he means to the 26 guys in maroon and gold. So much has been brought up about the seniors leading a team that is stock full this year of young freshmen. Having different leaders every night continues to pave the way for a team on a road that is nearing its final exit.

Even if this one ends up being spurred from a joke.

"We were kind of joking before the game that we needed Parenteau and Hollsy to score and sure enough he pops one in," senior co-captain Nate Condon said. "I'm really happy for him."

Holl, a 2010 2nd round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks who spent most of last season playing forward, was counted upon this postseason to be a shut down defenseman. Paired with Brady Skjei, the duo was on point blocking shots.

"We knew we had to come into the game and block some shots," said Skjei before pausing to watch his defensive partner's goal for the first time on ESPN. "Coming into the game we knew that they had some skillful forwards and we knew we had to play good D and really keep pucks away from Adam as much as we can, and get sticks up in front and limit their rebound opportunities in their offensive zone."

Of course, that now gets overlooked with the latest goal in Frozen Four history that adds another layer to "The Rivalry."

His teammates already knew what Holl meant to them. He's a guy who multiple players stated Thursday's ending couldn't have happened to a better person. Now history does too. That's a goal parents will tell their kids about. That's a goal which will be on highlight reels for years to come. (That's a goal over which students will riot too.)

With one shot Justin Holl turned from playing a great game in a rivalry played on the brightest stage to, as Skjei said, "probably the greatest game I've ever been a part of and that's going to be tough to top that."

Neal Broten, Blake Wheeler, Thomas Vanek Grant Potulny, Justin Holl...all have their place in University of Minnesota history. There's one more spot Saturday, though.

--

Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --

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