ST. PAUL, Minn. — The adage goes something like this: offense puts fans in the seats, but defense wins championships.
No. 8 North Dakota had plenty of both on Saturday night in the WCHA championship game at Xcel Energy Center as a sellout crowd of 19,282 watched the Fighting Sioux secure their first WCHA tournament championship in six years. The Broadmoor Trophy win was UND’s fourth overall, defeating No. 18 St. Cloud State 5-3.
North Dakota was powered by an exceptional effort from junior netminder Jordan Parise. Parise made 37 saves on 40 shots, and was named tournament MVP for his efforts on the weekend.
“We were of the mindset from the beginning that it didn’t matter who we were playing on any given night,” said Parise. “We knew we had to come out strong, play very well defensively, and try to limit the kind of turnovers that gave us problems no matter who we found ourselves up against. It was more that we had to win a game rather than beat a team.”
The first period started off with a goal explosion. The teams combined for three goals in the span of 25 seconds, two of which were scored 15 seconds apart by North Dakota.
For the third straight night, St. Cloud State got on the board first. While on the power play, St. Cloud’s Konrad Reeder simply redirected a pass from Aaron Brocklehurst towards the net, a move which caught Parise in the wrong place to make the save, as the puck veered to his right and into the net.
North Dakota attacked as soon as the puck was dropped at center ice. Ten seconds later, Rastislav Spirko had beaten SCSU goalie Bobby Goepfert, who was fooled by a quick head fake from T.J. Oshie, which for the slightest of moments put the St. Cloud junior out of position — just long enough for Oshie to neatly place the puck between Goepfert’s pads.
Again the Fighting Sioux took the center-ice draw and attacked. It took a little longer this time, but the result was the same as freshman center Jonathan Toews put in his own rebound off a shot originally saved by Goepfert, and just like that, North Dakota had the 2-1 lead, just 15 seconds after its first goal of the evening.
As the first period settled back down, blocked shots became the name of the game for North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux defenders managed to get in the way of eight attempted shots by St. Cloud during the period, and were assisted by poor marksmanship from the SCSU shooters, especially the blueliners, who missed wide on eight shots as well. In contrast, nine of UND’s 10 attempted shots in the first period were on net.
Late in the first, North Dakota added a marker on the man-advantage to go up 3-1. A pass from Taylor Chorney was one-timed by Oshie from the top of the left faceoff circle, and Goepfert could not get down into the butterfly in time to stop the shot from going five-hole and in.
Goepfert had an uncharacteristically poor first-period performance, allowing three goals on nine shots. Parise, meanwhile, continued his stellar postseason play during the opening stage, stopping 13 shots.
In the second period, freshman Ryan Duncan took over for North Dakota, scoring twice during the middle stanza to put the Sioux up 5-1.
Duncan’s first goal came five minutes into the second, taking advantage of a miscue by Goepfert. As Duncan sped into the zone with the puck, Goepfert moved out of his crease to cut down on the angle, but appeared to drift a bit too far out.
Before he knew it, Duncan was speeding to a perfect angle on the open net. Goepfert sprawled to reach the puck, but Duncan’s effortless shot went straight to the back of the net.
About nine minutes later, Duncan’s second goal was the result of an effective backhand pass from Toews. Duncan one-timed it to Goepfert’s right to give North Dakota a four-goal lead.
“The last time we played St. Cloud was a real low point of our year,” said Duncan. “We have a young team, but that was the point when we really started to come together as a group, and everything’s just sorta come full circle.”
One of the few highlights on the night for St. Cloud came on the power play late in the second. Senior forward Brock Hooton gained the zone, then shifted into another gear as he motored along the dasher past his defenders, and skated three-quarters of the ice width across the top of the crease. Parise moved to poke-check the puck, but Hooton evaded the move and quickly swung his stick around, shoving the puck into the net for a nifty goal.
Still, the Sioux maintained a three-goal cushion heading into the locker room for the second intermission.
A strangely-bouncing puck ended up in the back of the net for St. Cloud State five minutes into the third period. Parise — as well as some of the skaters in front of him — lost sight of the wildly-flying puck, and ultimately SCSU’s Billy Hengen was credited with the goal after the puck bounced off Parise’s side and into the net, cutting the Sioux lead to two with 15 minutes to play. Jensen was credited with an assist on the goal, his 100th career point.
But that was as close as St. Cloud would get, as Parise and his defense sealed tight for the remainder of the game. The Huskies continued throwing everything but the neighbor’s dog at Parise, but the junior stood tall in net.
“I have to tip my hat to St. Cloud State,” said North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol. “They made a tremendous effort. They didn’t just play hard, they also executed extremely well.”
St. Cloud State, which on Friday night became only the third play-in game winner to advance to the title game, fell to 1-2 all time in the WCHA championship Game. The Huskies ended their season with a record of 22-16-3, an improvement of eight wins over a year ago.
“This one hurts,” said St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko, who led the team to its highest win total in four years in his first season behind the bench. “We came ready to play tonight. We made three simple mistakes in the first period that cost us the hockey game. We came ready and well prepared to play in this game.
“It’s a painful lesson, but maybe standing out on the ice watching North Dakota win that award and know how close we were is the experience that’s going to help a program.”
North Dakota (27-15-1) wins the WCHA’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and as host will be placed in the West Regional at Engelstad Arena, the team’s home facility, most likely as the regional’s No. 2 seed.
“We’re happy to be going home,” said Hakstol. “If you’d asked a lot of people back in October, I probably would have asked to be going somewhere else — we didn’t start the season very well at home, but we’ve played extremely well there in the second half of the season. We’ll find out tomorrow who we play on Friday and continue to take things one game at a time.”