North Dakota Buckles in Third
Another Solid Season Ends in Disappointment
by Matt Slovin/CHN Reporter
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. After the strongest postseason imaginable by the North Dakota penalty-kill unit, a rare lapse couldn’t have possibly come at a worse time.
But Yale took advantage, as regional MVP Jesse Root popped one in on the power play for the second of four third-period Bulldog goals, devastating North Dakota in one fell swoop.
The North Dakota penalty killers stayed true to their playoff form for most of Saturday’s regional final, killing off a pair of first-period penalties and four of five total. Yet they failed to handle the most important one of all, and the Bulldogs pulled off the upset, 4-1 with an empty netter.
“It’s a tough spot in our locker room right now,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol after the game.
Root scored his power-play goal with 4:54 to go in the game, continuing North Dakota’s third-period collapse that it never could begin to recover from.
Hakstol attributed Root’s goal, a “broken play,” to an unfortunate bounce off a puck his team simply didn’t get deep enough.
“They put constant pressure on our defense. They were able to do that in the third,” said North Dakota’s Colten St. Clair of his team’s late buckling.
Without Friday’s starter in net, Zane Gothberg (undisclosed ailment), North Dakota looked poised to survive the aggressive forecheck of Yale, which would have helped avenge a 2010 loss to the Bulldogs in the 2010 Northeast Regional semifinal in Manchester, N.H. That defeat was admittedly fresh in the minds of the North Dakota players on Saturday.
North Dakota’s shorthanded performance came on the heels of another stellar one in the regional semifinal against Niagara when the penalty kill went a season-best 6-for-6. In its six playoff games, North Dakota had killed off 15 of the 17 penalties it has taken. On one particular man advantage, North Dakota’s Carter Rowney made a risky decision to overcommit on a blue-line pass as the Yale offense was getting set. But the move made off — his active stick tipped the puck out of the zone and kept the Bulldogs power play at bay.
Though North Dakota’s parade to the penalty box eventually came to a halt in the second period, its starting goalie, Clarke Saunders, looked unbeatable in the first two periods both at even strength and down a man.
“Saunders did a tremendous job as he has all year for us,” Hakstol said. “I thought he was good in the third period as well.”
Saunders, who was the goalie of record in North Dakota’s Final Five loss to Colorado College, flashed the leather to rob Bulldogs on multiple occasions. At times, however, he was quite tentative. Last week, against the Tigers, he was tagged for four goals, including the overtime winner.
He even impressed with his rebound control, an area he has struggled with this season, until allowing the game-tying goal with about seven minutes left. Saunders made the initial stop and appeared to get a piece of the rebound, but not enough to keep it out.
Minutes later, Root popped the game winner in near the far post through traffic, and it held up to be the game winner.
Despite receiving strong penalty killing for much of the game and season, the North Dakota power play continued its drought that began against Niagara. It never seemed like the unit found any kind of sustained success for a large part of the season.
“It’s a thing of momentum,” Hakstol said of his power play, which went 0-for-3. “We needed a bounce along the way in order to get our momentum back. We couldn’t seem to get that this weekend.”
As a result, it was another disappointing conclusion to a season for North Dakota.