By Mike McMahon
After a thrilling night of Frozen Four semifinals, the stage is set for the national championship game as the Minnesota Gophers and Union College Dutchmen will face off in the final on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Everything came down to the last second -- literally.
With Minnesota and North Dakota tied at one and time ticking down, Gophers defenseman Justin Holl threw a frantic shot on net that scooted past North Dakota goalie Zane Gothberg with just 0.6 seconds left to give Minnesota a pass into the championship game.
Gothberg, a Boston Bruins draft pick, was solid for North Dakota while making 26 saves, matching Minnesota's Adam Wilcox highlight stop for highlight stop until the very end. Both goalies kept it scoreless until late in the third period when Gophers forward Sam Warning notched the opening strike at 10:51. That lead diddn't last long as North Dakota answered :32 seconds later with Connor Gaarder's tally, though Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Wilcox and Gothberg continued making big saves until Holl's timely tally.
The Gophers' next and final opponent, Union College, advanced to its first-ever title game after it beat an explosive Boston College team, 5-4, in another thrilling matchup that came down to the final seconds.
Union persevered through a five minute penalty kill early in the third, allowing forward Daniel Ciampani to finish off a hat trick in the waning minutes by racing the full length of the ice to score into an empty net and make it 5-3. The Eagles did not go down without a fight, making it a one-goal game with just under five seconds left. Despite a Doug Flutie-like effort in the final seconds by Johnny Gaudreau, Union goalie Colin Stevens smothered the last-breath chance for his 34th and final save of the game:
Gif courtesy of @haydenhbird
Now its decision time for Gaudreau, a Calgary Flames draft pick and the leading candidate for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's top player. The player know affectionately as "Johnny Hockey" has one year of eligibility remaining, as well as unfinished business after two straight exits without a trophy from the tournament, though the NHL rumor mill has the Flames chasing the undersized forward pretty hard:
Johnny Gaudreau says he'll decide in the next day or two whether he'll leave @BostonCollege for the @NHLFlames. #FrozenFour — Mike Sielski (@MikeSielski) April 11, 2014