MINNEAPOLIS — In a classic battle of bitter rivals, Minnesota advanced to the WCHA Final Five with a 4-3 overtime victory over North Dakota Saturday night. Defenseman Keith Ballard was the hero for the Gophers, scoring the winning goal off the rebound of his own shot at 18:36.
“[Matt Koalska] crashed the net and took both defensemen with him,” said Ballard, who cut across the slot to backhand the rebound past netminder Andy Kollar. “I was wide open with the puck on my stick.”
“Barry [Tallackson] made a nice cross-ice pass, and Matt did a nice job going to the net,” said Gopher coach Don Lucia of the final play. “I’m not sure what a defenseman was doing there to get the rebound, but there he was.”
North Dakota had forced overtime with a stunning six-on-four power-play goal by Chad Mazurak, who was parked alongside the Gopher net unmarked. Mazurak’s redirection of Ryan Bayda’s cross-ice pass appeared to hit Minnesota goaltender Adam Hauser in the face mask, then bounced off the netminder’s glove and rolled into the net to knot the score at three with 1:07 remaining.
“It was pretty quiet in there,” said Minnesota captain Jordan Leopold of the Gopher locker room at the end of regulation. “It was pretty tight.”
The story for UND was Kollar, who was virtually unbeatable one night after relieving a shaky Josh Siembida in Friday’s opener. Kollar stopped 48 shots, many of them spectacular saves, to keep the Sioux within striking distance all game long.
“Congratulations to Andy Kollar,” said Lucia. “He’s a senior, he’s had a tough year, and he went out like a champion tonight. I thought he was outstanding from start to finish.”
The Sioux held the Gophers without a shot on goal for the opening nine minutes, and displayed the jump that was Minnesota’s in a 7-2 win one night before.
A Tim Skarperud crosscheck put Minnesota up a man in the first minute, but the Sioux turned the opportunity against the Gophers. After a clear, Ryan Hale dug the puck off the boards in the Minnesota zone and fed a wide-open Rory McMahon in the slot. McMahon scored his second shorthander of the weekend, deking once and going five-hole on Adam Hauser.
Pressure in the offensive zone by UND lured blueliner Matt DeMarchi into a trip, followed by a too-many-men penalty to give North Dakota a few seconds of five-on-three. The Gophers, though, killed both penalties to stay down only one.
The Sioux dodged a bullet at 10:40. A long lead pass sprang Jeff Taffe on a breakaway, but the junior center’s wrist shot hit the right post. Increasing physicality marked the rest of the frame, with UND in particular willing to mix it up along the boards.
The teams traded unsuccessful power plays to close out the first period, but the Gophers wasted no time in the second period before erasing the Sioux lead.
Dan Welch picked up a dump-in by Paul Martin, then cut in for a shot that Kollar blocked and dropped, allowing Welch to put the puck five-hole at 1:15 for his fourth goal of the year.
Minnesota turned up the pressure for the next several minutes, getting good scoring chances on a four-on-four. Just after those penalties expired, Taffe drove to the net, then dropped the puck between his legs for Leopold. Leopold easily converted, sliding the puck into the left side of the net to make it 2-1.
Leopold’s 19th of the year tied a school record for single-season defenseman goalscoring.
Troy Riddle had two opportunities to increase the Gopher lead — both times finding pucks at his feet in the slot area — but couldn’t get his stick on either one.
Instead, an ill-advised pass from the normally-reliable Pohl helped the Sioux tie the game with 15 seconds left in the period. Operating along the near boards, Pohl tried to hit Leopold at the point, but had his pass intercepted by Bayda. Bayda streaked up the ice untouched and beat Hauser low for his 19th goal.
Ryan Hale nearly put UND back on top in the opening minute of the third after beating his defender around the corner, but the sophomore winger lost the puck cutting across the slot and shot back into the netting.
At the other end, Kollar kept the score knotted with a couple of good stops, until a turnover in the defensive zone gave the Gophers a golden opportunity to retake the lead.
Ryan Hale was the guilty party for UND, taking the puck behind Kollar and throwing it in front to Taffe, whose rocket slapshot dented twine in the upper left corner to make it 3-2 Minnesota at 7:21.
“A couple of guys on each team got assists for the other team,” said Lucia.
The Gophers went into dump-and-run mode after that, making few efforts to get to the Sioux net in an attempt to protect the lead. One exception came around the 13-minute mark, with Kollar diving out to interrupt a breakaway by Welch.
Hauser matched that effort with five minutes left, sliding to stop a redirection off the stick of Chris Fournier after the freshman had been left alone at the edge of the crease.
Finally, with 1:49 left North Dakota got its chance. A scrum along the rear boards between Skarperud and DeMarchi earned the Gophers an extra minor for roughing, putting UND on the power play. After calling time out, UND coach Dean Blais pulled Kollar for the six-on-four, and the move paid off when Bayda found Mazurak at the back door.
Matt Koalska thought he had won the game two minutes into overtime, but Kollar somehow blocked off the five-hole on the sophomore’s low wrister. Then, halfway through OT, Paul Martin’s slapshot from the point hit traffic in front, prompting a mad scramble before Kollar covered it.
None of that mattered to Minnesota, though, after Ballard’s winner.
“We made mistakes that lose playoff games,” said Pohl. “Turnovers, dumb penalties. But we won — I don’t know how.”
“I’m just glad we’re not playing tomorrow night, I can tell you that,” said Lucia.
Instead, the Gophers (28-7-4), who effectively locked up an NCAA bid with the win, will face St. Cloud Friday in a semifinal contest at the Final Five. North Dakota (16-19-2) ends its season with the first sub-.500 finish of the Blais era.