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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service , Published March 01 2014

St. Cloud State win keeps Penrose Cup up for grabs in final weekend

ST. CLOUD, Minn. – So, it will all come down to the final weekend.

The Penrose Cup went back in its case Saturday night after St. Cloud State pulled even with the University of North Dakota in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference men‘s standings with a 3-1 victory on Saturday night.

The green and white portion of the 5,745 in the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center were hoping to see UND win the league’s inaugural title with a victory in the series finale, but instead, this series ended much like the previous 11 in this building.

The Huskies used a go-ahead goal by Cory Thorson with 1 minute, 5 seconds left in the second period and an empty-netter by Kevin Gravel to seal the series split, leveling the two teams at 42 points in the NCHC standings.

Next weekend, UND hosts Western Michigan to close the regular season. St. Cloud State travels to seventh-place Colorado College. The destination of the Penrose Cup and commissioner Josh Fenton has yet to be decided.

“It’s probably the way we expected it would be at the start of the year,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “You would expect everything to come down to the final weekend – the Penrose Cup, home-ice advantage – that’s all still to be decided. That’s the way you would expect it. It sets up to be a great weekend for the league.”

UND (19-10-3, 14-8 NCHC) was looking to sweep St. Cloud State in the National Hockey Center for the first time since the 1998-99 season, and things got off to a good start on a short-handed goal by Rocco Grimaldi.

The dynamic center stole the puck from defenseman Ethan Prow at the blue line, skated in alone and fired a shot five-hole on Huskies goaltender Ryan Faragher. The initial attempt was stopped, but the Grimaldi followed it up to make it 1-0 at 14:17.

The Huskies (19-8-5, 13-6-3) were able to even it just as the power play expired when Kalle Kossila found Joey Benik with a pass from the left circle to the right circle. Benik, who also scored Friday night, was able to sneak one by UND goaltender Zane Gothberg, who lost his first start since Nov. 9.

Late in the second period, UND started a rush, but a blocked shot turned into a rush the other way. Thorson cut from the right circle to the center before snapping a shot past Gothberg’s glove at 18:55.

“It was a battle,” Hakstol said. “It was hard fought for 60 minutes. The difference in the game was they made one play toward the end of the second period that was a turning point in the game.”

UND pushed to tie it in the third, but found it much more difficult to get to the top of the crease than Friday night, when it scored three times from in tight on rebounds in a decisive 5-2 victory.

“We didn’t have the energy that we had last night in certain areas,” Hakstol said. “I thought it was a tighter checking game as well than last night. It was the battle we knew we would get.”

UND, now 15-3-1 in its last 19 games, swept the Broncos in Kalamazoo earlier this season with a pair of one-goal victories.

If UND remains tied with St. Cloud State after next weekend, UND will have the tiebreaker and become the No. 1 seed for the NCHC tournament. Both teams will be declared NCHC co-champions.

FIRST PERIOD: 1, UND, Grimaldi 14:17 (sh). 2, SCSU, Benik (Kossila, Brodzinski) 15:44.

SECOND PERIOD: 3, SCSU, Thorson (Daly) 18:55.

THIRD PERIOD: 4, SCSU, Gravel 19:51 (en).

SAVES: UND, Gothberg 7-9-13–29. SCSU, Faragher 13-11-9–33.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald