WORCESTER, Mass. — North Dakota knew it faced a difficult test in this weekend’s NCAA East Regional. Sioux fans will be happy to report that the team passed with flying colors.
After blowing out Boston University on Friday night, the red-hot Sioux plastered Boston College, 6-3, in Saturday’s East Regional final to earn a bid in this year’s NCAA Frozen Four. It’s the first for the Sioux since 2001, when, ironically, they lost to Boston College in the championship game.
It also completes a four-for-four Saturday in the WCHA, keeping alive the possibility of an all-WCHA Frozen Four. Colorado College defeated Michigan, 4-3, in the Midwest Regional final, while both Denver and Minnesota will play in regional title games Sunday.
“We had to approach at least the last three weekends [of the regular season] as playoff games,” said North Dakota rookie head coach Dave Hakstol. “We knew we had to get points in every single game we played. That prepared us very well for the WCHA playoffs and now it’s carried right through to the national tournament.
For Boston College, it was an inopportune time for its well-respected defense to collapse. The Eagles had not allowed more than four goals in a game all season. On Saturday, they surrendered six.
“Every time that we made a mistake early, [the puck] ended up in the net,” said BC head coach Jerry York, whose team allowed the game’s first four goals, three in the first period. “Being down 3-0 early, I thought we stayed composed and in it, but it just wasn’t going to happen tonight.”
It also was bad timing for rookie netminder Cory Schneider (15 saves) to pick up his first career loss. Schneider entered the game with a 13-0-4 record and a stingy 1.66 goals against average.
His counterpart, Jordan Parise (33 saves), who earned the regional’s Most Outstanding Player Award, was, for the second straight night, sterling in net, particularly early, as he stopped 12 shots in the first and 14 in the second.
For the second straight night, North Dakota proved its expertise on the penalty kill. In all the Sioux killed nine BC man-advantage opportunities, extending their weekend streak to a perfect 19-for-19 on the penalty kill.
“Our penalty killing did the job when it needed to,” said Hakstol. “Your penalty killing starts in net. Jordan Parise was the first star of tonight’s hockey game. That where it starts and builds out from there.”
The Sioux wasted no time taking control of the game on the scoreboard. Just 42 seconds in, Travis Zajac swatted home a second rebound in front of Schneider as North Dakota swarmed the Boston College net to grab the early 1-0 lead. It was the second straight game in the tournament Boston College surrendered a goal in the opening minute of play.
North Dakota continued to press and extended the lead to 2-0 on a faceoff play at 4:59. Chris Potter cut from the left wing to the circle over the right post allowing center Rory McMahon to fire a pass across that Potter tucked five-hole to build the Sioux a two-goal advantage.
After BC pressured, North Dakota stole the thunder, with Drew Stafford scoring on a partial breakaway at 10:10 of the first, opening up a three-goal lead and leaving the Eagles scratching their heads.
Still, the Eagles didn’t relent and continuously drew penalties on the Sioux. At one point in the first, North Dakota had killed four penalties and half of a fifth that carried over to the second period.
That advantage in power-play time led to a 12-8 BC shot advantage through one, a statistic that continued in BC’s favor in the second.
But BC, the beneficiary of two more power plays in the first 2:23 of the second, could not do anything to take advantage. And when North Dakota finally got its chance with the power play, it wasted no time capitalizing.
With Stephen Gionta in the penalty box for elbowing at 11:00, it took North Dakota just 63 seconds to grab a 4-0 lead. Zajac potted his second of the game, pushing home a feed from Stafford through the legs of Schneider.
BC answered this time, when Chris Collins fired home a quick shot off an in-zone faceoff to cut the lead to 4-1.
It appeared that North Dakota had regained the four-goal advantage when Colby Genoway’s shot from deep along the right boards found its way past Schneider. But after a lengthy review and discussion with video replay official Brendan Sheehy, it was determined that the puck had not gone through Schneider but under a raised right post, leaving a glimpse of hope for the Eagles.
That glimmer got larger early in the third when Dave Spina was sprung on a breakaway shorthanded. Making a move on Parise, he buried the puck to ignite the DCU Center crowd of 8,695 for the first time all night.
The Sioux, though, quickly quieted things when both Porter and fourth-liner Brian Canady notched breakaway goals of their own at 6:04 and 11:08, respectively, to put the final dagger in the Eagles and their faithful. It also spelled the end of the night for Schneider, as senior Matti Kaltiainen (two saves) replaced the rookie, finishing his career on the ice for the Eagles.
Collins completed the game’s scoring at 15:23, burying a wrist shot blocker side on Parise.
The loss keeps Boston College from returning to the Frozen Four for the second straight year. BC has reached the Frozen Four five times since 1998.
For the Sioux, the win propels them to Columbus, where they will face the winner of Sunday’s Cornell -Minnesota West Regional final in the national semifinal on Thursday, April 7.
“We battled hard for this,” said Hakstol, who was an assistant coach last year when UND was upset, 1-0, by Denver in the regional final. “A year ago we felt like we had a great opportunity to get to the Frozen Four. This is something we’ve been working towards for a whole year, so we’re extremely excited to be heading to Columbus.”