March 18, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

North Dakota Title Caps Wild Final Five

by Dan Myers/CHN Staff

ST. PAUL, Minn. — North Dakota did not put forth complete games either Thursday or Friday night at the WCHA Final Five.

Saturday was a different story.

The Fighting Sioux carried thorough their momentum from an epic Friday rally against Minnesota, taking the Broadmoor Trophy in a 4-0 disposal of Denver.

Until this weekend, no team had ever won three straight Final Fives in the 20-year history of the event. But until this year, no Final Five had ever been as crazy.

Think about it.

Both teams were involved in 3-0 games just 24 hours prior — DU led Minnesota-Duluth Friday before the Bulldogs rallied with three straight to force overtime, and then double overtime. The Pioneers ended up winning 4-3.

North Dakota had played some of its worst hockey all season over the first 30 minutes Friday night, before scoring six straight goals in a 6-3 win over Minnesota.

Without a doubt, the three-goal lead was the worst lead in hockey this weekend ... at least in St. Paul.

"After they scored three, I was thinking 'Yeah, that's a pretty good idea,'" said DU coach George Gwozdecky.

Joking or not, nothing was certain this weekend. Denver looked all but done on Thursday, trailing Michigan Tech late in the third period. But a goal by Luke Salazar forced overtime before Jason Zucker won it, ensuring at least one more day for the Pios.

Despite the loss, Denver had to be relieved to just get Saturday's agony over with quickly. Overtime Thursday and double overtime Friday came on the heels of overtime last Sunday against Wisconsin. An injury to Zucker midway through the final period capped a rough night for Denver, whose team is ravaged by injuries.

All weekend long, DU played with just five defenseman. When John Lee was tossed for a check from behind in the third period tonight, Gwozdecky was accepting volunteers to head back to the blueline.

Gwozdecky had no further updates on Zucker, who appeared to injure his arm while falling to the ice. Reports had him headed to a local hospital for further testing. His status for next weekend's regional is unclear.

But the clear storyline his weekend was how UND seemed to get better with every minute.

A 4-1 win over St. Cloud State Thursday was punctuated by a pair of empty-net goals. The comeback Friday against the Gophers was stirring. But Saturday's exclamation point against Denver was as impressive as it was dominant. Counting Saturday's rally, North Dakota closed out the Final Five by scoring the last 10 goals.

The 10-goal barrage seems almost indicative of their season: The Fighting Sioux have now won seven straight games and are now 9-1-1 over the last 11, 14-2-1 over the last 17 games overall, just in time for the NCAA Tournament.

"I like where we are at," Hakstol said. "But I know it's going to be a heck of a tough battle no matter who we end up playing."

For now, it looks like UND will be back at the Xcel Energy Center, playing in a familiar building, in the same region as a familiar foe: Host school, Minnesota.

"I guess we'll wait and see, but it'd be nice to be back here again," said Sioux forward Brock Nelson, who scored four goals in the tournament.

"It doesn't matter," Hakstol said. "I can remember, back in my first year as an assistant coach, wondering and worrying about where we would go and who we were gonna play. I learned very quickly, No. 1, we'll find that out [Sunday], and No. 2, and most importantly, it's one game at a time. And whoever you're gonna play, you're gonna have to probably play your best game of the season in order to advance and play another day."

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