COLUMBUS, Ohio — The great late-season run of North Dakota goaltender Jordan Parise continues. And you can add Erik Fabian to the list of those who have helped make it happen.
Yes, Erik Fabian, a fourth-line winger who scored twice, giving the Sioux a 2-0 lead, as UND advanced to Saturday’s national championship with a 4-2 victory over Minnesota Thursday at Value City Arena.
Travis Zajac also scored twice for North Dakota, which will go for its first national championship since 2000 when it plays Denver in the final college game of the season. But Zajac’s contribution could be expected, considering he leads the Sioux in goalscoring, now with 19.
Fabian’s was a little more eye-opening, considering he had just three goals all season coming into the game.
Parise just kept being Parise. He made 26 saves to extend his unbeaten streak to 12 games (10-0-2).
He has been a big reason why the Sioux even got to this point, and now he’s one of the primary causes they’ll play for an NCAA championship for the first time since 2001.
“I’m just taking advantage of the situation and I’m trying to do everything I can to make the best of this,” said Parise, who had a 1.48 goals against average and a .946 save percentage in his last 10 games before Thursday. “It doesn’t happen very often where you get to play for a college championship, and I as well as the rest of my team are just going to make the most of it and do everything we can do to win.”
Now North Dakota, which was perilously close to the cutoff point for the NCAA tournament not too long ago, gets to be in the spotlight as one of the last two teams standing. That wasn’t something Parise could say he was looking at when his 12-game run started in mid-February.
“There were plenty of doubts,” Parise said. “There was a point that we weren’t in the playoffs, so that put a pretty big doubt in my mind that we could get here. We just persevered and we all got on the same page. It was tough midseason, there were a lot of ups and down, and this goes toward my guys: I can’t say enough. They’ve just battled through everything and really taken it in stride. They’ve done a great job over the last eight weeks or so and we’re here and we’re going to try to make some noise while we’re here.”
North Dakota (25-14-5), the only team that advanced to the Frozen Four as other than a No. 1 seed, outhustled the Gophers (29-15-1) early and took advantage of its chances, initially thanks to Fabian, a sophomore who is part of a fourth line that has come alive for the Sioux in the last two months.
Fabian’s big night started 5:34 into the first period, when he tracked down Judd Stevens from behind as the Gophers defenseman started out of the zone and stole the puck. He immediately turned and fired a low shot past netminder Kellen Briggs for a 1-0 lead.
Fabian made it 2-0 in the second period when he got a pass from linemate Brian Canady behind the net, worked his way to the right post and stuffed the puck past Briggs.
Four of Fabian’s five goals this season have come in the playoffs. He had a two-goal game against Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the WCHA tournament.
“You need people to step forward, and that’s what we’ve had over the last month,” Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said. “Erik and his linemates really stepped forward for us tonight. They were able to get the first two goals, which, at this time of year, is awful important.”
Having a fourth-liner score a pair of goals to give the opponent a two-goal advantage may have been a bit of a shock for Minnesota’s players.
“They’ve got some good depth,” said Stevens, the Gophers’ captain. “They’ve got some top-end guys that can play and then across the board they’ve got some guys that can score and make plays, as we saw tonight.”
Zajac, who missed an open net twice earlier in the game, scored a power-play goal 45 seconds into the third period and a shorthanded goal just over four minutes later to seemingly crush the Gophers’ chances.
But Minnesota battled back with a pair of power-play goals 83 seconds apart. The first one, by Mike Howe, broke an 0-for-22 slump on the man advantage and stopped North Dakota’s streak of 26 straight kills.
Gino Guyer then made it 4-2 with a wrist shot from the left circle, getting those in maroon and gold back into the game.
Minnesota pressed to get closer, pulling Briggs with over two minutes remaining, but it couldn’t get much pressure on the Sioux net.
It was Minnesota’s first Frozen Four defeat since a 7-3 loss to Boston University in the 1995 semifinals in Providence, R.I. The Gophers won the 2002 and 2003 national championships before missing the Frozen Four last season.
Falling behind by two goals put the Gophers in dire straits, coach Don Lucia said, but he was proud of how they worked their way back into things.
“Chance for chance, we probably had as many tonight,” Lucia said. “But, to their credit, they finished off their chances and we didn’t, and that’s why they’re marching on.”
It was only the second NCAA tournament game in the 259-game series between the border rivals. In the first, Minnesota defeated North Dakota 4-3 for the 1979 national championship in Detroit. UND assistant coach Cary Eades played for the Sioux that night.
Thursday night, it was North Dakota’s turn. The Sioux have lost only once in their last 12 games, to Denver in the WCHA semifinals.
Now, they’ll get another chance at the Pioneers, against whom they’re 0-3 this season, in the finals.
“I think that we’re due for a win,” Parise said.