by Theresa Spisak/CHN Reporter
DENVER As Sunday's evenly-matched NCAA West Regional final game — and WCHA Final Five title game rematch — between Minnesota and North Dakota went into overtime, the question was simple:
Who would be the hero?
Chris Porter, UND's senior captain from Thunder Bay, Ont., took charge 11:17 into overtime and walked a Matt Watkins pass around the Minnesota net, wrapping the puck around short-side on Gopher goaltender Jeff Frazee to give the Sioux the 3-2 win and their third consecutive Frozen Four berth.
It shows again how you should never underestimate seniors in these big games.
"I was kind of gassed so all I wanted to do was kind of get it on net," said Porter. "Like the old saying, put it on net, good things happen and fortunate enough for me, it went in tonight."
On a team with four first-round picks and two second-round picks — all of whom are sophomores — and a sophomore Hobey Baker Award finalist, it was up to a senior ninth-rounder to get the team to St. Louis.
Porter and his linemates, sophomore Matt Watkins and freshman Chris VandeVelde, ended up being the difference-makers in the game, controlling play from the first period on.
"This might have been a game that VandeVelde, Porter and Watkins, to a certain degree, won in the first period," said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol, who is going to his third Frozen Four in his three-year tenure. "I thought every shift, every single shift that they were on the ice, they had possession in the offensive zone, they cycled the puck extremely well, they protected the puck extremely well and I think to my recollection in the first period they created two or three good scoring opportunities they didn't score on, but that wears a team down."
Minnesota head coach Don Lucia was in complete agreement.
"I thought the play of that line was probably the difference in the game tonight," Lucia said.
For the Sioux, having goaltender Philippe Lamoureux back on his game also helped a lot; he defeated Michigan, 7-5, the night before.
"First half of the game (against Michigan) I couldn't stop a beach ball," Lamoureux quipped after the game. "I don't really try and focus on my mistakes in the game or save percentage or how many goals I let in. I just try and focus on winning a hockey game."
"Tonight was a much different game," said Hakstol. "Yes, the guys played a bit better in front of him defensively, but ultimately, he did the exact same thing tonight — he gave us a chance to win a game and it's a job well done by Phil."
Still, at this time of year, as Don Lucia says, "You've got to be good, you got to be lucky and you got to be healthy," and the Fighting Sioux had a bit more of the middle factor tonight as compared to the Gophers eight days ago.
Before last week's WCHA tournament final, Lucia was sarcastically noting how his team was the underdog because everyone had been commenting on how hot North Dakota was. Minnesota cooled the Sioux off with an OT win on Blake Wheeler's showstopping goal.
But this time around, it was reversed, and perhaps North Dakota had the last laugh, and the goal was more lunchpail than showstopping.
"One week ago they made an extra play in overtime and they were the better team in overtime and won our WCHA championship," said Hakstol. "Tonight, a very similar game, I thought we had a little bit better momentum than they did in overtime and made the play to win the game."
As a result, the Fighting Sioux now get to prepare to face another familiar NCAA tournament foe — the Boston College Eagles — while the Gophers prepare for a long offseason. BC defeated North Dakota last season to reach the finals, and the two teams met in the NCAA finals in 2000 and 2001, splitting the games.
"We're going to prepare for our opponent but most importantly, regardless of who we're playing, we have to go home and put in an awful lot of work over the next week to get ourselves prepared to play as well as we can play," said Hakstol.