March 24, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

North Dakota Survives and Advances

by Annie Maroon/CHN Reporter

ST. PAUL, Minn. — As dominant as North Dakota was for parts of Saturday’s West Regional semifinal, things could have ended very differently for the Sioux had Western Michigan winger Ian Slater gotten a stick instead of a glove on a second-period rebound.

Early in the second period, shortly after Western Michigan forward Kyle O’Kane had scored on a breakaway to cut North Dakota’s 2-0 lead in half, North Dakota allowed its second odd-man rush in about three minutes. With defenseman Ben Blood left to defend three Broncos by himself, winger Brock Nelson caught up with the play just as Sioux goalie Aaron Dell saved a high shot. Slater batted the rebound past Dell just as Nelson slid into the goalpost, sending the net flying off its moorings.

“It started off with a bad turnover on the offensive blue line,” Nelson said of the play. “I just thought that guy might make a quick pass over and I thought I could manage to get over and manage take away that pass backdoor. I don’t really know what happened — I don’t know if the guy hit it in or what.”

The no-goal call on the ice went under review. When it was upheld because Slater had directed the puck in with his hand, the crowd — populated mostly by North Dakota supporters — roared its approval.

“I actually haven’t seen it. The referee wanted to come over and give me an explanation, and I just waved him away, because what are you going to do? We just wanted to keep the game going,” Western Michigan coach Andy Murray said. “College referees talk to the coaches way too much.”

To the Broncos’ credit, the call appeared to energize them rather than deflating them. They outshot North Dakota in the second period, 13-10, after the Sioux had controlled play for all but the last few minutes of the first, and they didn’t lose momentum after either Corban Knight’s goal early in the second or the no-goal call.

“When that second one went in, I don’t think it took any wind out of our sails,” O’Kane said. “If you watch the game, I think we still played hard — we could have even tied the game up in the second period there.”

In the end, though, one call went a long way toward deciding a tight game. North Dakota finished with the slimmest of leads in shots, 27-26, and scored an empty-netter with just 25 seconds left to seal the 3-1 win.

The one statistical category where North Dakota’s edge truly showed was faceoffs, where it led 34-22. Between those victories, the strength they showed in clearing rebounds away from Dell and the defensive-zone turnovers that plagued the Broncos all afternoon, it’s a credit to Western Michigan goalie Frank Slubowski that the game stayed close enough to hinge on one play.

“[The no-goal] was definitely huge,” Nelson said. “We obviously [gave up] that breakaway goal and with that one, that would have made it 2-2, so it would have been a whole different hockey game.”

Slubowski stopped 25 of 27 shots and couldn’t have done much more than he did on North Dakota’s second goal. On that play, defenseman Matt Tennyson turned the puck over in the defensive zone, allowing a shot from the point that bounced to Knight, who was alone at the side of an open net to knock the rebound in.

North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol and Knight both said they were impressed with Western Michigan, who reached the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years for the first time, but have never won in five trips.

“I think we had a ton of respect coming in for those guys, but after the game, I know my respect level went up,” Knight said. “They battled extremely hard, and it was one of the toughest games I’ve ever played.”

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