ST. PAUL, Minn. — It got a scare, but the nation’s number-one team prevailed.
Rookie Brett Sterling sent Colorado College into the WCHA championship at 7:18 of overtime, roofing a wrister home after he and Tyler Liebel dug a failed clearing attempt out of the corner behind the Minnesota-Duluth net.
The 4-3 final score was CC’s first lead of the game.
“He’s a big goalie, and he was dropping down quite a bit,” said Sterling, who notched the 23rd goal of his freshman season.
“I just thought it’d be a harmless play,” said UMD netminder Rob Anderson, who hit a fellow Bulldog with the puck after coming behind the net to play it. “But those are the plays that win games.”
UMD (21-15-5), which beat North Dakota in the play-in game Thursday night after a three-game series last weekend, might have worn down as the game progressed. Colorado College (29-5-5) controlled play during the latter stages of the third period and overtime. Neither team, though, wanted to make a point about that.
“Yeah, we were tired, but we were so pumped up on the ice,” said Junior Lessard, who scored the Bulldogs’ second goal.
“They didn’t look like they played five games in eight days to me,” agreed CC head coach Scott Owens.
Neil Petruic opened the scoring for UMD, beating his defender into the slot and roofing a pass from Luke Stauffacher over the shoulder of Curtis McElhinney at 5:57 of the first period.
Midway through the period, Anderson was called upon to preserve the lead, stopping point-blank chances for Aaron Slattengren and Sterling — the latter a spectacular sliding pad save.
But Colin Stuart evened it up for CC shorthanded. With seconds remaining in a penalty to the Tigers’ Andrew Canzanello, a turnover at center ice let Stuart in alone, and he banged the puck in off the far post at :56 of the second.
CC’s Noah Clarke nearly untied it minutes later, but put his shot into Anderson’s chest on a transition scoring chance. Similarly, Sterling drew iron on a two-on-one nine minutes into the period to leave the score tied at 1.
Minnesota-Duluth reclaimed the lead at 10:34 on a fluky goal. Tyler Brosz dribbled a weak shot toward the Tiger net, but Lessard got tangled up with the puck and then McElhinney, allowing the biscuit to roll ever-so-slowly into the right corner of the net.
Lessard was credited with the goal, his 22nd of the season, as video replay showed that Lessard had left the crease before the puck got there.
CC again answered. One minute and nine seconds after Lessard’s goal, Trevor Frischmon took a pass from Scott Polaski in the high slot and whipped a wrister top-shelf to knot the score at 2.
Duluth, though, had another response. At 12:41, rookie Tim Stapleton led a three-on-one break and took the shot himself, beating McElhinney cleanly to the short side.
The Bulldogs started to drop into a defensive shell in the third period, which became all the more pronounced when Colorado College earned consecutive power plays midway through. UMD killed the first, but on the second, the Tigers’ Hobey Baker finalists teamed up to tie the score.
Peter Sejna, operating along the right-wing boards, found Tom Preissing at the point and Preissing blasted a shot through traffic that beat a screened Anderson at 9:05.
The goal, Preissing’s 22nd of the season, tied a WCHA record for goals by a defenseman.
Moments later, with the reinvigorated Tigers swarming the Duluth net, CC appeared to take its first lead of the game on a controversial play. With bodies tangled in the slot, Richard Petiot’s shot hit Slattengren, who was standing with one foot in the crease, and dribbled across the goal line.
Again, replay was consulted, and the goal was disallowed when it was ruled that Slattengren had directed the puck into the net with his skate.
The ruling became moot when Sterling scored the OT winner, sending the Bulldogs, in all likelihood, home after Saturday’s consolation game.
“I told the guys, ‘You battled the No. 1 team in the country and took them to overtime on short rest,’” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin.
CC, meanwhile, advances to the title game Saturday evening. Owens drew only one distinction between his potential opponents, Minnesota and Minnesota State.
“The only problem if Minnesota wins is the crowd,” he said.