March 28, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

North Dakota Succumbs to 'Weekend of Miracles'

Goal With 0.1 in Regulation Sinks Sioux, Lose in OT

by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer

MANCHESTER, N.H. — As Ryan Duncan skated to the faceoff dot, left of his goaltender Brad Eidsness, with 5.7 seconds left on the clock, he had to feel good about his team’s chances.

North Dakota had traded opportunities and goals with UNH all afternoon, but it was the Fighting Sioux who had the one-goal advantage with just seconds to spare.

Of the 5.7 seconds left, the first 5.6 went by just fine. But the last 0.1 saw the former Hobey Baker winner’s world to come crashing to the ice at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

Thomas Fortney, off a bizarre back-board bounce, chipped a puck into the net to tie the score at 5-5 with just 0.1 seconds to spare.

Then, Peter LeBlanc dashed Duncan’s hope at another Frozen Four appearance - he had been there in every one of his previous three seasons - by slashing a puck over the glove of Eidsness just 45 seconds into the overtime session.

“It’s disappointing to end it like this, it happened so quickly,” said Duncan, who scored in the second period to tie the score, at the time, 3-3. “It’s an extreme emotional shift. But UNH battled hard, it was back and forth, but it’s hard to be positive right now. It’s a disappointing way to end of a season and a career. After a couple of days, I think I’ll look back and be proud of what this team accomplished.”

And thus ends one of the best players to ever don a North Dakota uniform.

“Ryan Duncan is a special player,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. “It will take a little bit of time to let the sting go away, but anyone who watched his career the last four years knows he is a special young man. An outstanding two-way player, a gamer, he shows up and gets the job done time after time. Without question, he is a tremendous leader. He’s a young man who will go down as one of the best players in the history of our program because of the completeness of him as a young man and a player.”

The tying goal came after an official review to determine the faceoff location. The puck had been cleared out of the North Dakota end and went into the stands.

It was determined that the puck never hit a UNH player on its way into the crowd of 6,838, and the puck was dropped to the left of Eidsness.

Fortney took the draw and won it back to Kevin Kapstad who fed Mike Sislo. The sophomore forward blasted a slapper wide right, but Jerry Pollastrone was in position to corral the puck to the front where Fortney was waiting to hammer it past Eidsness.

“We knew they would be pressuring and putting everything to the net,” said North Dakota freshman Jason Gregoire. “We tried to shovel the puck away and it was an unfortunate bounce off the back boards, but hard works creates those bounces.”

The Sioux then had the chore of going to the locker room for 15 minutes to fester after just seconds earlier surrendering a lead that they thought for sure would hold true
To go along with leading North Dakota in scoring, head coach Dave Hakstol pointed to Duncan’s leadership abilities. Changing the mood in the locker room heading into the overtime wasn’t going to be the first time the senior captain needed to dig his team out of a hole.

After starting the season 0-3, many questioned if the Sioux had what it take to even make the NCAA tournament. After winning the WCHA regular season, the critics were silenced and the criticism almost forgotten about.

“Our locker room was quiet but calm,” Duncan said of the atmosphere just seconds after the Wildcats tied the score. “We have a mentally tough group.

“We’ve been through a lot as a team. The first half of the year a lot of people counted us out but we battled back to get to this point. Their goal at the end of regulation could have shattered us, giving up a goal with 0.1 left, but we had a good first shift in the overtime. UNH just came back and made good plays and that was the game.”

In a game of traded chances, the difference was the Wildcats’ propensity to finish theirs.

“I thought we were the better team most of the game,” Duncan said, “They were opportunistic, we outshot them by a bunch, but they capitalized on their opportunities and that shows a lot of character in their locker room.

“On that tying goal, they got a big faceoff win, got it to the net, and did what they had to do to win the game in overtime.”

Hakstol praised his players and was only disappointed about one thing after the game – transition.

“For very good portions of the game we controlled the puck,” he said. “We gave up a couple of transition goals in the middle of the rink, including the winner. We allowed two on top of our crease, and one was a bounce e on the power play. We struggled with their transition and in top of our crease. Those are tough goals to give up in playoff hockey.

“I’m extremely proud of this hockey team. We have an absolute first class group of individuals in our locker room. It’s hard to end it in this fashion, but saying that, I’ll look back on a lot of great things about our hockey team this year.”

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