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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service, Published March 30 2013

Yale beats North Dakota to reach NCAA Frozen Four

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Early in the month, the University of North Dakota finished one goal away from winning the MacNaughton Cup.

Saturday afternoon’s near-miss was a lot more painful.

In the final eight minutes, UND watched a one-goal lead turn into a 4-1 loss to Yale University in the NCAA Division I men’s hockey West Regional final in a quiet Van Andel Arena.

Josh Balch scored the tying goal with 7 minutes, 35 seconds left and Jesse Root added the eventual winner on the power play just 2:39 later, as the Bulldogs crashed UND’s hopes for a sixth Frozen Four trip in nine years.

Instead, it’s Yale – the last team to earn an at-large bid into the NCAA field – that will be going to Pittsburgh in two weeks.

“It’s a tough spot in our locker room right now,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “It’s a pretty tough situation for them. It’s difficult to walk into a (news) conference a few minutes after your season ends.”

It’s the first time in 10 years that UND finished a season without a MacNaughton Cup, Broadmoor Trophy or a trip to the Frozen Four. Two of the three were inches away, which made it tougher for the players to take afterward.

The locker room was silent 20 minutes after the game with all the players still wearing their gear.

“It’s tough no matter what,” junior goaltender Clarke Saunders said. “We’ve got 26 guys that care more than anyone in that locker room. It’s never easy to end your season, but I think with all the factors that were involved, it’s an extremely tough pill to swallow.”

Saunders made a surprise start in place of Zane Gothberg, who had a foot ailment that kept him from playing in the regional championship. The junior from Brockville, Ont., was excellent, though, and kept UND in the lead most of the game.

UND got off to a good start when Corban Knight turned a Yale defenseman inside out, skated past him and sniped the glove-side corner of the net at 7:22 of the first. After that, the Bulldogs pushed back, outshooting UND 25-16 through two periods.

“Yale played an outstanding hockey game,” Hakstol said. “There were a lot of ebbs and flows. They pushed the pace throughout the game. They did a good job throughout. I thought we had a pretty good third period going, but we got ourselves back on our heels with a couple of penalties. Ultimately, that pushed us toward our undoing.”

On the tying goal, UND couldn’t get a puck deep from the red line and the Bulldogs came back with numbers. Forward Anthony Day threw a shot from the corner to the top of the crease, where Balch was able to knock a rebound by Saunders.

Less than two minutes later, Mark MacMillan was called for running into the goaltender behind the net and the Bulldogs capitalized at the tail end of the power play. Root, a Pittsburgh native who scored the game-winner a night earlier against Minnesota, picked up a loose puck in the left circle and shot it off the post and in.

Yale added two late ones, including an empty-netter, as UND pushed for the equalizer.

“We’ve got a great group of guys,” UND defenseman Dillon Simpson said. “Everyone stayed positive. We kept believing, we kept pushing. There are a lot of guys who care a lot about this program.”

Ultimately, it wasn’t to be.

UND looked back at a few lost opportunities to extend the game to 2-0. UND hit three posts in the second and third periods while the game was 1-0 – one by Danny Kristo, one by Colten St. Clair and one on a deflection in front of the net.

Yale also killed both of UND’s power-play chances.

“One-goal leads are always scary, especially this time,” Knight said. “We came close to increasing it to two a couple of times. We had a couple bad bounces our way and a couple good bounces their way. It would have been nice if one of those would have gone in. I think it would have changed the complex of the game. But we can’t really change that now.

“You don’t want to look back and have regrets or excuses or anything. There are other things that went on in that game that could have helped us win. It’s not just the puck luck and the posts.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, UND, Knight (MacWilliam, Forbort), 7:22.

SECOND PERIOD: No scoring.

THIRD PERIOD: 2, Y, Balch (Day, Wilson), 12:25. 3, Y, Root (Miller, Fallen), 15:04, (pp). 4, Y, Wilson (Day), 17:39. 5, Y, Agostino, 19:00.

SAVES: UND, Saunders 11-14-10–35. Y, Malcolm 7-8-9–24.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald