ST. CLOUD, Minn. — What started out looking like a track meet and one heartily dominated by No. 8 North Dakota developed quickly into a tedious defensive battle by the middle of the second period as second ranked St. Cloud State fought back from a two goal deficit at the first intermission to secure a tie with the Fighting Sioux, 3-3, at the National Hockey Center Friday night.
“It was punch, counterpunch tonight,” said North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol. “The whole game was that way. We had some good play out of a lot of people. Tonight’s one of those nights where you wish you could have just been a fan, because it must have been exciting to watch this one from the stands.”
“They’re one of the best teams in the country,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. “They were fighting for home ice and we saw their ‘A’ game. I liked the way we played tonight, we came ready to make plays.”
North Dakota (18-12-5, 12-10-5 WCHA) wasted no time in going to work once the puck dropped. Maintaining consistent pressure for the first five minutes of the game, the Sioux opened the scoring on the strength of a snapshot from the blue line by junior Robbie Bina. Bina’s quick blast was redirected in front by senior captain Chris Porter between the legs of SCSU goaltender Bobby Goepfert.
St. Cloud State (20-6-7, 14-6-7) jumped right back into things about two minutes later. As UND sophomore defenseman Brian Lee lost his stick in the corner, SCSU junior Nate Dey came away with the puck and skated behind the net with Lee in hot pursuit. Dey curled around to the front and hit senior captain Casey Borer at the top of the right faceoff circle with a perfect pass. Borer one-timed the offering, and the puck evaded North Dakota netminder Philippe Lamoureux to tie the score.
The Sioux went straight back to it, however, and the St. Cloud defense did not follow along. A mere 15 seconds after Borer had tied the score, freshman Chris VandeVelde notched the first goal of his collegiate career with his persistence. After the initial shot by sophomore Brad Miller was knocked down by Goepfert, VandeVelde, standing by the left goalpost began hacking away at the puck, which Goepfert was trying to cover. Eventually, it found its way into the back of the net, putting the Sioux back ahead before Borer’s goal had even been announced.
The deadly sophomore line of Duncan-Oshie-Toews has been scoring almost at will in recent weeks, and they made UND’s third goal look easy. Goepfert made the initial save off a shot by Ryan Duncan, but the puck squirted free as the SCSU senior tried to cover it up. Jonathan Toews simply approached the crease, picked out the puck, and sent it to the roof of the net from the left side.
“Say what you want about that line, they’re just three of the hardest working individuals in the country,” said Hakstol.
“We just keep banging away,” said T.J. Oshie. “We just keep trying to make plays.”
St. Cloud State had plenty of opportunities to score during the first period, especially with the man advantage, but the Huskies squandered many of their best opportunities, including a dreadful showing on the power play late in the first, resulting in a first intermission deficit of two goals.
Early in the second period, St. Cloud freshman Andreas Nodl made a head-man pass to junior Andrew Gordon, who skated up to the left faceoff dot and took a shot on net while in stride. Lamoureux made the initial stop, but still couldn’t stop the puck from dropping between his legs and trickling into the net behind him. Nodl’s pass to Gordon earned him the first assist on the goal for point number 42 of his freshman year, breaking the SCSU record for points scored by a first year player previously held by current New York Rangers forward Matt Cullen.
“It’s a good accomplishment,” said Nodl. “[Cullen] plays in the NHL, and that’s where I’d like to be someday, so hopefully I’m on the right path.”
After a penalty to Bina about four minutes later, St. Cloud took the initiative and tied the score on the advantage. A pass through the slot by freshman Ryan Lasch to the point was quickly shoveled off by junior Matt Stephenson to sophomore John Swanson. Swanson ripped a shot from the left side of the ice was knocked out of the air by Lamoureux, but senior Dan Kronick roofed the rebound to bring the game square for a second time.
Aided by two power play opportunities, UND dominated the offense during the second half of the period, but Goepfert stood strong to preserve the tie into the second intermission. At one point, UND forward Erik Fabian burned past St. Cloud defender Garrett Raboin to collect a loose puck in the neutral zone, gaining a breakaway. Fabian looked sure to have scored if not for a Herculean effort by Goepfert and a holding penalty taken by Raboin.
On the resulting power play, defenseman Taylor Chorney rung one off the post, perhaps the Sioux’s best scoring chance of the period and the only shot which got by the Husky netminder in the second.
Once the third period began, Lamoureux joined Goepfert in making save after save as the two netminders began a stare-down from which neither would blink. Goepfert made nine stops in the third to Lamoureux’s seven, and both teams failed to convert on their only power play opportunities of the period.
As the seconds ticked away in regulation, St. Cloud State managed to earn possession in the UND zone. Nodl accepted a heat-seeking pass near the crease and attempted to backhand a buzzer-beater, but Lamoureux made a game-saving stop, and the contest headed into overtime.
“I saw [Lamoureux] on the ice and just tried to go top shelf,” said Nodl. “It would have been nice.”
The Fighting Sioux were dominant early on in the overtime period, as they sustained excellent pressure in the attacking zone throughout the first three minutes, peppering the St. Cloud defense early and often, forcing Goepfert to make six saves in the extra frame.
That pressure would be erased by a dangerous play behind the St. Cloud State by Erik Fabian. With Borer dishing the puck behind his own cage, Fabian cross-checked the SCSU captain from behind, and referee Derek Shepard was compelled to call a minor. The resulting power play created some decent opportunities for the Huskies, but only one shot, quickly turned away by Lamoureux. An errant pass to senior Justin Fletcher at the center of the blue line squirted away to center ice with about 17 seconds left to play, ending any hope St. Cloud had of netting the power play winner.
By the time the game entered the extra period, the final result was largely academic for St. Cloud State, as Minnesota had finished off Michigan Tech to clinch the MacNaughton Cup, locking SCSU into the No. 2 seed for the WCHA tournament regardless of Saturday’s outcome. The Huskies will host Minnesota-Duluth in the first round next weekend.
“We just need to keep playing hard to end the regular season,” said Motzko. “We need to finish up on a high note and get ready for next week.”
Meanwhile, North Dakota moves into a tie with Denver for third, clinching home-ice for the fifth consecutive campaign. The Pioneers win the tiebreaker with the Sioux, but UND can finish no lower than fifth. North Dakota can clinch the No. 3 seed with a win and a Denver loss or tie, or a tie and a Denver loss.
“We didn’t come into this weekend hoping to clinch a home-ice spot, we came into tonight hoping to clinch a home-ice spot,” said Hakstol. “We’ve been on a one-game-at-a-time pace for the last two or three months.”
“We had a five minute lapse there where St. Cloud took it to us,” said Oshie. “If we play a full 60, hard, we can come away with two points more often than not.”
Both teams complete the 2006-07 regular season Saturday night at the National Hockey Center.