West Regional | Regional Final
Building New Reputation
Grinding, physical players keyed win
over Minnesota on Sunday
Minnesota 2 (OT)
Vannelli, T. Lucia
Toews, T.J. Oshie
Vannelli, A. Goligoski
Wilkins, Z. Jones
Philippe Lamoureux, 69:43, 27 saves, 2 GA
Jeff Frazee, 69:35, 33 saves, 3 GA
NDK 7/25; MN 6/12
Plays: NDK 1-6; MN 1-6
DENVER – North Dakota has a well-deserved
reputation as an offensive juggernaut, with electric players
like Tony Hrkac, Greg Johnson, Jason Blake, Zach Parise,
and Jonathan Toews calling Grand Forks home at various times
over the past 20-plus years.
But it was guys like Erik Fabian, Matt Watkins,
and Chris Porter, who set the Fighting Sioux's 3-2 overtime
win over Minnesota in Sunday's West Regional final at the
Pepsi Center by thoroughly frustrating the Gophers with
a grinding, physical style, a tenacious forecheck, and a
commitment to clogging passing lanes.
The latter was a key point of emphasis of
North Dakota's game plan to slow Minnesota – namely,
staying in the middle of the ice and keeping the Gophers
from connecting on long, cross-ice passes.
"We talked about that this morning in
our meeting," said Fabian, a senior left wing. "If
you watch the last game we played them, we gave up a lot
of 2-on-1's, 3-on-2's.
"They like to swing a [forward] wide
and throw it to an area. If you keep things in the middle,
it restricts them from doing that because they can't just
throw it, and you can knock it down and go in. They tried
it a couple times and a few of our guys had some plays on
Minnesota scored both its goals off cross-ice
passes – the kind Fighting Sioux tried so hard to
eliminate – by defenseman Mike Vannelli. Jay Barriball's
third-period goal came on the power play, when passing lanes
are naturally easier to find. A blown North Dakota coverage,
meanwhile, allowed Vannelli to set up forward Mike Carman
for a goal a little more than two minutes into the game.
"It happened to be my line that was out
there," Fabian said. "We came back, talked about
it … but from there, people rolled."
"Michigan scored one like that,"
sophomore left wing Matt Watkins said. "Their first
one last night was the exact same play pretty much. We talked
about coming down and preventing those passes back door,
otherwise those guys were gonna get free shots."
|North Dakota goal-scorer
Chris Porter (left) and Chay Genoway celebrate Porter's
game-winner in overtime on Sunday evening in Denver.
Not only did North Dakota clamp down by clogging
the passing lanes in its zone, but the Fighting Sioux also
made life miserable with its forecheck, often sending two
forwards in to harass Minnesota's defensemen as they tried
to move the puck up the ice.
"It was tough," Gopher freshman
rearguard Erik Johnson said. "They came hard and crashed
a lot of bodies. Anytime you have two forwards coming hard,
it's gonna be tough to get the puck out."
"You've got to peep over your shoulder
and see how much time and space you've got," added
Johnson's defensive partner, junior Derek Peltier. "We
didn't have a whole lot of time."
When the Minnesota defensemen weren't struggling
to make crisp first passes out of their end, they had their
hands full trying to slow the fearless Sioux forwards, who
like to chip the puck deep into the offensive zone and make
something – anything happen – once they get
"We look at dumps as an offensive play,"
Fabian explained. "You can beat the guy there, you
can tie it up, and let the help come. If you don't have
[a play], get it in, because if you turn over, the other
team can transition and make you pay."
It was only fitting that Porter scored the
game-winning goal on such a play, beating flat-footed Minnesota
defenseman Erik Johnson to a puck Watkins chipped behind
the Gopher net and stuffing it past goaltender Jeff Frazee
halfway through the overtime period.
"We look to wear teams down," Fabian
said. "We have the guys to try and do it. It doesn't
always work, but it's the style that we like to play."
SEEN AND HEARD AT THE PEPSI CENTER
• Like Minnesota, North Dakota prides
itself on being a puck-possession team. Credit the Fighting
Sioux face-off men for the team's success in that area,
winning 49 draws as compared to the Gophers' 30.
"Winning draws is always essential to
having the puck," said Watkins, "[and] it shows
you have intensity. [Against Michigan,] we did a pretty
terrible job on face-offs."
• The lively end boards at the Pepsi
Center combined with the fact that the cages in NHL arena
sit further back compared to those in college rinks made
for some harrowing moments for goaltenders this weekend.
North Dakota's first goal, scored by forward Ryan Duncan
after defenseman Brian Lee's point shot caromed off the
end wall, was just one of many unlikely bounces.
"It's definitely something a little bit
different," North Dakota goalie Philippe Lamoureux
said. "We got to play in the Xcel Energy Center [for
the WCHA Final Five] last week, and the nets were in the
same place as they are here, so it wasn't really too big
of an adjustment."
|Blake Wheeler (17)
was the first to congratulate Jay Barriball (facing
glass) after his goal tied the game 2-2 with 6:49 left
in the third period.
• Lamoureux made his 24th consecutive
start Sunday, the longest such streak by a Fighting Sioux
goaltender since Peter Waselovich started 32 straight contests
to start the 1973-74 season.
