FARGO – The Big Ten's performance in the first round of the NCAA men's hockey tournament was beyond astounding.
The Gophers, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State scored 36 goals. Canisius, Colgate, Harvard and Michigan Tech responded with a total of four.
Considering the Gophers went 19-4-1 in conference play, were credited with 57 points and won the Big Ten's regular-season title by an enormous 19 points, there was a message sent to Gophers coach Bob Motzko on Saturday morning with the aim of getting high praise for the conference.
The response was brief and made it clear that Motzko was wasting no time for a celebration of Big Ten excellence.
"Crazy first round but the speed limit goes way up now," Motzko replied.
The speed trap facing the Gophers later Saturday in the attempt to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their most recent national championship with another one in two weeks in Tampa was offered by St. Cloud State.
You won't find anyone with more respect for the Huskies than Motzko.
"I have a lot of connections on the other side, having been there for 13 years," he would say later in the evening. "They've done a terrific job again this year."
There had been crushing ends for Motzko and the Huskies in NCAA tournaments, but there were also eight of those appearances — reaching the tournament over 60% of the time in what in many ways was an underdog program in St. Cloud.
Motzko received an offer that couldn't be refused in March 2018, to coach the Gophers, and five seasons later, his team of enormous expectations had to get past the Huskies inside smallish Scheels Arena.
A different speed was required for sure, and Motzko's Gophers brought that from the get-go.
"We played into their hands in the first period," said Spencer Meier, St. Cloud State's veteran defenseman. "After that, we picked it up."
The spectators were 75% in Gophers gold and they were left to resent the thievery of Huskies goalie Jaxon Castor after that first period.
The Gophers darted and sped, took 14 shots to six, and the lead was only 1-0 due to Castor's excellence.
The second period was different. Whatever the speed limit for those 20 minutes, the Huskies were equal to it.
The Gophers gave up a power-play goal early, then Jackson LaCombe found Logan Cooley on a stretch pass for a goal that sent Minnesota into the third period with a 2-1 lead.
The Gophers made it to the Frozen Four a year ago, but that resulted in a 5-1 whipping from Minnesota State Mankato.
The optimism for that team didn't approach what these Gophers have created for this postseason. The added talent of Cooley, Jimmy Snuggerud and Ryan Chesley mixed with veterans passing on the pros to take another shot …
This was it, the Gophers' best talent since the back-to-back champions in 2002 and 2003, and past time for the sixth national title, joining the three for Herbie Brooks and those two for Don Lucia (when Motzko was an assistant).
Except, all those in the gold jerseys forget to tell Brett Larson's Huskies that this would be the Gophers' spring.
The Huskies kept coming in the third period. Gophers goalie Justen Close was out of the play on a Huskies charge with seven minutes gone in the third. The net was wide open for Kyler Kupka and a tying goal, but he sent the puck into the side of the net.
Close said he wasn't quite sure how that happened, but certainly was grateful the cords were buckling from outside the net rather than the inside.
The pace was tremendous and the Huskies were at least the Gophers' equal for long minutes.
Then, with almost 12 minutes gone in the period, Cooley won a faceoff, Jackson LaCombe got the puck out front, Matthew Knies provided a screen and it was 3-1 Gophers.
That was a No. 3 overall selection in the NHL draft winning the draw, and an NHL second-rounder shooting the puck, behind a screen of another NHL second-rounder.
The final became 4-1 on a late empty-netter by Jaxon Nelson, the pride of Magnolia, Minn., but don't let that score fool you:
Motzko was 100% correct … the speed limit was way up.
Cooley scored what was officially the winning goal off the pass from LaCombe, then got the puck to LaCombe for the 3-1 goal that gave the Gophers' full control.
Cooley turns 19 in May. No one knows what plans the Arizona Coyotes might have for him with a contract offer.
Motzko talked postgame about Cooley's outstanding "compete level," and said it would be even better for the Gophers' next season.
So he's coming back?
"You can always hope," said Motzko, smiling.
Too early to worry about that, of course. First, there's a 20-year wait to put to an end in Tampa.