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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service, Published March 02 2013

North Dakota clinches home ice for WCHA playoffs

GRAND FORKS – Corban Knight just finished watching a senior tribute video on the big screen and still had tears in his eyes as he met the media.

“I’m not ready to be done with this place yet,” he said with his voice quivering. “I definitely want another weekend.”

Knight and his fellow seniors will get it.

The University of North Dakota clinched home-ice advantage for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs by grinding out a 2-2 tie with Bemidji State in front of 12,177 in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Mitch MacMillan scored in the second period and Jordan Schmaltz had the game-tying goal midway through the third to help UND gain a point for the eighth time in nine games.

UND is tied with Minnesota in second place with 33 points, two back of league-leader St. Cloud State and four points ahead of seventh-place Denver. College hockey stats expert Tim Danehy confirmed there are no tiebreaking scenarios that put Denver past UND, which will now work for positioning in the top half.

“It’s pretty crazy how tight it is,” Knight said. “It’s definitely real important for us to have a big weekend next weekend and try to solidify a top spot.”

The Beavers (6-18-8, 5-14-7 WCHA) made life difficult for UND throughout the weekend. They blocked 28 of UND’s 80 shot attempts in the series finale, highlighted by one in the first period by Grand Forks Central graduate Matt Carlson on Rocco Grimaldi.

UND’s prolific top line ended the weekend without scoring a goal.

“They do a great job,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “They were in a lot of shooting lanes. I thought, early on in this game, we missed a couple of real good opportunities. And in this last half of the game, their guy in the pipes did a real good job. We couldn’t find one of those greasy tips or rebounds – not for a lack of trying. We did enough to win the game. It was a good, hard-fought 65 minutes.”

UND (18-9-7, 13-6-7 WCHA) had to play from behind a couple of times on Saturday.

Moments after Carlson got a stick on Grimaldi’s attempt with an open net to look at, Markus Gerbrandt made an outstanding setup for fourth-line winger Phil Brewer, who sniped the corner of the net just 3:23 into the game.

Mitch MacMillan answered at 4:10 of the second, taking a pass from Connor Gaarder, skating to the left circle and snapping a wrist shot past Bemidji State goalie Andrew Walsh (28 saves) on the far side.

The Beavers once again took the lead at 12:27 of the second, when a harmless shot from the blue line by Sam Rendle was tipped by Danny Mattson in the slot for the go-ahead goal. It was the fourth goal of the season for Mattson, who was once committed to UND.

UND pushed the pace in the third period and eventually got a game-tying goal from Schmaltz, who is emerging as a scoring threat from the blue line.

Rowney found Schmaltz high in the slot and the freshman ripped a wrist shot off the post and in with 11:23 remaining in the game.

“I made one quick move and was lucky to get it on net,” Schmaltz said.

The final eight minutes up-and-down with each team getting Grade-A chances to win it. Bemidji State’s Ben Kinne had a breakaway with 21 seconds remaining, but UND goalie Zane Gothberg (16 saves) kicked it aside.

“You’re close, you have a lead and you want to win,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “I’m not disappointed. I’m proud of the guys, but you want to win the game. There were opportunities.

“To me, it was an exciting game. The fans got their money’s worth.

Taking a look in overtime at their bench and their kids were exhausted, we were exhausted, the coaches were exhausted and I’m sure the fans were exhausted. It was that fun.”

The tie sets up a critical series with the Mavericks next weekend in Mankato. UND could still win the MacNaughton Cup one last time before leaving for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

“We’re healthy, we’re playing well and we’re hungry to get better,”

Hakstol said. “I haven’t looked at the standings in a while and I’m not going to.

“Let’s sum it up. It’s close. It’s a tight race, so let’s go play next weekend.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, B, Brewer (Gerbrandt, Cain), 3:23.

SECOND PERIOD: 2, UND, MacMillian (Gaarder, Gleason), 4:10. 3, Mattson (Rendle, Ward), 12:27.

THIRD PERIOD: 4, UND, Schmaltz (Rowney, Grimaldi), 8:37 (pp).

SAVES: B, Walsh, 5-8-13-2—28. UND, Gothberg, 5-4-6-1—16.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald