TAMPA, FLA. – Brock Faber, the team captain, could barely get words out between sobs. Jackson LaCombe held a towel to his face wiping the tears while coach Bob Motzko gave him a hug.
The scene in the Gophers locker room was somber Saturday night at the NCAA men's Frozen Four at Amalie Arena. A season of so much accomplishment — a Big Ten title, the No. 1 ranking for most of the year, two Hobey Baker Award finalists, three first-team All-America selections — ended only 10 seconds into overtime as Quinnipiac's Jacob Quillan scored to give his Bobcats a 3-2 victory over the Gophers.
Top-ranked Minnesota, only 2 minutes, 47 seconds away from winning its sixth national championship, was hanging on for dear life with a 2-1 lead as second-ranked Quinnipiac (34-4-3) pressured. An extra attacker goal by the Bobcats forced overtime, and they quickly finished it to win their first NCAA title.
"We had it. We had it," said Motzko, denied his first NCAA championship in his fifth year as Gophers coach. "That one's gonna sting. It's a crusher."
Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold had the opposite reaction.
"It's awesome. I'm so happy for these guys," he said. "… I can't even put it into words."
The winning play happened when the Bobcats won the second faceoff of overtime. Defenseman Zach Metsa sent a pass to Sam Lipkin into the Gophers zone, and Lipkin backhanded the puck across the ice to Quillan, who was streaking down the left side. Quillan made a move around Gophers goalie Justen Close and tucked the puck into the net, setting off a Bobcats celebration and stunning the mostly pro-Minnesota crowd.
"We attacked the middle," Metsa said. "Lipper made an amazing pass back to Quills. What a crazy finish. I had a great view of it."
"It all happened so fast," LaCombe said in hushed tones.
John Mittelstadt and Jaxon Nelson scored goals and Close made 27 saves for the Gophers (29-10-1), who led 2-0 in the second period.
Christophe Tellier and Collin Graf also scored, and Yaniv Perets made 13 saves for the Bobcats, who were playing in their third national championship game since 2013.
That the game went to overtime was a credit to Quinnipiac, which outshot the Gophers 25-8 in the second and third periods.
The tying goal came after Gophers freshman center Logan Cooley was called for high-sticking at 15:08 of the third. Cooley and Lipkin were battling for position, and Lipkin was holding Cooley's stick before the call was made.
"It's the Frozen Four championship game, and you're going to call it like that?" Cooley said. "I think it's an awful call."
With 36 seconds left in the power play, Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold pulled Perets for an extra attacker. Quinnipiac didn't score on the power play, but Graf tied the score 2-2 on a rebound of a Metsa shot at 17:13.
"That second one should have never gone in," Motzko said.
It did, though, and Quinnipiac got new life.
"They took advantage of their chances," Faber said. "They're a great team."
The Gophers controlled play early and took a 1-0 lead at 5:35 of the first when Connor Kurth intercepted an errant Bobcats pass at the blue line and skated in alone on Perets. When the goalie committed to the right side of the net, Kurth skated around the cage and fed Mittelstadt in the crease for the goal.
Quinnipiac didn't get its first shot on goal until 6:53 had expired. The Bobcats continually dumped the puck into the Minnesota zone, but the Gophers were there to beat them to the puck.
Quinnipiac started to possess the puck and forced Close to make a save on Graf at 16:53. The first period ended with the Gophers leading 7-3 in shots on goal. The Bobcats won 11 of 19 faceoffs in the period.
The Bobcats started the second with more energy, getting three shots on Close in the first two minutes.
The Gophers, however, made it 2-0 at 4:24 of the second when Nelson poked home a rebound of a shot from the point by Faber.
Quinnipiac responded at 7:41 of the second and cut the lead to 2-1 when Metsa sent a pass from the right boards to Tellier at the front of the net. Tellier deflected the puck past Close.
Quinnipiac had 12 shots on goal to the Gophers' six in the second, building a 15-13 edge through 40 minutes.
Afterward, Motzko showed his appreciation for what his team accomplished, but Saturday's finish made it difficult.
"We had a chance," Motzko said. "The love we have in the group — I'm just crushed for them, for all of us, for all of our fans. … We were in a good spot."