ST. PAUL, Minn. — North Dakota, long a bastion of offense, has done it all season with defense. That script worked to perfection against Wisconsin Thursday night, before a crowd of 15,583 at the Xcel Energy Center for the first game of the WCHA Final Five.
The fifth-seeded Sioux got 33 saves from netminder Jordan Parise and a deflection that turned into the game winning goal in the third period, holding off the No. 4 seed Badgers 3-2 to advance to the semifinals.
“It was basically tooth-and-nail right down to the last second,” said UND head coach Dave Hakstol.
The winner, off the stick of Colby Genoway, nicked Davis Drewiske and went past UW goaltender Bernd Bruckler’s right side, giving the Sioux a two-goal lead that the Badgers narrowed but could not overcome.
Bruckler — fresh off his first-ever experience of being pulled from a game he started, last Friday against Alaska-Anchorage — was beaten twice early, though neither goal was his fault. He recovered by permitting the Sioux just one more goal over the last 46-plus minutes of the game, making a total of 25 saves.
Despite a solid effort personally, the loss was frustrating for the senior from Graz, Austria.
“We were excited, and I was especially excited to have one more shot at the league,” Bruckler said.
With North Dakota (21-13-5) up 2-1 after two periods, a rough on Wisconsin’s Jeff Likens put North Dakota on the power play for the third time in the game, and the Sioux extended their lead at 9:44. Cycling the puck in the offensive zone, UND eventually lined up Colby Genoway for a slapshot from the left point that banged off Badger defenseman Davis Drewiske’s pad and past Bruckler on his right.
“The difference in the game was a puck going in off a shinpad,” said Badger head coach Mike Eaves, who dismissed the notion of the role of luck in deciding the outcome.
“You make your own luck,” he said.
And Wisconsin (23-13-4) did respond — fast. Immediately following Genoway’s goal, a hold by Wisconsin’s Joe Piskula put the Sioux right back on the power play, but UW captain Adam Burish picked Sioux defenseman Nick Fuher’s pocket at the blue line and went in alone for a shot through Parise’s five-hole to narrow the UND lead to 3-2 at 10:43.
With a faceoff in the Sioux defensive zone at 18:21, Eaves called timeout and pulled Bruckler for the sixth attacker. Shortly thereafter, UND’s Drew Stafford clanged an empty-net shot off the right post, giving the Sioux a few more nervous moments, but the defense held with the same deliberate cool the Sioux had showed for most of the game.
“Coincidentally, it took the shorthanded goal against to settle us down a little bit,” said Hakstol.
Parise was at his best in the scoreless second period, all stopping 14 Wisconsin shots on goal in the frame, including a couple of noteworthy efforts that helped retain the lead for the Sioux.
“He made some game-changing saves in the second period,” said Hakstol. “You need that kind of goaltending this time of year.”
Early on, North Dakota got the scoring going with a perfectly-executed odd-man rush. Travis Zajac fed Drew Stafford at neutral ice, and he found Brady Murray across the slot for an easy putaway. Murray’s eighth goal of the year made it 1-0 UND at 1:22 of the first.
Wisconsin turned on the juice with a couple of credible power plays, but UND made it 2-0 on another backdoor play at 13:08. This time it was Brian Canady with the play across the slot, feeding James Massen for a shot that nicked Bruckler’s glove but found the back of the net.
“[Early on] we were a little sloppy, and they converted a couple of textbook two-on-ones,” said Burish.
The Badgers narrowed the lead immediately with some physicality of their own. Robbie Earl started and finished the play, laying a punishing check on North Dakota’s Robbie Bina to dislodge the puck, then cutting to the net for a pass from Joe Pavelski. Earl’s first shot was saved, but the sophomore from Los Angeles batted the rebound across the goal line at 15:14 of the first for his 20th goal.
That sent the game into the scoreless second, then to the decisive third period, at the end of which the Badgers were left to ponder their NCAA future.
“It’s out of our hands, and we’ll wait until Sunday,” said Burish.
North Dakota — with its NCAA bid essentially in the bag already — will face a short turnaround before playing No. 1 seed Denver at 2:30 p.m. Friday. Hakstol admitted that the physical aspect of the short rest would be a challenge, but that wasn’t his primary concern.
“We came here with a goal of being back at the rink tomorrow afternoon,” said Hakstol, who added, “You just have to make a turnaround mentally, and be ready to play,”