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WHEELER LEADS GOPHERS TO NCAA TOURNEY

by Staff Writer / Arizona Coyotes

Wheeler's Goal for the Ages Lifts Minnesota to 3-2 ot Win,


Final Five Title & NCAA Tournament Appearance

Courtesy: University of Minnesota
Photo Credit: Jim Rosvold & University of Minnesota

A night after recording his first career hat trick, sophomore center Blake Wheeler scored a goal for the ages with a diving shot at 3:25 of overtime to lift the second-ranked University of Minnesota men's hockey team to a 3-2 win over No. 7/6 North Dakota and the 2007 WCHA Final Five Championship at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Wheeler did his best circa 1979 Neal Broten impression, diving for a puck low on the right side to beat UND goaltender Phillippe Lamoureux high to the far side. The goal sent the record 19,463 fans into a frenzy and handed the Golden Gophers (30-9-3) their first Broadmoor Trophy since 2003-04 and their first MacNaughton Cup/Broadmoor Trophy season since 1980-81.

The Maroon and Gold never trailed during the game, getting goals from Wheeler, Erik Johnson and Ben Gordon to notch their first win over the Fighting Sioux (22-13-5) this season. Minnesota dominated on the shot board with a 41-25 advantage and held UND's top line of Ryan Duncan-Jonathan Toews-T.J. Oshie to a lone power-play goal and only nine total shots.

With the win, the Golden Gophers earn the WCHA's automatic bid to the 2007 NCAA Tournament and will garner a No. 1 seed for a sixth consecutive season . The Maroon and Gold will learn their opponent and destination for the NCAA Regionals on tomorrow's Selection Show on ESPN2 at 1:30 p.m.

Wheeler earned WCHA Final Five Most Valuable Player Honors and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by forwards Jonathan Toews of UND and Wisconsin's Jake Dowell, defensemen Mike Vannelli of Minnesota and Taylor Chorney of North Dakota, and goaltender Lamoureux.

Minnesota has now won 14 WCHA Playoff titles in school history to match Denver atop the list. The WCHA Final Five Championship was Minnesota's sixth after winning crowns in 1993, '94, '96, 2003 and 2004.

After a scoreless first period that saw both teams notch 10 shots on goal, the Golden Gophers opened the game's scoring at 8:26 of the second period with Erik Johnson's fourth goal of the season. Taking a Tony Lucia pass, Johnson skated down the right side of the ice and fired a wrist shot from the right circle to beat Lamoureux to the 5-hole. Mike Carman picked up the second assist on the even-strength goal.

About five minutes later, North Dakota struck back to tie the game with a 5-on-3 power-play goal by Taylor Chorney. Grabbing a Robbie Bina pass at the high slot, Chorney went high to UM netminder Jeff Frazee's stick side for his eighth tally of the year. T.J. Oshie was credited with the second assist on the play.

Less than two minutes later, the Maroon and Gold re-gained the lead with a pretty goal from Ben Gordon. Wheeler battled for possession on the side boards and fed Gordon at the right circle to go to Lamoureux's glove side for his 12th goal of the season. Mike Vannelli earned the second assist on the 5-on-5 goal.

With less than a minute to go in the period, Minnesota appeared to gain the two-goal lead with a power-play goal by Ryan Flynn, but referee Derek Shepherd ruled that a Golden Gopher interfered with Lamoureux in the crease. For the period, the Maroon and Gold out-shot the Fighting Sioux 16-10.

North Dakota got the tying goal early in the third period with a power-play goal by Ryan Duncan. At 1:54, Duncan took a Chorney pass low on the right side and went high to Frazee's glove side for his 30th goal of the season Bina picked up the second assist on the play.

From there, Minnesota shut down the UND attack and threatened several times in the period, out-shooting the Fighting Sioux 11-5. Lamoureux and the North Dakota defense was up to the task, however, to push the game into the extra session.

Just 3:25 into overtime, Jay Barriball attempted a cross-ice pass with the puck sliding into the North Dakota zone. Wheeler out-raced the UND defenseman and leapt for the puck just short of the goal line, flipping it high over Lamoureux's left shoulder for the unbelievable game-winning goal.

The Golden Gophers out-shot the Fighting Sioux 4-0 in overtime and 41-25 for the game. The two teams combined to go 2-for-13 on the power play (Minnesota 0-for-8). Frazee picked up his second career postseason win (first at the WCHA Final Five) with 23 saves to improve to 14-2-1 on the season, while Lamoureux got the loss with 38 saves to fall to 19-11-4.

