Gophers seniors go out in style in win over Penn State
MINNEAPOLIS — Soaking it all in, Michael Shibrowski took one more quick skate on the Mariucci Arena ice, flipping a puck into the stands.
Shibrowski was followed by Tom Serratore, getting one more chance himself, the two seniors getting one last round of applause from the home crowd.
A seldom-used goaltender, Shibrowski took advantage of his start on Senior Day for the Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey team by making 26 saves. Serratore scored the game-winner, just his third of the season and 15th in 131 games with Minnesota. Shibrowski and Serratore took their final laps as the unlikely second and first stars, respectively, of Saturday’s 2-1 win against Penn State.
Earlier, they joined their team at center ice for the traditional stick salute. This one maybe meaning a bit more than those of the past for Shibrowski, Serratore and fellow seniors Jake Parenteau, Justin Holl and captain Nate Condon.
"I definitely tried to take it in," Shibrowski said. "When we got around the circle and kind of saluted the fans and stuff, I got a little tingle down my spine. It was pretty cool."
The story couldn’t have been scripted any better.
Senior Day, the final game on the Mariucci ice with the Big Ten tournament set to be played at the Xcel Energy Center, and the seniors leading the way. Two program stalwarts who have stuck through it all and haven’t received the spotlight of some of their more-heralded teammates had their chance to shine.
"It’s funny how it works sometimes," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "We weren’t sure Tommy was going to play until after warm-ups. Senior Night, Shibby played very well. It took him about five minutes to get comfortable in the net because he hasn’t played as long as he has and I’m sure there’s some nerves for him. But very happy with how he played. And for Tommy to get the game-winning goal, he’s a heart and soul-type of player, a great role player for us who has really fit in nice for our program. Just happy for our seniors and happy for our team, this was an important win for us tonight."
Travis Boyd also scored for the Gophers (23-4-5, 12-2-2-0 Big Ten), who have road series at Ohio State and Michigan to end the season.
When Serratore, Condon, Holl and Parenteau were freshmen — Shibrowski’s freshman season was at Colorado College — Minnesota won 16 total games and lost a disappointing series in the opening of the WCHA playoffs and was denied an NCAA tournament berth.
With two regular-season road series remaining this year, the Gophers won their 16th game at home on Saturday night. They are 22-4-5 overall, ranked No. 2 in the country and lead the Big Ten by five points over Wisconsin.
"When we came in, I think we were just about .500 and we helped establish what Minnesota is supposed to be," Condon said. "And that’s what Coach always talks about, is how our sophomore and junior seasons we really established this program back to where it’s supposed to be and hopefully we keep that going here at the U of M."
During the seniors’ tenure, the Gophers have won a pair of conference titles and are looking at another in the first season of the Big Ten. They’ve been to the NCAA tournament the past two seasons, including a Frozen Four trip in 2012.
"I think this group, as much as anything, they went through their difficult freshmen year," Lucia said. "We knew that good things were on the horizon because of how many of the freshmen had played and the positions they were win. They just had to continue to grow and they’ve been able to do that, and hang some banners. That’s what it’s about is trying to hang banners in this program and have some success at the end of the year. They’ve been to the last couple NCAAs and been to a Frozen Four and you hope the way things ended last year we can learn from it and have a better ending this year."
Shibrowski, an Andover, Minn. native, transferred to Minnesota for his sophomore season. He would end up playing in four total games his first two years with the Gophers. Saturday was just his third game of the season as Adam Wilcox’s backup.
Before giving up one goal on 27 shots on Saturday, he played 84 minutes, 48 seconds total this season, allowing one goal on 35 shots faced.
"It’s definitely special," Shibrowski said of his appearance Saturday. "Anytime you put on that jersey its special. And then you get out there and the band is playing the Rouser and stuff, it’s a one-of-a-kind feeling. I definitely feel blessed and I’m glad I had the opportunity."
It’s definitely special. Anytime you put on that jersey it’s special. …”
Gophers senior Michael Shibrowski
Serratore, from Colorado Springs, Colo., has been the consummate role player for the Gophers. He’s come up with big goals before, even if they’ve been far between.
His goal Saturday is now No. 1 in his mind.
A Boyd shot bounced off the Penn State goaltender and settled at Serratore’s feet. He spun without touching the puck, pulled his stick back and beat the goaltender for the game-winning goal with 9:45 left. It was his first goal since Nov. 22, a span of 15 games.
He turned and jumped into defenseman Ben Marshall’s arms.
"Just a lot of excitement and kind of looking for the first person I could see to tackle a little bit and that was Marsh," Serratore said of his emotions, earlier saying: "It’s a pretty good moment, last run here on the big pond. So I couldn’t ask for a better moment to end my career here at Mariucci."
Follow Brian Hall on Twitter