DENVER, Colo. --- Minnesota scored three goals in a span of 3:36 of the third period for a 4-3 win over Air Force in the first game of the 2007 NCAA West Regional at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.
Minnesota, the top-seed in the West Region erased a 3-1 Falcon lead with eight minutes remaining. The Gophers, 31-9-3, advance to the Elite Eight and will face the winner of the Michigan/North Dakota game for the right to go to the Frozen Four in St. Louis, Mo., April 5-7.
For the champions of the Atlantic Hockey Association and the fourth-seed in the region, Air Force’s season comes to a close with a 19-16-5 record.
A fast-paced first period saw Air Force out-shoot Minnesota, 11-9, in the first 20 minutes. Air Force got the board first as freshman Jeff Hajner scored from Matt Fairchild at the 9:55 mark of the first period. Fairchild out-raced a Minnesota defenseman to the puck and pushed it ahead to Hajner. The Las Vegas product skated down the left wing and fired a shot from the bottom of the left circle and beat Kellen Briggs on the short side.
Minnesota tied the game in the second period just after a power-play ended. Jay Barriball took a shot from the right wing that rattled through the pads of AFA goaltender Andrew Volkening at the 9:00 mark.
Late in the second period, AFA regained its lead with a 5-on-3 power-play goal. After penalties to Gophers Justin Bostrom and Tony Lucia, the Falcons took advantage. Sophomore Michael Mayra fired a shot from the center point that was saved at the top of the crease. Mike Phillipich slid the puck to the right post and senior Andrew Ramsey buried his 23rd of the season with 37 seconds left in the period.
Just over five minutes into the third period, the Falcons built a 3-1 lead. Freshman Brett Nylander roared down the left side and then scored on a wrap-around at the 5:32 mark from Fairchild and Frank Schiavone.
Minnesota started the comeback with 8:10 remaining when Ryan Stoa scored a power-play goal on a pass through the crease from Kyle Okposo. Three minutes later, the Gophers tied the game at 3-3 at the 14:05 mark. Erik Johnson took a shot from the point that was tipped in front by Jim O’Brien. The shot then ricocheted off of an Air Force skate and into the goal.
The Gophers took a 4-3 lead at the 15:26 mark when the puck took a bad bounce for Air Force off the back boards. Alex Goligoski fired a shot from the point that hit hard off the back wall and then bounced back over the Volkening’s shoulder and landed in the slot. After a scramble in front, Mike Carman put a stick on it and slid it into the net for the one-goal advantage. Air Force pulled its goalie with 2:08 remaining, but was unable to get one past Briggs.
“I can’t compliment Air Force and their coaches enough for how well they played,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “They certainly could have won. And maybe without that penalty that was called, that we scored the power-play goal on, they could have won. I gave our guys a lot of credit for finding a way to win. We feel very fortunate that we were able to win in the end and play tomorrow.”
Air Force was out-shot for just the sixth time in 40 games this season. Minnesota had 37 shots while AFA had 31. UM out-shot Air Force, 13-5, in the final period. Volkening, a freshman from Genoa, Ill, made a career-best 33 saves for the Falcons. Briggs, a senior from Colorado Springs, Colo., had 28 saves. Each team was 1-for-4 on the power play.
“I am real proud of our team,” head coach Frank Serratore said. “Our motto is we want to be the most difficult team in the country to play against and I think we were that tonight. Minnesota has tremendous speed and skill and we were determined to not let them beat us with their speed and skill. If they were going to beat us they were going to have to get their noses dirty. I have to give Minnesota credit, when they were down 3-1, they got desperate, and they got some breaks at the right time, and that is what great teams do.”