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Gopher Hockey: Minnesota’s many brushes with close calls

Chronicling every oddity and blown lead over the past couple seasons. Win or lose, odds are there will be an entertaining third periods.

tommy novak minnesota (Matt Christians) Matt Christians/SBN College Hockey

Tommy Novak, not for the first time, made me go “here we go again” at a Gopher hockey game. In the closing seconds of Saturday’s 3-2 loss to St. Cloud State and with Minnesota on a game-ending power play and the goalie pulled, the sophomore forward had a shot to tie the game.

He came close. Shooting the puck on target and forcing SCSU goalie Zach Driscoll to make one of his best saves of the night, the team was within seconds of yet another last second game changer. It has happened enough where the Gophers spent part of practice last week anticipating the extra skater and pulled goalie situations. (Oddly enough Huskies head coach Bob Motzko admitted after Friday’s 6-5 comeback victory his team had yet to practice with an extra skater despite being successful.)

After last weekend’s pair of close calls, I went to look back at the past few seasons to chronicle these brushes with close calls. Some are wins. Some are losses. A couple are literal buzzer beaters. It helps that the Gophers were the only team to go without a tie in 2015-16 yet that wasn’t the only reason.

Some, like Novak’s last second save, don’t always show up in the box score.

While there has been more parity in college hockey lately, Minnesota has its share of third period oddness. Here’s a list:

April 10, 2014: The most memorable on this list. Justin Holl scored his first (and only) goal of the season with 0.6 seconds remaining against North Dakota in a 2014 Frozen Four semifinal to give Minnesota a 2-1 victory..

November 1, 2014: Outshooting St. Cloud State by a 35-14 margin, it took a couple saves by Adam Wilcox and Justin Kloos to complete a hat trick in overtime for the Gophers to win 4-3.

November 21, 2014: Technically an exhibition game against the US U-18 team, Matthew Tkachuk tied the game with 1:30 remaining. He then set up Auston Matthews for the OT winner.

January 16, 2015: In the midst of a 4 win season and out-shot 49-20 (beginning the game giving up the first 18 shots), Wisconsin erased a two goal lead with a pair of third period goals two minutes apart. The Badgers went on to win the shootout.

January 24, 2015: Minnesota tied UMD 1-1 as part of the North Star College Cup seconds into the third period when Kyle Rau scored. Despite being outshot 11-2 (really 11-1) over the final twenty minutes, the one chance by the Bulldogs went in with 2:11 remaining.

January 31, 2015: With an extra skater, Seth Ambroz scored with 2 seconds remaining to tie the game at 4. That came a minute after Wisconsin had taken the lead. (This was also the game where Corbin McGuire injured Connor Reilly and then came back to get the shootout winner.)

February 21, 2015: Minnesota spent much of the third period testing Penn State’s PJ Musico and trying to get a game-tying goal. Sam Warning scored with 40 seconds remaining and then nearly won in regulation before Luke Juha gave the Nittany Lions its first-ever win against Minnesota in OT.

November 6, 2015: Notre Dame’s Jordan Gross erased Minnesota’s third period effort with 1:56 left in regulation. The Gophers had come back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game with a pair of power play goals eighty-six seconds apart.

November 14, 2015: In a similar fashion to Friday’s loss, the Gophers led Minnesota State 2-0 with 4 minutes left. With the home team in a defensive shell, the Mavericks scored a pair of goals - Brett Knowles had the game-tying goal with an extra skater (nearly down to the second of a game-winning goal at Mariucci a couple years before) - and went on to win 3-2 in OT.

November 27, 2015: In a similar fashion to Saturday’s loss (against St. Cloud State too), Justin Kloos and Michael Brodzinski each nearly tied the game at 3. Charlie Lindgren saved both shots and Minnesota’s chance with an extra skater came up short.

December 4-5, 2015: The Gopher season series against Ohio State should be its own section. Minnesota won all five games against the Buckeyes, but four of the five came up late and in entertaining fashion. Part 1 saw Minnesota come back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period to defeat OSU on a Hudson Fasching OT goal. The next night Ohio State had a five minute major in the last 4:53 of regulation, using it and an extra skater to tie the game at 4 with 27 seconds left. Leon Bristedt, however, scored in overtime to give the Gophers a sweep.

January 2, 2016: In a precursor to his Hobey performance, Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey took away what looked to be a gimme victory by a Big Ten team. Vesey, held in check the entire game, tied the game with 33.9 seconds remaining. He then set up Kyle Criscuolo for the OT winner in another late loss with an extra skater.

January 8, 2016: Penn State Vince Pedrie scored in OT to erase a two-goal comeback by Minnesota.

January 30-31, 2016: North Star College Cup. Bemidji State comes back in the third period to win 4-2 (the last being an empty netter) while Minnesota State scored a go-ahead third period goal.

February 6, 2016: Taylor Cammarata’s apparent go-ahead goal was waved off for being offsides. Penn State went on to score nine minutes later and added an empty net goal to win 5-3.

February 12-13, 2016: Part II of the Ohio State fun. To no surprise game 1 went to OT when Matthew Weis tied the score at 4 with an astounding 0.1 second remaining. Justin Kloos played the OT hero here. Game 2 came close to being the same, but Minnesota was finally able to hold off OT against the Buckeyes. Ohio State had a couple chances with 1:10 of extra skater time in the Gopher zone.

February 26, 2016: Hudson Fasching tallied the OT winner against Michigan at home, a win that in retrospect was the difference in the Big Ten regular season. Prior to that Tyler Motte tied the game at 2 with 2:41 left in regulation. Justin Selman nearly won the game a minute later, but his shot went wide.

March 11, 2016: Novak nearly became a folk legend around Dinkytown by scoring two goals with his team trailing inside the final minute. Offsides video review struck again, however. The last one, which came with 5 seconds remaining, was overturned once it was apparent there was offsides. (In fairness Novak’s waved-off goal also came after Wisconsin was whistled for offsides on an empty netter chance.)

March 18, 2016: Ohio State. Again. Trailing 1-0 in a must-win game at the X, the Gophers go on to score four third period goals to win.

March 19, 2016: Leading 3-2 against Michigan the next night (again in a must-win game) entering the third period, the Wolverines go on to score 3 goals (one an empty netter) to win 5-3.

October 21-22, 2016: Last weekend’s fun of 5-2 and 2-0 leads disappearing.


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --