ALBANY, N.Y. — This is extremely familiar for Karl Goehring and North Dakota. To a point, anyway.
Looking as poised and powerful as ever, the Sioux shut out Michigan State 2-0 in their national semifinal on Thursday at Pepsi Arena. Yes, that’s 2-0, the same score as in the national semifinal last year.
Goehring was the star in both circumstances, shutting down Maine last season and making 30 saves on Thursday to lead the Sioux to the championship game for the second straight season.
They’ll be the first team to play the final game with a chance to repeat since Lake Superior State in 1993. No team has won two straight NCAA crowns since Boston University in 1971 and 1972.
The Sioux will try for a repeat, all thanks to a repeat.
The semifinal score may have been the same, but Goehring contended that’s where the similarities end.
“It’s just a little different for me,” Goehring said. “It’s a different team. It’s just exciting again.
“I would call the two games separate. You can’t really compare, it’s two different teams, two different years. It’s not harder, it’s not easier.”
Said North Dakota coach Dean Blais: “I think last year against Maine was more challenging because we had a few more penalties and two 5-on-3s, and he had to make a few more tough saves. Sometimes, it’s not the number of saves, it’s the quality.”
Just like last year, Kevin Spiewak made a big impact on the semifinal. Never known as a productive goalscorer (he scored eight goals last year and had six this year entering the weekend), his goal 75 seconds into the game set the tone in the Sioux’s favor.
“Obviously in the playoffs you want to play your best game,” Spiewak said.
He did, using the left goalpost for help.
On a trademark North Dakota rush — out of a transition from the neutral zone — the puck deflected off Jason Notermann’s stick to Spiewak, in the inside of the left circle.
He fired a slapshot that got past Michigan State goaltender Ryan Miller and grazed the left post as it went in the net.
“Nothing too special,” Miller said.
Playing with the lead figured prominently into North Dakota’s game plan. The Sioux (29-7-9) knew that if they could go out in front, they would be able to show off their defense.
Goehring made it happen, but UND’s second goal gave him plenty of cushion.
Ryan Bayda, the left winger on the Sioux’s highly touted top line, pushed North Dakota’s lead to two on his 25th goal of the season, with 4 minutes, 28 seconds left in the first period.
And he can thank the boards at Pepsi Arena for being live.
Bryan Lundbohm’s power-play shot missed the net, but the puck shot back in front off the back boards, right to Bayda, who charged to the right post to put home the rebound.
Although there was nearly 45 minutes left in the game, falling behind by two appeared to hurt the Spartans’ confidence.
“Whenever a good team gets up 2-0 and you’re battling back, it’s tough,” said Dolyny, who called the first period “one of the worst we’ve had all year.”
That first period cost the Spartans (33-5-4) because they never put extended pressure on the Sioux and didn’t get many tremendous chances.
In the first period, they got a chance similar to the one on which Bayda converted, when the puck rebounded off the back boards and to the left of the net. Goehring, though, made a nice stick save on MSU’s Sean Patchell.
That was one of a number of frustrating elements for the Spartans’ offense. It also saw a number of third period fast-break chances get foiled by North Dakota’s defense and Goehring.
“I think we had our opportunities as the game went along,” Dolyny said. “There wasn’t much we could do.”
The Spartans put 15 shots on goal in the third period, but couldn’t get the first goal that would get them back in the game.
“I would have liked to see them score a goal maybe just to see if it would have led to something for us,” Michigan State coach Ron Mason said.
Said Dolyny: “The big thing was we needed a goal to get some energy in our legs. It’s always tough when you’re out there, and you know it’s your last game and nothing’s happening out there.”
Goehring and the Sioux wouldn’t let that happen. In essence, they won the game by playing solid defense and capitalizing on a few good chances.
In other words, the way Michigan State ascended to the top spot in the nation this season.
“I just think when you’re good in the defensive zone, it carries over to the offensive zone,” Blais said.