• Minnesota's loss to North Dakota prevents
St. Louis hockey fans from seeing defenseman Erik Johnson,
whom the Blues chose with the first overall pick in last
year's NHL Entry Draft, first-hand.
"It wasn't about getting to St. Louis
for me," a subdued Johnson said in the Minnesota locker
room following the game. "It was about getting to the
Frozen Four and winning the national championship. It hurts
to having it go down this way. There's always next year."
• The Gophers had an apparent goal by
Mike Vannelli midway through the second period waved off.
Referee Tim Benedetto had blown the play dead before the
puck crossed the goal line because Minnesota forward Blake
Wheeler had skated through the crease.
• From the "I Can Feel the Earth
Move Under My Feet" Dept.: North Dakota defenseman
Joe Finley, who measures 6-foot-7 and 252 pounds, flattened
the 6-foot-4, 212-pound Wheeler with a thundering body check
late in the first period.
INCH's Three Stars of the Night
Philippe Lamoureux, North Dakota
than the first 21 minutes of the Fighting Sioux win
against Michigan in Saturday's West Regional first
round, Lamoureux was terrific. He excelled at limiting
Minnesota's second chances by controlling rebounds
or covering the puck.
Mike Vannelli, Minnesota
Vannelli was the Gophers' best player this
weekend. He set up both Minnesota goals Sunday with
perfect cross-ice passes through traffic to waiting
forwards. An Atlanta draft pick, his puck skills and
mobility should translate well to the current NHL.
Chris Porter, North Dakota
The game-winner wasn't the cleanest goal
you'll see, but give Porter credit for keeping his
feet moving, allowing him to beat Minnesota's Erik
Johnson for the wraparound. Porter's line also frustrated
Minnesota's trio of Ben Gordon, Blake Wheeler, and
Jay Barriball, against whom they were often matched.
• Minnesota goalie Jeff Frazee made
the save of the weekend in the second period of Sunday's
game. Flat on his back after Vannelli bowled him over in
pursuit of a rebound, Frazee lunged with his paddle to rob
North Dakota's Darcy Zajac of a sure goal.
• The Colorado Avalanche, the Pepsi
Center's primary skating tenants, hold the draft rights
of five West Regional participants. Three of them are Gophers
– defenseman Derek Peltier and forwards Mike Carman
and Ryan Stoa. The others are Michigan forward T.J. Hensick
and goalie Billy Sauer.
• The temperature outside the Pepsi
Center at faceoff was 68 degrees – approximately 37
degrees warmer than it was at the start of Saturday's Air
• Hot in here, part II: The first song
played on the boombox in the North Dakota dressing room
following Sunday's game? Superstar rapper Nelly's "St.
Louie," natch. Nelly is a Gateway City native.
announced attendance was 11,217, putting the two-day total
at the Pepsi Center at 33,549, setting a new three-game
regional attendance record. The previous mark was set at
last year's West Regional in Grand Forks, N.D., which attracted
22,465 to Ralph Engelstad Arena. This was the first year,
however, that the NCAA counted gates for all three regional
Here's a better indication of the solid crowds
at the Pepsi Center: It's just the second regional in the
history of the NCAA Tournament to average more than 10,000
fans per game, joining the '06 West Regional at the Ralph
in that elite group.
the young boy, who could've been no older than three, seated
six or so rows behind one of the Pepsi Center penalty boxes.
He was hit by a puck that caromed out of play early in the
second period, but after receiving medical attention, he
and his father returned to their seat before the period
ended. Coaches on the lookout for a shot-blocking defenseman
in 15 years would be wise to take note.
defensemen Erik Johnson and Derek Peltier struggled mightily
in their own end. Their inability to clear the puck from
their zone on two consecutive chances in the first period
allowed North Dakota to maintain possession during a sequence
that eventually led to Ryan Duncan's goal, and Johnson's
flat-footedness allowed Porter to win the race to the puck
behind the Gopher cage and get the game-winning goal.
reporter at the post-game press conference asked Minnesota
defenseman Alex Goligoski if he would return to the Gophers
for his senior season, a grossly inappropriate question
to expect someone to answer minutes after his season was
ended by an archrival. Credit Goligoski for briefly answering
the question politely, and stating that it was neither the
time nor the place to discuss the matter.
For North Dakota, it's a third consecutive
trip to the Frozen Four and a rematch with Boston College,
the team that knocked them out in last year's semifinals
in Milwaukee, in what promises to be a terrific game featuring
two teams playing their best hockey.
"We had a rough first half and battled
through a lot of adversity," said sophomore forward
and Hobey Baker Award candidate Ryan Duncan. "And I
think that that's paid off and it's helped us down the stretch."
For Minnesota, perhaps an off-season of soul
searching is in order, as the Gophers were outplayed by
both Air Force and North Dakota in their games at the West
Regional, a common theme for them down the stretch. Often
times, Minnesota is able to get by on superior talent, but
as evidenced by the events this weekend, the most talented
team isn't always the best team.
Gopher fans will also fret about underclassmen
defecting to the NHL, and rightfully so. Goligoski, Johnson,
Kyle Okposo, and Wheeler are prime candidates to leave early.