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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service, Published March 16 2014

North Dakota men's hockey advances in NCHC playoffs

GRAND FORKS – It won’t be St. Paul this year, but the University of North Dakota and its legion of fans are headed back to the Twin Cities.

Thanks to a 4-3 win over Colorado College on Sunday night, UND saved its season – and likely the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff – by qualifying for the league’s final four next weekend in Minneapolis’ Target Center.

UND was the lone higher seed to advance out of the first round in the NCHC playoffs. St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha – the other three teams within driving distance of Minneapolis – all were bounced in Round 1.

UND will play Miami on Friday in a semifinal game. Western Michigan will play Denver in the other semifinal. The game times were yet to be announced when this edition of The Forum went to press.

“Set the GPS to a different location,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “We’re excited to get there. It’s going to be a great atmosphere in downtown Minneapolis. I think the venue will be great. We’re proud to be able to go there and play in front of a lot of our fans. That’s real important that we were able to advance tonight so we can get down there and play hard for them Friday night.”

UND entered Sunday’s Game 3 against Colorado College knowing that it needed to win or its season would be over. It passed its first test in an elimination game this season by beating the Tigers, who forced the decisive game with an overtime win Saturday.

Nick Mattson, Troy Stecher, Stephane Pattyn and Brendan O’Donnell scored goals for UND, which improved to 22-12-3 and moved up to No. 13 in the Pairwise Rankings. UND will likely need to win at least one more game to secure its 12th consecutive bid to the NCAA tournament.

It did keep one lengthy streak alive with Sunday’s win – it is the 12th straight season that UND has won a first-round series. Half of them required a win in Game 3. It’s also the 17th straight home playoff series that UND has won, dating back to 1995-96.

In typical fashion of this team, UND had to grind it out until the final buzzer.

Colorado College scored an extra-attacker goal with 1 minute, 29 seconds left to make it a one-goal game, and UND had to hang on until a puck squirted out of the zone with 4 seconds remaining.

“We’ve had to scratch and claw for everything right from the start of the year,” Hakstol said. “But we have. We have scratched and clawed for everything. We’ve stuck with it. Tonight’s game was a good indicator of that. Nothing came easy. That’s an honest credit to CC. I thought they played a great hockey game again tonight. They were hard to play against. Our guys stuck with it, scratched and clawed, and we’re moving on.”

Colorado College, which received goals from seniors Alexander Krushelnyski and Michael Morin and freshman Alex Roos, finished the season with a 7-24-6 record.

“They are a good team,” Tigers coach Scott Owens said about UND. “I think they answered the bell for coach Hakstol. They have a good team concept going. For our club that’s only won two games on the road this year, I thought we gave a pretty good account of ourselves in nine periods. We competed and played the game hard, honest and the right way.”

The UND coaching staff put the line of Pattyn, Derek Rodwell and Connor Gaarder back together for Game 3 and that unit responded immediately. It was responsible for two goals in the first period as UND jumped to a 3-1 lead.

The Tigers made it a one-goal game heading into the third period, but O’Donnell gave UND a two-goal cushion again early in the third, converting a brilliant feed from Rocco Grimaldi.

At the buzzer, UND was able to celebrate its first-round win with the crowd of 10,054.

“It’s exciting,” Rodwell said. “It’s one of those games you want to get up for. We knew everyone was going to bring it. Everyone was going to put it on the line and play for each other. We did that tonight.”

For Rodwell and captain Dillon Simpson, it was their final game in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

“It’s bittersweet,” Simpson said. “It’s my last game at The Ralph, but it’s a great feeling coming off the ice with a good win. Moving forward, it kept our season alive. And we get to head to Minneapolis.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, UND, Mattson (Pattyn, Rodwell), 3:41. 2, CC, Krushelnyski (Bradley, Slavin), 6:41. 3, UND, Stecher (Thompson, Grimaldi), 10:06. 4, UND, Pattyn (Gaarder, Rodwell), 12:22.

SECOND PERIOD: 5, CC, Morin (Collett), 17:17.

THIRD PERIOD: 6, UND, O’Donnell (Grimaldi), 2:29. 7, CC, Roos, Slavin (Skalbeck), 18:31.

SAVES: CC, Thorimbert 19. UND, Gothberg 27.


Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald