GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The Holy Cross Crusaders gave it their all against North Dakota, hanging with the Fighting Sioux into the third period. But in the end, the Sioux were that much better, winning 5-2 and moving on to the Frozen Four in Milwaukee April 6-8.
“Overall, I thought we gave a great effort,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl. “At times, we skated with them.”
“It was a battle out there, right down to the final buzzer,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol, who, in his second year as head coach, is taking his team to the Frozen Four for the second consecutive year. “I’m very, very proud of our hockey team. We took another step forward tonight.”
The Sioux came out hitting and hustling, seemingly determined not to repeat Minnesota’s mistake the night before when Holy Cross pulled off one of the great upsets in college hockey history, defeating the top-seeded Gophers 4-3 in overtime.
Just 1:18 into the game, UND got the fast start it wanted when freshman forward Jonathan Toews outraced Crusader defenseman Matt Burke behind the net, came out the right side and stuffed a wraparound on senior goalie Tony Quesada. Toews’ shot caught the inside of the far post, giving him his 21st goal of the season and the Sioux a quick 1-0 lead.
“There was no way we took them lightly,” Toews said. “It was great to get that first goal. It relaxed us a bit.”
The Sioux then cashed in on the power play at 15:16 to take a 2-0 lead. From behind the goal line, Toews spotted freshman forward Ryan Duncan all alone in the slot and hit him with a pass that he one-timed past Quesada.
With UND outshooting the Crusaders 13-6 in the first period, Quesada was sharp in denying the Sioux on some close-in scoring opportunities, but also got some help when T.J. Oshie rang a shot off the crossbar. Although he didn’t face as many shots, UND goalie Jordan Parise needed to make some big saves to hold Holy Cross scoreless for the frame.
The second period began with Holy Cross outhitting the outhustling the Sioux. The hard work paid off when UND’s failure to clear the zone resulted in Crusaders’ first goal at the 3:07 mark. Sophomore forward Matt Werry blasted in a slapshot from the left faceoff dot that appeared to beat Parise high short-side. It was Werry’s first goal of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Crusaders played the Sioux even up until late in the period when a Holy Cross penalty put UND back on the power play. Toews’ pass to forward Drew Stafford was deflected and bounced around before junior defenseman Matt Smaby got his stick on the bouncing put and shot it in past Quesada at 17:23.
“Stafford forced the puck down low and I pick-pocketed the guy,” Smaby said. “I tried to put the puck on net and it went in.
It was an important goal that enabled the Sioux to take 3-1 lead into the final period.
“I thought the second half of that second period, we really started to play well again,” Pearl said. “We took that penalty and they got that goal right at the end of the kill. We had done a really good job. That third goal was pretty big.”
Holy Cross made it a one-goal game again when it struck on the power play at the 5:21 mark of the third period. Forward Tyler McGregor’s shot missed the net, ricocheted off the end boards and back in front, surprising Parise. Holy Cross senior forward Blair Bartlett knocked the puck in before Parise could react, making it a 3-2 game and giving the Crusaders new life.
But the Sioux quickly answered with a backbreaking power-play goal of their own at 6:48, restoring their two-goal lead. Sophomore center Travis Zajac got his stick on defenseman Brian Lee’s wrist shot, deflecting it past Quesada for a 4-2 UND lead.
“When they got that fourth one, it was tough to come back on, just because they’re so good defensively,” Pearl said.
Against one of the top penalty kills in the nation, UND was 3-for-5 on the power play while Holy Cross was 1-for-5.
“They’re obviously very good, individual talented players,” McGregor said of UND’s power play. “Any time you can put that many players on the ice with that much talent, you’ll obviously have a very powerful power play. They move the puck well. They shoot well. They’re pretty dangerous.”
The game’s final goal at 9:03 iced the game for UND. Off an odd-man rush, junior forward Chris Porter fired a slapshot that Quesada juggled. As players from both teams crashed the net, the puck ended up behind the Holy Cross goalie, although the goal light didn’t come on and the referee gave no signal. After review, Sioux freshman center Matt Watkins was credited with the goal.
Although the Crusaders continued to work hard to generate chances, UND’s defense clamped down and Parise surrendered nothing more. As the clock wound down, the record crowd of 11,492 — mostly Sioux fans — rose to applaud UND for making it back for a second consecutive Frozen Four.
“They’re a very talented team,” McGregor said of UND. “Unfortunately, I don’t feel we gave a good effort. I don’t feel that we brought our best game tonight. I feel pretty confident that the two teams that were on the ice tonight would have been pretty even on another night.”
Parise, who improved his NCAA playoff record to 6-2, attributed his success to his teammates. “They’ve been playing extremely well. I’ve had to elevate my game in order to keep up with theirs,” he said.
UND improves to 29-15-1 on the season, while Holy Cross ends its season at 27-10-2.