Slow Start Dooms Sioux
North Dakota Comeback Bid Falls Short in First Round Loss to Yale
by Mike Machnik/CHN Senior Editor
WORCESTER, Mass. "We picked a bad time of year to start poorly," said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol.
Actually, the Sioux had a pretty good track record in games like this of late. In rolling up a 12-1 record in their last 13 before tonight, the Fighting Sioux had come from behind four times to win, including a rally from a 2-0 deficit in the first minute of last week's WCHA Championship against St. Cloud.
That string ended Saturday night, as Yale took a 3-0 lead after two periods and held on for a 3-2 win against North Dakota in the NCAA Northeast Regional Semifinal.
"We took a little bit too long to regain our style of game," said Hakstol. "We were able to do that after we scored the first goal of the third period and get a little bit better and more consistent play through that 20 minutes.
"But it was a little bit too little too late for this day."
The loss eliminates both the WCHA regular-season champ (Denver) and Final Five champ (North Dakota) in the First Round of this year's NCAAs.
Denny Kearney scored in each of the first two periods to stake the Bulldogs to a 2-0 lead midway through the second.
"We knew [Yale] had a lot of speed and a lot of talent up front," said Darcy Zajac, whose brother, Kelly is a sophomore forward at another ECAC school, Union. "They transition quick and took advantage of that speed."
Then with 4:12 to go in the period, Zajac was taken down on a breakaway and awarded a rare penalty shot. It was a chance to get his team back in it and cut the Yale lead in half.
Zajac saw room over the blocker of surprise Yale starting goaltender Ryan Rondeau (34 saves), but rang the shot off the post. He knew it was a big miss. Mark Arcobello would score less than two minutes later to give Yale a 3-0 lead, a big two goal swing.
"Obviously it was a crucial point in the game and it didn't go in," said Zajac of his penalty shot. "A shift or a couple shifts after, they come back and score.
"It would have been a huge momentum swing for us, and I just wanted to put it away."
In the third period, North Dakota came out blazing and would outshoot Yale 18-5, getting goals from Brett Hextall and Matt Frattin in the first six minutes to pull within one.
"We came out with a little more speed, a little more physical," said Darcy Zajac. "We were supporting the puck, we were supporting each other, and just getting back to our style of play, grinding down low and attacking the net, and we ended up putting two away."
This is a Fighting Sioux team that has overcome a lot of adversity this season, not the least of which was the loss of leader and Hobey Baker candidate Chay Genoway early. It took a long time for North Dakota to find itself, but that 12-1 finish coming into the NCAAs and a WCHA Championship reflects a team that had a lot of chances to pack it in and refused to do so. This night was no different.
"We didn't play very well tonight," Hakstol said. "We didn't start very well. But that doesn't change how I feel about this team. There's a lot of good character in there. I knew if we could find something good to happen for us in the first 10 minutes of that third period, then we'd have a chance. And we had something good happen in the first couple minutes and gave ourselves a chance. But it just wasn't enough to tie the game up in regulation."
After Frattin's goal, a great individual effort while being hauled down by Nick Jaskowiak, Yale coach Keith Allain used his timeout and the Bulldogs regrouped to blank the Sioux for the final 14 minutes.
"They did a good job closing out the game," Hakstol said. "We couldn't get the tying goal. I don't think they did a whole lot different. I thought we stayed on our toes and did a lot of pretty good things throughout the rest of the period and had some opportunities.
"Twenty minutes against good hockey teams at this time of year isn't going to be quite enough. We weren't sharp enough through the first part of this game. You can break down a lot of simple basics, you can look at what we didn't do to tie it up in the last ten minutes of the game, or you can say flat out, we didn't play well enough in the first 40 minutes. Dug ourselves a three goal hole, and we did everything we could to dig ourselves out of it. But that's a big hole to climb out of."
"You can't really put a finger on it," said Derrick LaPoint. "Some days you have it, some days you don't. Obviously tonight we didn't have it the first two periods. It's one of those things you can't really plan for, you can't really expect it. Mentally we had a slow start and they took advantage of it and got up 3-0 on us."
Hakstol said there was nothing to indicate beforehand that the game would go the way it did for his club.
"If we had a sense, we would have obviously tried to change something. But I had no sense of it," Hakstol said.
"Once Hextall's goal went in the net, it gave us a little bit of extra life, put them back on their heels a little bit, and put us back into the hockey game. There's not a drastic difference from those periods. but little things make big differences. We did some things poorly today that led to goals against, that allowed opportunities, we skated over pucks in the defensive zone, made a poor line change and poor backcheck for one, so a lot of little things that opened up opportunities for Yale. And they're a good team and took advantage of those opportunities."
It marks the second straight year that North Dakota was eliminated in a regional semifinal, and it has now been 10 years since the Sioux's last NCAA title.
"We just simply didn't play our best game today," said Hakstol. "And that's painful."