ST. PAUL, Minn. — Having to play three games in three days isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
That’s the task that faces one WCHA team every year, once the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds meet in Thursday’s play-in game at the Final Five. For the winner, a semifinal matchup follows the next day, and then a game Saturday, in either the championship or the consolation.
This time around, North Dakota beat Wisconsin 3-2 Thursday, giving the Sioux the privilege of playing twice more in less than 48 hours. And since the play-in winner’s opponent was scheduled to be No. 1 seed Denver, that guaranteed North Dakota would play early Friday afternoon. Third-seeded Minnesota, whose campus is a scant few miles from the Xcel Energy Center, the home of the Final Five, is routinely scheduled to play the late semi for attendance and television purposes.
The short rest left first-year Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol the same conundrum that faces most play-in winners: bring back his number-one goaltender the next day, or rotate in a new face with the aim of keeping Thursday’s starter fresh for Saturday’s game?
Hakstol opted for the latter, inserting freshman Philippe Lamoureux in place of Jordan Parise to face the Pioneers. Although UND had used something like a goaltender rotation early in the year, Parise had become the de facto starter down the stretch, starting six straight games coming into the Final Five that coincided with North Dakota’s current unbeaten streak.
Parise gave up just eight goals in those six games, playing every minute on the way to a 4-0-2 record that included a surprisingly easy first-round playoff sweep of Minnesota-Duluth. And after he made 33 saves Thursday night to extend the Sioux’s unbeaten streak to seven games, the ball was in Hakstol’s court.
He went with Lamoureux, whose last game action had been Feb. 19 in a 5-2 loss to Alaska-Anchorage. The next weekend, Parise’s streak began when he played Friday, beating Wisconsin 4-2, and performed well enough to convince Hakstol to leave him in the next night.
On Friday, Lamoreux did nothing to diminish Hakstol’s confidence. Though the Sioux lost 2-1 in overtime on the second goal of the game by Denver’s Gabe Gauthier, Lamoreux was instrumental in getting the game to extra time in the first place, making 30 saves while allowing just one goal — also by Gauthier, the game’s first star — in regulation.
“I’m proud of Phil Lamoureux,” Hakstol said. “He gave us a great performance tonight, and he gave us an opportunity to win.”
Of course, Hakstol’s dilemma has been faced by plenty of previous coaches at the Final Five, and a majority have opted to go the same way he did Friday.
The last team to win the play-in game and come back the next day with the same goaltender was Colorado College in 2001-02, when Jeff Sanger, who earned the lion’s share of minutes in net that season, played all three games at the Final Five. The Tigers finished third as Sanger gave up just six goals in 180:53 of play on the weekend.
Making Hakstol’s choice easier may have been the fact that North Dakota had all but locked up its NCAA bid even before Thursday’s win, meaning that resting Parise Friday was partly a nod to next weekend’s NCAA regional.
“Coming into the weekend, we had a pretty good idea that would be our plan,” said Hakstol. “Three games in three days — I’m pretty sure Jordan could do a good job of that, but you have to ask what that would do to his preparation for the national tournament.”