GRAND FORKS, N.D. — “It rips your heart out.”
That’s how North Dakota Fighting Sioux coach Dean Blais described his team’s 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the final seconds of a game the Sioux led most of the way.
With time running out and the game tied 3-3, a pair of Gopher sophomore forwards teamed up to score the game-winning goal. Battling along the boards, Troy Riddle threw a centering pass toward the slot that ended up on Jon Waibel’s stick. With 10 seconds on the clock, Waibel backhanded a shot through freshman goalie Josh Siembida’s legs to give the Gophers the victory.
Making the understatement of the night, Gopher coach Don Lucia said, “We made big plays at the end.”
Minnesota scored three unanswered goals in last 11 minutes of the third period to come back from a 3-1 deficit. Two of those goals were scored by senior center John Pohl. The first came at 9:02 on a Gopher power play. Jeff Taffe intercepted a Sioux clearing pass and fed Pohl in the slot, who had his back to the goal. He spun around and roofed a wrist shot past Siembida.
“When we got that second goal, I thought we had a chance,” Lucia said.
Pohl scored the game-tying goal at 16:48. Siembida stopped senior defenseman Jordan Leopold’s shot, but the rebound came right to Pohl, who buried the opportunity.
Echoing his coach’s penchant for understatement, Pohl said, “It’s amazing what a little bounce here and there can do.”
Unlike Friday night’s game, it was the Sioux who got off to a fast start, skating to a 2-0 lead in the opening eight minutes behind goals by sophomore forward David Lundbohm and freshman defenseman Andy Schneider. Minnesota freshman Justin Johnson started in goal for the second night in a row.
“In the first period, we looked like a championship team of four, five or six years ago,” Blais said.
Despite playing some of their best hockey of the season, the Sioux couldn’t keep the Gophers off the board. Freshman forward Jake Fleming turned a costly giveaway by Sioux senior captain Chad Mazurak into Minnesota’s first goal at the 16:34 mark.
Just 24 seconds into the second period, the Sioux caught a break when Johnson lost control of defenseman David Hale’s high slapper from outside the blue line, allowing the puck to drop through behind him.
Lucia wasted no time replacing Johnson with senior Adam Hauser, who played solidly for the remainder of the game.
However, a five-minute major penalty on Sioux freshman Brian Canady for high-sticking Gopher defenseman Keith Ballard at 8:54 of the second period gave Minnesota the opening it needed to get back into the game.
Although the Sioux played superbly in killing the penalty, Blais said, “The five-minute major killed us. That was the story of the game.”
Blais explained that having to use his best players to kill a five-minute penalty meant that they were tired in the third period when he needed them most.
Hale agreed with Blais’ assessment. “When you get tired, you shut your brain off and just start running around,” he said.
The game turned ugly after Waibel scored, as North Dakota fans pelted the ice with drinks and bottles. Sioux forward Ryan Bayda was penalized for roughing and junior Tim Skarperud received a 10-minute game misconduct after time expired.
After the game, Blais was frustrated with the officiating, but refused to directly criticize the officials.
“One call here or there can change the course of a game,” he said. “But that takes nothing away from Minnesota. They’re a quality team. Any time you can come back to win in someone else’s building, it shows great character.”
On Friday night, North Dakota’s third-period rally fell short. On Saturday, the Gophers succeeded where the Sioux failed. Their three third-period goals enabled them to take four points and remain in the hunt for a WCHA championship.
“This was a huge win,” Lucia said. “We’re in third place with six games to go. We control our own destiny.”