Senior Condon leads Gophers in rout of Robert Morris
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota’s freshmen — and there are a lot of them on this roster — had never been part of an early exit in the NCAA tournament.
Nate Condon had.
The Gophers’ senior captain made sure his final year in a Minnesota sweater didn’t end early. Condon opened the scoring with the first of three first-period goals for the Gophers to ignite Minnesota en route to a convincing, 7-3 win over Robert Morris in the West regional semifinal Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center. Condon also notched an empty-net goal to seal things late, which was his 100th career point.
Though Minnesota’s lineup is rich with freshmen, this senior wasn’t about to relive last year’s one-and-done against Yale.
"This time of year, the seniors have great urgency," said Gophers head coach Don Lucia. "I think you saw that in Nate Condon’s play tonight as our captain."
Minnesota let Robert Morris hang around for much of the first period before Condon’s coast-to-coast goal put the Gophers up 1-0 and squelched any momentum the Colonials may have had from a scoreless game. Condon collected the puck in Minnesota’s end and led a rush the other direction before firing past RMU goalie Dalton Izyk for a 1-0 lead.
It was just the eighth goal of the season for Condon in 38 games but this one was big as it opened the floodgates for Minnesota’s offense, which went on to take an eventual 4-0 lead.
"Our team’s been great this year when we’ve scored the first goal. I don’t think we’ve lost too many games," Condon said. "You always like to get the goal first. I sort of just came down the ice and shot it through a screen and it went in the lower corner. . . . I kind of just used my speed to push the pace a little bit."
While Condon was the first Gophers captain to score, he wasn’t the last. Junior Kyle Rau, who was also on last year’s Minnesota squad that lost to Yale in the first round of the NCAA tournament, did his part to help the Gophers advance to Saturday’s regional final. Rau found a puck in the slot, turned and fired to beat Izyk at the 8:12 mark of the second period.
As Minnesota led 4-0 early in the second, it did so thanks in large part to the work of the two players with C’s on their jerseys.
"We were led by our captains," Lucia said. "Both Nate and Kyle had outstanding games tonight. You get to this time of the year, your leaders have to step up and do the job and lead the way, and I thought both of them set the tone. They contributed offensively. They were very noticeable in their play all over the rink."
Though the Gophers had a comfortable 4-0 lead following Rau’s 13th goal of the season, the Colonials weren’t about to quit in their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance in the program’s 10-year history. Thirty-goal scorer Cody Wydo put Robert Morris on the board at the 13:48 mark of the second period, and teammate Zac Lynch scored to cut the Gophers’ lead to 4-2 after two periods.
Minnesota freshman Hudson Fasching scored an insurance goal late in the third, but RMU again found the net to make it a 5-3 game. That’s when Condon responded one more time with an empty-net, short-handed goal to put the Gophers up 6-3.
It was Condon’s 100th career point, and his two points Saturday helped ensure that his Gophers career would live for at least one more day.
"I think in hockey, momentum’s a big thing," Condon said. "Guys just kind of feed off that and keep going. They came back and put up a couple, so you could see how the momentum worked for them. You’ve just got to battle through those things and try to stick to your game and play sound defense and hopefully get a couple more shots."
At the conclusion of Minnesota’s win, the Gophers didn’t know who their opponent would be Sunday. Either way, there are plenty of interesting storylines. If Notre Dame tops St. Cloud State, Lucia will be coaching against his son, Mario. If the Huskies beat the Fighting Irish, it’ll be an in-state matchup and a renewal of a former WCHA rivalry.
Prior to Saturday’s game, Lucia deflected questions about the possibility of facing off against his son. With a win in the books, the patriarch of the Lucia family could finally express his thoughts about a potential father-son matchup with a trip to the Frozen Four in Philadelphia on the line.
"Selfishly, I hope it happens," Lucia said. "We’re just looking forward to playing whoever, but selfishly I hope it’s Notre Dame. I know my wife will be happy because she knows she’ll be going to Philly. I just want to make sure if we go, we go with our team."
Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter