SPECIAL TEAMS A SPECIALTY
North Dakota 3, Western Michigan 1 | Box Score
ST. PAUL, Minn. – While the normal army of green-clad North Dakota fans making its way to Xcel Energy Center may not have expected much from Western Michigan as a foe, the NoDak coaches were much smarter than that, and had spent the week scouting and prepping for trouble, especially from the Broncos’ highly-regarded power play.
That prepping paid off on Saturday afternoon, as North Dakota held the Broncos harmless with the man-advantage, advancing to the regional final with a 3-1 win. Michael Parks and Corban Knight scored to give the region’s top seed a 2-0 lead, and Brock Nelson added a late empty-net goal in a 3-1 win.
Senior wing Kyle O’Kane got the only goal for the Broncos, beating Aaron Dell high on a second period breakaway. Although “only goal” is a point Broncos fans will likely dispute for some time. Late in the second period, the Broncos appeared to have tied the game on a 3-on-1 rush to the net when a shot deflected off traffic in front of the crease. The puck crossed the goal line a split second after Nelson had collided with the right goalpost, knocking the net off the moorings. Officials ruled “no goal” then upheld the ruling after a lengthy review.
Broncos coach Andy Murray didn’t get an explanation of the call, nor did he want one, joking that in contrast to his experience in the NHL, college hockey officials spend far too much time talking to the coaches.
“The referee wanted to come over and give me an explanation, but I just waved him away, because what are we going to do?” Murray said. “We just wanted to keep the game going at that point.”
For North Dakota, the key to the game was shutting down Western Michigan’s power play, and they did so with flair. Not only did Western Michigan fail to score on the man-advantage, the Broncos also struggled to even get pucks to the net in most cases.
“I thought we had good clears when we had the opportunity to get pucks down the ice,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “In the zone, we had four guys on the same page. Penalty-killing really comes down to having a plan, and most importantly, everybody buying into that plan and working together.”
When North Dakota had the puck and a full complement of players on the ice, they controlled the game for long stretches, and were just opportunistic enough with the puck to never trail in the game. Michael Parks started it, circling around the net at high speed and tucking a wrap-around puck past Broncos goalie Frank Slubowski. Again, it was a matter of preparation, and sticking to a plan.
“It’s something we work on a lot in practice,” said Parks, who has scored in three consecutive games and has 19 of his 22 points since New Year’s Eve. “We usually stay after practice and work on little things like that. The wrap-around is one of them.”
For North Dakota, it was just one more step on what could be a long, long road back to the Frozen Four if they can win on Sunday.
TERRIERS SUFFER SELF-INFLICTED DAMAGE, AGAIN
Minnesota 7, Boston University 3 | Box Score
The Xcel Energy Center has nice penalty boxes. For Boston University on Saturday, they were a bit too nice.
Both Minnesota and the Terriers took nine penalties, and each team scored twice on the power play. But the Terriers spent more time on the penalty kill thanks to a five-minute major for contact to the head assessed to Justin Courtnall in the second period.
The game was still in doubt then, as not long before the Terriers rallied to tie the score 2-2 and had everything going for them. But two Gopher goals 29 seconds apart spelled doom for BU, as Minnesota finished strong, winning 7-3.
“Rule number one is don’t beat yourself,” said Terriers coach Jack Parker, reflecting on a season beset by so many distractions and self-inflicted damages. “We didn’t heed that again tonight. We had too many penalties that caused us problems and tired a lot of our guys out.”
Still, it was far from a lost cause for the Terriers, who got a pair of goals from Adam Clendening, and forced Minnesota to rely heavily on Kent Patterson for long stretches.
“Any time it seemed like we were getting some momentum, they would get a goal and it went away,” BU’s Ross Gaudet said. “We came out in the third and worked pretty hard, but unfortunately we didn’t get all the bounces.”
Kieran Millan had 35 saves for the Terriers, who finished the season 23-15-1. Parker praised his captains for their leadership through all of this season’s off-ice messes.
“It was a pretty good run for an under-manned club,” Parker said. “The guys on my left (Chris Connolly and Gaudet) are pretty good examples of what you want college hockey players to be, and had good years for us. Chris Connolly had a fabulous year. The last (captain) who had to do what he had to handle for this team was probably Jay Pandolfo after the Travis Roy incident.”
SEEN AND HEARD AT THE X
• Even before Western Michigan’s controversial no-goal in the second period, NCAA hockey rules guru Steve Piotrowski told INCH that giving on-ice officials some more authority to allow a goal in some cases where a net is dislodged will be a major point of discussion in June when they meet to consider rules changes. Currently, if the net is out of place, play is stopped. The thinking is that in the future, if a puck is headed over the goal line and a defending player intentionally dislodges the net, officials could award a goal on the play.