Game Notes

  • The Golden Gophers lead the all-time series against North Dakota with a 136-119-11 record, including a 5-5-0 mark in neutral site games and a 12-9-0 record in the postseason.
  • Minnesota has faced North Dakota more times (266) than any other opponent.
  • Twelve of the last 15 games between the Golden Gophers and Fighting Sioux have been decided by two or fewer goals.
  • The Golden Gophers are 3-3 all-time vs. UND in the WCHA Final Five.
  • Minnesota is 18-13 all-time at the WCHA Final Five, including a 6-2 mark in championship games.
  • Don Lucia is 13-15 in his coaching career at the WCHA Final Five, including an 8-9 mark with Minnesota.
  • Minnesota is 8-6-2 vs. the 2007 WCHA Final Five field this season, including a 1-2-0 mark against North Dakota.
  • The Golden Gophers won the MacNaughton Cup and the Broadmoor Trophy in the same season for only the third time in school history and the first time since 1980-81.
  • Under Lucia, the Golden Gophers own a 34-14 record in the postseason.
  • Mike Vannelli leads the team with 16 points in 23 career postseason games (3-13--16).
  • Minnesota holds a 13-8-0 all-time record at the Xcel Energy Center, including a 9-7-0 mark in the postseason.
  • Minnesota is 16-10-0 in neutral site games since the start of the 2001-02 season, including a 2-1-0 mark this season.
  • Current Golden Gopher streaks:
    - Mike Vannelli: three-game point streak (1-3--4)
    - Jay Barriball: three-game point streak (0-3--3)
    - Tony Lucia: three-game point streak (0-3--3)
    - Mike Carman: three-game point streak (1-2--3)
    - Blake Wheeler: two-game point streak (4-1--5)
  • The Golden Gophers went 15-1-3 in the season's first half and is 15-8-0 in the second half.
  • The Maroon and Gold is 77-52-8 against ranked opponents in the last six-plus seasons, including an 8-6-0 mark this season.
  • The Maroon and Gold is 21-7-3 (12-5-3 WCHA) in games played in the state of Minnesota this season.
  • With his 219-95-29 record at Minnesota, Don Lucia stands in second place on the school's career wins list. Doug Woog (390-187-40 from 1985-99) leads the chart.
  • The Golden Gophers are out-scoring their opponents 91-49 in even-strength situations, 52-34 in power plays and 7-6 in shorthanded situations.
  • Minnesota is out-scoring its opponents 52-28 in the first period, 60-35 in the second, 40-31 in the third and 2-1 in overtime.
  • Minnesota is 12-4-0 in one-goal games, 6-3-0 in two-goal games and 12-2-0 in three-goal or more games.
  • The Maroon and Gold is 24-3-1 this season when scoring the first goal, 9-3-0 when tied after one period and 25-2-2 when leading after two periods.
  • Minnesota has not been shut out since a 1-0 loss to Jan. 19, a span of 16 games. That span is the second-longest among WCHA teams behind North Dakota's 19 games.
  • In eight of the last 10 seasons, the Golden Gophers have posted records of .500 or better in the month of March. Under Lucia, the Maroon and Gold owns a 41-18-1 mark in March, including a 5-2-0 mark this month.
  • The Maroon and Gold has scored a power-play goal in 32 of this season's 42 games. Minnesota is 21-4-3 when scoring on the power play and 9-3-0 when not scoring with the man advantage.
  • The Golden Gophers have notched 30 or more shots in 28 of 42 games in 2006-07. Minnesota has out-shot its opponent in 27 contests. UM has limited its opponent to 25 or fewer shots in 20 of 42 games this season.
  • In 18 of 42 games this season, the team that scored four goals has won. Minnesota is 15-1-2 when scoring four or more goals and 13-0-2 when scoring five or more.
  • Minnesota has allowed three or fewer goals in 33 of 42 games this season. UM is 27-3-0 when allowing fewer than three goals and 28-4-1 when giving up three or less. The Golden Gophers have given up two or fewer goals in 20 of the last 25 games.
  • Tonight's contest was the final game in the state of Minnesota for two Golden Gopher seniors - defenseman Mike Vannelli and goaltender Kellen Briggs.
  • Tonight's attendance of 19,463 was the largest single-game crowd in the 55-year history of the WCHA. The five-game attendance of 88,900 also set a record.
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