Minnesota was only 20 minutes from reclaiming a spot atop the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings as it headed into its holiday break with a road sweep of Colorado College on Saturday night.
The Tigers would have none of that.
The never-say die Tigers rallied with three unanswered goals to stun No. 4 Minnesota and pick up a huge home point with a 4-4 tie after entering the third period trailing 4-1. CC senior Rylan Schwartz completed the rally when he ripped a one-timer past Minnesota freshman goalie Adam Wilcox with 24.6 seconds left in regulation after CC junior Alexander Krushelnyski, another Tigers hero in the third period, sent a crossing pass from along the near boards to the far post where Schwartz was unmarked.
Schwartz finished with two goals and an assist, including two points in the third period, while Krushelnyski recorded two goals and an assist in the final 16 minutes of regulation.
“Every night, certain guys step up and spark the team,” Krushelnyski said. “It just happened to be my turn. You have to give credit to Rylan for burying that puck to tie it. You also have to give credit to (Thorimbert) for shutting them out over the final 45 minutes.”
The comeback was big for a Tigers squad that has now gone 1-5-2 over its last eight games to drop into seventh place in the WCHA with two fewer league games played than most of the league. CC travels to third-place St. Cloud State, which is tied with Minnesota State, this weekend.
“We took a little step in the right direction,” Schwartz said.
Saturday’s result was comparable to the 4-4 tie against then-No. 5 New Hampshire, which had the Division I’s best scoring defense then. This time the rally came against the WCHA’s best scoring defense (11.88 goals),
Despite Denver’s 6-3 loss at North Dakota, the Pioneers are one point ahead of the Gophers (11-3-3, 6-3-3) as DU heads into its final weekend before the holiday break. UM is idle until it plays Air Force in the Mariucci Classic Dec. 29 while Denver (9-5-2, 7-3-2) travels to Bemidji State Dec. 14-15. DU’s winless streak is now at six games, the program’s longest such stretch since the 1999-2000 season.
“Some ties feel good and others feel like a loss,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “This feels like a loss. We were up 4-1 and could have made it 5-1 but we didn’t put it away and to their credit they battled back. It is disappointing we let a point slip away.”
Colorado College (8-8-2,-5-4-1) got back into the game when Krushelnyski scored a shorthanded goal with 15:46 left and scored again 1:47 later to trim the Minnesota lead to 4-3. Krushelnyski’s first goal of the night came after Rylan Schwartz collected a loose puck in the Tigers zone and passed to the junior to start a 2-on-1 breakaway. Krushelnyski fired the shot past Wilcox’s glove attempt to energize what had been a silent announced crowd of 6,954 fans at World Arena.
They were quiet no longer.
Krushelnyski’s second tally came after CC senior defenseman Mike Boivin fired a hard shot that went off Wilcox’s leg pad and ended up in front where Krushelnyski beat a UM defender to the puck to knock in the rebound.
And suddenly, Minnesota was battling to hold on. CC drew a penalty a couple minutes later but was unable to generate more than one shot (Krushelnyski). The Tigers continued to harass Wilcox but Minnesota weathered the storm.
CC came close to tying the game with 1:23 prompting a video review when Wilcox had to reach back to grab a loose puck in the crease. It was ruled the puck did not cross the line.
The rally continued a pattern of the Tigers falling behind only to battle back, usually falling short during this stretch, which included losing last Saturday against North Dakota after leading in the third period and falling after entering the third tied on Friday against the Gophers. CC has led in only 14 if its 18 games this season.
“It is starting to get kind of embarrassing,” Schwartz said. “We need to start better.”
“We know we can come from behind,” Krushelnyski said. “It’s a good asset to have. If we could add good starts we could be unbeatable.”
“It is a big point for us, especially after last Saturday and last night.” Tigers head coach Scott Owens said. “It reinforced a few things we have been talking about. I am proud of the team’s effort.”
Earlier, Schwartz scored the Tigers’ fourth power-play goal since the Bemidji State series in October. His wrister whizzed over Minnesota freshman goalie Adam Wilcox’s shoulder to make it 3-1 with 11:30 left, coming only 11 seconds into the man advantage.
The Gophers regained control when Mike Reilly scored an unassisted goal after collecting a loose puck in the Tigers zone and beating CC junior goalie Josh Thorimbert on a hard-angle shot inside the far post.
Minnesota seized control early when Tom Serratore, the Colorado Springs native who scored the game-winner on Friday, banged in a rebound after Nate Condon’s shot caromed off Thorimbert’s chest pad into the air and landed to Thorimbert’s left in front of an open net with 15:21 left in the first period.
Only 28 seconds later, a CC penalty set up Kyle Rau’s power-play goal only six seconds into the man advantage. Zach Budish won the faceoff, sending the puck back to Nate Schmidt who passed to the opposite faceoff circle from where Rau wristed a shot over Thorimbert’s shoulder as he slid over. That score made it two Gopher goals in only 34 seconds.
The game was the final WCHA regular-season game between the two programs with Minnesota leaving for the new Big Ten league and CC headed to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference with the start of the 2013-14 season.
Seth Ambroz fired a hard shot through traffic from the right point with 5:28 left to make it 3-0.
No. 4 Minnesota 4, No. 19 Colorado College 4
Minnesota 3 1 0 0 –4
Colorado College 0 1 3 0 –4
First period – 1. Minnesota, Serratore (Condon, Ambroz) 4:39; 2. Minnesota, Haula (Schmidt, Budish) 5:13; 3. Minnesota, Ambroz (Schmidt, Boyd) 14:32. Penalties – CC, King, tripping, 5:07; UM, Helgeson, cross checking, 12:21; CC, Skalbeck, slashing, 12:21; CC, Rapuzzi, roughing, 19:22.
Second period – 4. Colorado College, Schwartz (McDermott, Winkler) 8:30 (PP); 5. Minnesota, M. Reilly (unassisted) 15:41. Penalties – UM, Ambroz, holding, 1:32; CC, Schwartz, slashing, 5:59; UM, Haula, tripping, 8:19; CC, Collett, tripping, 10:59; UM, Isackson, hooking, 15:52; CC, Boivin, roughing, 16:15.
Third period – 6. Colorado College, Krushelnyski (Schwartz) 4:14 (SH); 7. Colorado College, Krushelnyski (Boivin, Rapuzzi) 6:01; 8. Colorado College, Schwartz (Krushelnyski, Winkler) 19:36 (EX). Penalties – CC, Bradley, high sticking, 2:30; UM, Isackson, roughing, 8:56.
Overtime – No scoring. Penalties – none.
Power play – Minnesota 1-6, Colorado College 1-4. Shots on goal – Minnesota 11-10-5-3 — 29; Colorado College 11-6-9-1 – 27. Saves-minutes – Minnesota, Wilcox 11-5-6-1- 65:00; Colorado College, Thorimbert 8-9-5-3- — 64:01. Referees – Bokai, Thul. Linesmen – Stankevich, Stodgell. Attendance – 6,954.