• It was noisy on the streets surrounding the rink prior to the opening game, even though the crowd paled in comparison to the St. Patrick’s Day throng that filled the streets of St. Paul a week earlier. The noise of hockey revelry was replaced by loud pipes, as a motorcycle show next door made leather Hell’s Angels jackets almost as prevalent as North Dakota and Minnesota sweaters.
• Broncos coach Andy Murray had seen plenty of NHL seasons come to an end before, but in his first year coaching in college, he had the unique and difficult experience on Saturday of saying goodbye to five seniors who will not be back in Kalamazoo next season. “It’s like losing a son or daughter that’s graduating and moving on, away from home,” Murray said. “Our five seniors won’t be in uniform for the Broncos again, but what they’ve done for this program in the last four years is very commendable. They’ll always be Broncos.”
• It’s been 13 years since the last warm-weather Frozen Four was played, in Anaheim in 1999. Those who pushed for the tournament’s occasional visit to non-traditional cities in the southern half of the U.S. may have taken some credit for the makeup of the line charts on Saturday. There were eight California natives playing for Western Michigan (5), Boston University (2) and North Dakota (1). And perhaps the most prominent California kid in college hockey, North Dakota freshman Rocco Grimaldi, missed the game due to injury.
• Chris Connolly, in his final game as a Terrier, was playing his first game in his home state in more than seven years. He last played in Minnesota at the Xcel Energy Center for Duluth Marshall in the third-place game of the 2005 Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. “It’s good to be back,” he said. “Going out east I knew there wasn’t much of a chance that I would get back here to play. We see the WCHA teams maybe once or twice every year, usually in a holiday tournament. So I feel fortunate to come back here. I wanted the best for this team and to go as far as possible, but it’s nice to be able to end it in Minnesota.”
North Dakota won three games in this building last week, but this time, as the tournament’s top seed, they moved back into the NHL visitors’ locker room, which had been their home last April for the heartbreaking loss to Michigan in the Frozen Four. Hakstol said they didn’t talk about being in those familiar surroundings, and focused only on the game at hand. “In one way shape or form, everything stays with you,” he said. “But on this team there hasn’t been much looking back, and there certainly hasn’t been any looking forward.”
Yes, it sounds a little strange when the Eagles are playing 1,300 miles away in Worcester, but you’ve got to love that part in the BU school song when the band members put down their instruments and yell, “BC sucks” no matter who the Terriers are playing.
Great first season for Murray and the Broncos for their competitiveness on the ice, and for the growing sense of family he is establishing in Kalamazoo as the hockey program there gets stronger. Murray had sons play at Wisconsin and North Dakota, and a daughter who played at Minnesota Duluth, and said that his kids’ experiences at those programs helped him determine how to run his own college show. “We’ve learned from all of those programs what it means to be a hockey family.”
Kudos to all of those fans from all four teams who bought the pricey tickets for Saturday’s games. Ticketmaster had them going for more than $60 each, which surely contributed to the sparse crowd. The entire upper deck was closed off, and as opposed to the huge crowd to see North Dakota and Minnesota a week ago, this had more of the feel of an early-round small school state hockey tournament game.
A Twin Cities TV station called the tournament organizers on Saturday morning, requesting credentials in order to do yet another story about the North Dakota nickname controversy. Kudos to the media relations folks, who kindly denied the credential request, saying their story would best be covered from outside the building, rather than asking players and coaches to weigh in on the debate yet again.
Yes, we get it North Dakota fans. You don’t like the NCAA. We understand. But booing the video on the big screen in which NCAA president Mark Emmert and first lady Michelle Obama salute military families? Really?
INCH’s THREE STARS OF THE NIGHT
3. Aaron Dell, North Dakota: In a game where the Broncos repeatedly threatened to grab the momentum, he shut the door again and again.
2. Michael Parks, North Dakota: The rookie has picked the right time to get hot, scoring in three consecutive games.
1. Jake Hansen, Minnesota: A pair of goals for the Gophers in the senior’s first NCAA tourney game.
WCHA fans, and St. Paul bar owners, got the rematch they were looking for. Minnesota and North Dakota meet for the sixth and final time this season, with the winner going to Florida and the loser calling it a year. Minnesota swept North Dakota in Minneapolis in November, and the teams split a series in Grand Forks later in the season, with North Dakota winning last week in the WCHA Final Five semifinals.