ST. PAUL, Minn. — The luck of the Irish can only go so far.
North Dakota, despite having no real connection to the Irish except for wearing green in its jerseys and coach Dean Blais’ heritage, played that luck as far as it could on Saturday night, St. Patrick’s Day.
It proved to be quite a show, but didn’t get the Sioux anything but more anguish.
UND scored three goals in the last 5 minutes, 35 seconds of regulation to erase a 5-2 deficit, but St. Cloud State took it from there.
The Huskies won the first WCHA title of any kind in program history when defenseman Derek Eastman scored 11:33 into overtime for a 6-5 victory in the WCHA Final Five championship game at the Xcel Energy Center.
“It was a strange game tonight,” Blais said.
Ah, only if describing it was that easy.
Eastman scored the winner when he took a pass from behind the net and, from the right point, fired the puck into a vacated goal. But while the Huskies jumped off the bench in celebration, the Sioux fumed.
North Dakota goaltender Andy Kollar, joined by a few of his teammates, made a beeline for referee Mike Schmitt. Kollar had been pushed to the ice by St. Cloud forward Ritchie Larson, who was cutting through the crease. Larson, himself, may have been pushed by a Sioux defender.
So video replay decided the game. Larson claimed the contact was unintentional, but that was a moot point by the time the call went upstairs. Schmitt couldn’t ask replay official Greg Shepherd if contact was made; that’s a call that can only be made on the ice. The play was reviewed to see if Larson was in the crease when the goal was scored.
He wasn’t, and St. Cloud State celebrated its playoff title for a second time.
“I was wondering why there was no goalie, but I had no idea [why],” Eastman said. “I just saw people come off the bench running.”
Tyler Arnason, who scored three goals on Saturday in addition to two on Friday, was named the tournament’s MVP. Twice, in fact. The Sioux’s comeback was so swift that it happened after the voting had taken place for the awards.
Before the overtime, league officials called back the all-tournament sheets they had distributed late in regulation.
When the game ended in St. Cloud’s favor, the sheets were distributed again.
“He has an absolute rocket, and I think he deserved to be the MVP,” Blais said.
The magnitude of the Sioux’s comeback was only offset by their inability to finish it off in overtime. Down 5-2, they put on a charge for the ages.
“We showed a lot of heart and character and we came back, and it says a lot about the guys in the locker room,” Hobey Baker finalist Jeff Panzer said. “A lot of people I’m sure counted us out but we came back. That’s kind of what’s going to stick with us for the rest of the season. We have a bunch of guys who aren’t going to give up.”
Panzer started it with 5:35 left. He blasted a shot from the right circle past Huskies goaltender Scott Meyer to cut the lead to two.
But St. Cloud still appeared in control. That all changed when SCSU sophomore forward Chris Purslow, in an attempt to clear the zone from behind the net, fired it off Meyer and in. With 1:02 remaining, it gave the Sioux one last chance.
They took advantage in the last seconds. Off a faceoff, Travis Roche blasted a shot from the left point through traffic and into the net with 10.7 seconds left.
“We probably got more breaks and bounces tonight than we have in the last two months,” Blais said. “There were some strange bounces both ways out there.”
In the intermission between the third period and overtime, St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl addressed a group of players that really didn’t know how to react to what just happened.
“I just said, ‘Look, this is a life lesson. What’s done is done,’ ” Dahl said. ” ‘We can’t change the score, but we can do something about what’s going to happen in overtime.’ ”
In their comeback, the Sioux somehow managed to wrestle control of the game away from the Huskies, who were in charge for most of the first 55 minutes.
Arnason, on two occasions, gave the Huskies a seemingly safe three-goal margin.
The first came in the second period, when, 60 seconds after Joe Motzko gave St. Cloud a 3-1 lead, Arnason made it 4-1 when he chipped the puck over Kollar as the goaltender went for a poke check.
After North Dakota’s Kevin Spiewak closed the lead to two eight minutes into the third period, Arnason again looked to have closed things out. He was the fourth Huskies player to touch the puck in quick succession on a power play, and he buried the puck from the slot.
It was a long way from there to the end, but for Dahl, the end result finally put an end to a longtime criticism of his teams.
“Well, it means they can’t say I can’t win the big one,” Dahl said with a huge grin on his face. “Isn’t that funny?”
For the Huskies right now, it’s a riot.