A record-setting 20,755 people made their way to 3M Arena at Mariucci this weekend to see the Gophers take on Michigan, including 10,455 on Saturday alone for the sixth-largest turnout in the rink's near-30-year history.
In one way, those fans' money was well spent with 16 goals through the two games with "free hockey" in overtime. But in the results way, they saw the Gophers settle for a split with their heated conference rival.
"They were entertained. They saw the talent in both teams, a whole lot of talent out there," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. "But if you make mistakes — teams have a hard time getting chances on us. But when we create the other team's chances, it's just not a good look."
Saturday's game went to the Wolverines 5-4, settled 49 seconds into overtime on Jacob Truscott's second goal of the night. Friday offered the Gophers' thrilling comeback when Matthew Knies scored with only eight seconds left in the five minutes of extra time.
The No. 2 Gophers fell to 18-7-1 (12-3-1 Big Ten) while No. 8 Michigan improved to 14-9-1 (6-8-0). But the Gophers still hold a significant lead atop the standings at 10 points ahead of the rest of the conference.
Bryce Brodzinski, who scored twice Saturday including the tying goal to force overtime with fewer than three minutes left in the third period, said he had a feeling this series could draw a big crowd. There was a precedent, after all, with last year's Big Ten tournament championship game between the two setting the single-game arena record with 10,774 fans.
That, combined with the students recently returned to campus after the winter break, was a formula for filled seats.
"Honestly, going into the last, I think it was like 2:50 left after Brodzinski scored to tie it, I had a little bit chills going out to the faceoff hearing the rah-rah chants," said Mason Nevers, who scored in the second period to give the Gophers their first lead of the game at 3-2. "So it's awesome. It's special, and we definitely don't take it for granted."
Because of a poor Gophers start, Michigan jumped to a two-goal lead within the first eight minutes from Ethan Edwards and Adam Fantilli.
Brodzinski's first goal cut Michigan's lead to one, and Aaron Huglen's power-play score early in the second period tied it before Nevers' goal. But Fantilli and Truscott would both score before the end of the second period to again put Michigan in the lead.
The Gophers then lost one of their top scorers in Jimmy Snuggerud with five seconds left in the second to a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for contact to the head when he checked Truscott into the boards. So the rest of the game, the Gophers had to chase with scrambled-up lines.
"The biggest positive is our heart," Nevers said. "We didn't give up for both games. There's a lot of times where we could have kind of just thrown in the towel, things weren't going our way, killing penalties late in the game and stuff. And we've got a lot of heart, character. Everyone in the room knows it.
"And that can definitely help us for the end of the year."