Gophers win inaugural North Star College Cup in shootout against UMD

Minnesota right wing Seth Ambroz (left) scores the game-winning goal on Minnesota Duluth goalie Aaron Crandall in a shootout during the NSCC championship.

Ann Heisenfelt/Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Gophers are state champions.

With a shootout win Saturday over Minnesota-Duluth in what officially goes down as a 4-4 tie, the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team took home the title in the inaugural North Star College Cup. The tournament included four of the five Division I hockey teams in the state of Minnesota. With a pair of wins this weekend at the Xcel Energy Center, the Gophers emerged as the top team in the state.

"I think you saw that in-state pride was there, which is good," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. "All in all, it was a good, entertaining weekend of college hockey like we hoped it would be."

The tournament was born after the Gophers left the WCHA and bolted for the Big Ten Conference prior to this season, leaving behind rivalries with former conference foes Minnesota State, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, all of which took part in this weekend’s event. Bemidji State is the fifth member of the NSCC but did not participate this year as the odd team out.

The hope of the NSCC was to give these teams and their fans a chance once a year to play each other and determine the best team in the State of Hockey. The Gophers — who beat No. 5 St. Cloud State on Friday — proved they’re worthy of not only their No. 1 national ranking, but also a top ranking in Minnesota.

Gophers 5, Bulldogs 4 (SO)

"We don’t get a chance to play them in league play, so this was one of our only chances to win that in-state championship," said Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox, who was named tournament MVP following Saturday’s game. "Even if it came in a shootout, we’ve got the trophy for a year so I know the guys are excited about that."

Minnesota needed Wilcox to make 38 saves in Saturday’s title game, as well as a pair of shootout saves to blank the Bulldogs in the extra session. Minnesota’s Kyle Rau and Seth Ambroz both beat UMD goalie Aaron Crandall in the shootout, as Ambroz’s backhander clinched the North Star College Cup for the Gophers.

After scoring the decisive goal, Ambroz made a motion to the "M" on his chest, signaling which of the Minnesota teams reigned supreme.

The organizers of the NSCC had the intent of this weekend’s event having a postseason-like feel, much like the WCHA Final Five in years past. With fans from all four teams in attendance over the two-day event, it certainly had that vibe.

That was especially true in Saturday’s title game, which was back and forth from the opening period. Rau scored at the 10:47 mark to put the Gophers up 1-0, but Minnesota-Duluth’s Caleb Herbert evened things up just 18 seconds later as he beat Wilcox to his glove side.

It took the Bulldogs a mere 21 seconds to take their first lead of the night after Austin Farley took a centering pass from Herbert and slapped it past Wilcox for a 2-1 UMD lead. But Minnesota forward Nate Condon decided to add to the excitement by scoring on the power play — one of three Gophers goals with the man advantage Saturday — to knot the game at 2-2 to close out the first period.

"Our power play tonight was huge," Wilcox said. "Sometimes, the final straw for our team when it comes down to it is getting more power play goals and special teams. If we finish on those opportunities, we don’t need to get 40-plus shots."

The Gophers didn’t come close to 40 shots, finishing with 27 shots on goal in the win. But Minnesota did capitalize twice more on the power play with goals from freshman Hudson Fasching early in the third and Travis Boyd at the 11:41 mark of the third period to help the Gophers regain the lead.

Thanks to a late goal by Joe Basaraba, the first-ever title game of the inaugural North Star College Cup went to overtime. Five scoreless minutes later, a shootout was used to help determine the winner of this brand new event. After the shootout goals by Rau and Ambroz, and another solid effort from Wilcox, the Gophers were officially tops in the state.

"It’s one of the better tournaments I’ve been a part of," Ambroz said. "It was a great experience, obviously being the first one, to come out on top there. Just how good the teams in Minnesota are, it really showed this weekend."

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