North Dakota Takes Care of Its End
Sweats Out Wisconsin Win, Makes NCAAs For 13th Straight Year
by Phil Ervin/CHN Reporter
MINNEAPOLIS In the least thrilling, most convincing fashion possible, North Dakota took care of its share in the deal.
Then Wisconsin forward Mark Zengerle finished the rest.
Zengerle's overtime goal in the Big Ten championship assured UND of an NCAA tournament spot about 24 hours after Miami struck a huge blow to North Dakota's chances. Massachusetts-Lowell — the other school UND was pulling for Saturday — blanked New Hampshire 4-0, helping open up an at-large spot in the 16-team national championship bracket.
After besting Western Michigan in the NCHC's third-place game, all UND's players, coaches and fans could do was "pray to the hockey gods," as center Connor Gaarder put it.
They must've listened.
Gaarder scored a pair of goals in UND's 5-0 victory over the Broncos. North Dakota peppered Western Michigan goalie Frank Slubowski with 29 shots, while his counterpart in white and green, Zane Gothberg, stopped 25 for his third shutout of the year.
Entering the day 15th in the Pairwise, UND (23-13-3) needed the consolation win just to retain its chances. By the time its coaches and players returned to Grand Forks, they'd gleaned the big college hockey dance's 14th overall seed and a No. 4 spot in one of its four regionals.
While showering up in a Target Center dressing room, spending some time in the Twin Cities with family and friends and getting ready to bus home, coach Dave Hakstol and those in his charge could do nothing but keep an eye on scores around the country and hope things fell just right.
"We know we don't control our own destiny," said Hakstol, whose program extended its NCAA-best tourney streak to 13 seasons, "but we gave ourselves a chance.
"It's gonna be a long three or four hours sitting, waiting and watching."
Thanks to its 3-0 loss to Miami in Friday's NCHC tourney semifinals, North Dakota needed Wisconsin to win the Big Ten championship and Massachusetts-Lowell to claim victory in the Hockey East title game Saturday. If the Badgers — who trailed by two on two separate occasions in the inaugural Big Ten title game — had lost, there was also a scenario where wins by Miami, Canisius and Ferris State would help push North Dakota above the bubble.
But all three of those teams fell in their respective championship tilts.
After falling in the NCHC semis, UND relied upon teams ahead of it in the PairWise to claim conference crowns in order to keep lower-ranked teams from filling out the NCAA bracket with automatic bids. But the point would've been moot if second-seeded North Dakota — the only higher seed to advance past the NCHC's quarterfinals — hadn't thrashed Western Michigan.
Gaarder scored 1 minute, 42 seconds in and pushed the advantage to 2-0 at the first period's 10:27 mark. Jordan Schmaltz, Rocco Grimaldi and Paul LaDue notched goals in the third frame of a game where No. 5 seed Western Michigan (19-16-5) never had much of a chance.
Not against a stacked North Dakota lineup that before Friday had lost just twice in regulation since Feb. 14.
"After the game yesterday, we were pretty disappointed," said left wing Stephane Pattyn, who had two assists in Saturday's contest. "We knew we had to win a game this weekend, and we would've wanted to be the first to have a chance at (an NCHC) championship tonight, but right after the game, we had to turn the page and make sure we win this one today.
"I think our team did a good job of that."