Quinnipiac won its first NCAA Division I men's hockey national championship Saturday night, posting a thrilling 3-2 comeback victory in overtime over Minnesota at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.
Sophomore forward Jacob Quillan scored 10 seconds into the extra session on a pass from forward Sam Lipkin to finish off the Bobcats' rally.
Quillan won the faceoff to start overtime, defenseman Zach Metsa found Lipkin with a long pass into the zone and Quillan cut to the net on a set play, managing to stick handle around Minnesota goaltender Justen Close to score the winner.
"That's a set play by us," Lipkin said. "That was a hell of a play right there."
Quillan, a 21-year-old native of Nova Scotia, said his team practiced that play "100 times this year." It worked twice in the national championship game, including his overtime winner.
"It's a dream come true," Quillan said. "These guys worked so hard all year. We're so close. We're like a band of brothers."
This was the third attempt by Quinnipiac to win the national title, having lost in 2013 and 2016.
"I'm just trying not to cry. Just proud. This is awesome," Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold said. "Just an awesome group. Awesome culture. You can't put a value on what we just did for Quinnipiac University. We got a natty."
The Golden Gophers were the No. 1 team in the nation whose roster was filed with NHL-drafted players. They were seeking their first national title since 2003 and the sixth in program history. Minnesota was left shocked by the Quillan goal, some slamming their sticks in anger and others dropping to the ice, emotionally drained.
"We had it. That one's gonna sting. That's a crusher," Minnesota coach Bob Motzko said.
The game was sent to overtime thanks to a late third-period goal by Quinnipiac, following one of the boldest coaching decisions of the tournament by Pecknold.
With Quinnipiac trailing 2-1, Minnesota star Logan Cooley was whistled for high-sticking with 4:52 left in regulation. The Bobcats pressured the Golden Gophers net but couldn't convert. Pecknold called a timeout and opted to pull his goalie Yaniv Perets with 3:28 left in regulation to give the Bobcats a 6-on-4 power play.
Five seconds after the power play ended, Quinnipiac forward Collin Graf squeezed a shot from the left side through the pads of Close to tie the score, 2-2.
It was by far the tightest game the Gophers played in the tournament, having outscored their previous three opponents 19-5.
It looked like it might be another Gophers night just over five minutes into the game, when they took an early lead.
Minnesota took a 1-0 lead thanks to a blown outlet pass by Quinnipiac. Defenseman Jayden Lee whiffed on the puck from behind his own net. Freshman forward Connor Kurth intercepted the pass just outside the blue line and skated around the Bobcats' net to draw Perets out of his crease. Kurth, a 2022 draft pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning (192nd overall), threw the puck back to the crease where forward John Mittelstadt tucked it into the net at 14:25 of the first period.
The Gophers added to their lead less than five minutes into the second period. Center Jaxon Nelson cleanly won a faceoff back to defenseman Brock Faber and then skated to the front of the Quinnipiac net. Faber fired the puck off the end boards. It rebounded to Nelson, who fought off a check from Quinnipiac forward Jacob Quillan and chopped it past Perets at 15:36.
The Bobcats finally responded at 12:19 of the second period to cut the Minnesota advantage in half. Sophomore forward Cristophe Tellier started the play by skating the puck into the Gophers zone. Defenseman Zach Metsa made a terrific play to keep the puck in the zone on a Minnesota clearing attempt, eventually skating down the wing to find Tellier driving to the net, tipping the puck past Close. It was Tellier's third goal of the tournament.
The third period saw the Bobcats make a spirited push to tie the game, with a shot attempt advantage of 26-6 over Minnesota. They finally broke through thanks to a high-ticking penalty taken by Cooley with 4:52 left in regulation, which led to Graf's goal to knot the game at 2-2.
Motzko defended his coaching tactics after the game, despite Quinnipiac having taken over the game in their rally for the title.
"We changed our neutral zone in the second period and it worked. We stopped their zone entry. They were making a push," he said. "Tip your hat to Quinnipiac. They're very difficult. But we were in the right spot. Turn the puck over for one (goal). The second one should have never went in. That was unfortunate situation right there."
The title game was a matchup between a team built for tournament play in Quinnipiac and a team loaded with NHL prospects in Minnesota.
The Gophers' dominant top line featured Cooley, a center drafted third overall last summer by the Arizona Coyotes; Matthew Knies, a left wing drafted 57th overall in 2021 by the Toronto Maple Leafs; and right wing Jimmy Snuggerud, drafted 23rd overall by the St. Louis Blues last summer. Faber was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings, who traded him to the Minnesota Wild last offseason. Defensemen Jackson LaCombe (Anaheim Ducks), Ryan Johnson (Buffalo Sabres) and Ryan Chesley (Washington Capitals) were also among the NHL draftees on the Gophers.
"I'm just crushed for them," Motzko said. "When you're in this profession, you get so close to your players. This group was special. We had no hiccups all year. Not one. You always have a little adversity, but I don't think we had any. That doesn't happen very often."