ST. PAUL, Minn. — It was a long time coming, but in his 60th game, Rylan Kaip finally scored his first collegiate goal.
Then, just for good measure, he scored his second.
Kaip’s two goals were difference for green-clad North Dakota on St. Patrick’s Day as the 10th-ranked Sioux upended No. 3 Wisconsin 4-3 before a crowd of 16,468, a record number for the early semifinal game.
“It’s been a while,” said Kaip. “It felt good to finally get the monkey off my back. Obviously it came at a good time. I’m proud of the way our guys played.”
It may have taken Kaip 60 games to score his first goal, but only a little under 20 minutes to notch his second, which proved to be the game-winner for North Dakota.
Late in the second period, an initial shot was saved by Elliott, but the rebound bounced around among players in the slot until it ended up on Kaip’s stick to the right of the crease. Kaip shot the puck across the goalmouth, past Elliott and into the net.
The goal was an insurance marker at the time, giving North Dakota a 4-2 lead, but its policy was paid off in full just seconds later when Robbie Earl one-timed home a Joe Pavelski pass to draw within one — but ultimately that was as close as the Badgers would get after a scoreless third.
Wisconsin kicked off the scoring eight minutes into the first as Joe Pavelski continued his remarkable scoring streak. Pavelski redirected a Kyle Klubertanz shot from the blue line directly in front of UND goalie Jordan Parise. The redirection dropped straight down off of Pavelski’s stick, effectively handcuffing Parise. The goal was Pavelski’s third in the last four games, and extended the sophomore’s scoring streak to 12 games.
The Badgers increased their lead to two goals three and a half minutes later, on fourth-line junior Andy Brandt’s first of the season. After a North Dakota turnover in the neutral zone, Wisconsin went on the attack with an odd-man rush. Brandt approached Parise unopposed and was simply able to wait longer than the Sioux junior, putting the puck into the net with a quick forehand.
On no less than 16 occasions this year, two Badger goals would have been sufficient for victory with Brian Elliott in net. North Dakota, showing early signs of desperation, fought hard to claw its way back into it, and by the end of the first period, things were looking up for the Fighting Sioux as they eliminated that possibility before the first 20 minutes had concluded.
With just under two minutes to play in the opening stanza, Ryan Duncan fired one from the top of the slot that managed to avoid paltry traffic in front and seemed to fool Elliott, who appeared to be in good position to see the shot. The puck hit the back of the net on Elliott’s stick side to put North Dakota on the board.
A mere 55 seconds later, the Sioux tied the game on Kaip’s first career goal. Matt Watkins fed a pass to Kaip from behind the net, and Kaip promptly fired toward the left side of the net. Elliott appeared to be in position, but somehow the puck sneaked between Elliott and the post, tying the score at 2 with under a minute to play in the first.
“Goal droughts happen,” said Kaip. “Mine just happened to last longer than most.”
“There were some different momentum swings, obviously,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “Wisconsin came out and made a couple of plays early that got them rolling, and we were fortunate to chip away at the end of the first period. That gave us a little injection of life. From that point forward it was just a good hockey game.”
Another error by Elliott gave North Dakota the lead four minutes into the second. A pass by T.J. Oshie was redirected near the crease off the skate of a Wisconsin defender toward a wide-open Rastislav Spirko, who was standing to the right of Elliott. Elliott did not appear to pick up the redirection and continued moving to his left, waiting for the pass to arrive, but by the time he realized where the puck was, Spirko had already put the puck into a largely empty net for his first goal in 15 games.
Midway through the second, an excellent sequence by Wisconsin’s Robbie Earl nearly tied the score. Earl took a pass and wound up for the slapper, but whiffed on the shot. He then retrieved the errant puck and avoided a defender as he skated in towards the crease, but the shot was denied with a nice move by Parise. Undaunted, Earl plugged on, skating to the corner and scooping up the puck yet again, and his turnaround shot was saved by a fast-moving Parise, whose quick reflexes on the quick shot saved the North Dakota lead.
Wisconsin found the reducer only 45 seconds after Kaip’s second goal. With the Badgers on the man-advantage, Pavelski found Earl in the slot, and Earl one-timed the pass past a lunging Parise for his 20th goal of the season.
The Badgers had the better of the play in the third period, but North Dakota held strong. Wisconsin had several missed opportunities, including a shot that rang off the post nine minutes into the period and a flurry with three minutes to play.
North Dakota advances to the WCHA championship for the seventh time in ten years. In that time, the Fighting Sioux have amassed a 2-4 record in the title contest, going a combined 1-2 against their potential opponents for Saturday’s game, No. 1 Minnesota and No. 18 St. Cloud State.
“We’re happy to be moving on and playing tomorrow night,” said Hakstol. “It’s going to be a heckuva challenge no matter who it is that we face, but we came here to play in that game, and we’ll start preparing ourselves right away.”
Meanwhile, Wisconsin remains a lock for an NCAA tournament berth, in all likelihood as a top regional seed, and will play in the third-place game Saturday afternoon.
“We talked about the ability to dictate for a whole game,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “We’re still trying to learn, but hope springs eternal. Right now, our inability to dictate is our Achilles heel. Hopefully we still have time to apply what I hope we’ve already learned.”