ST. PAUL, Minn. — Can North Dakota be stopped?
Sophomore Jonathan Toews and freshman Chris VandeVelde each netted a pair of goals as the No. 6 North Dakota Fighting Sioux pumped shot after shot on net against Hobey Baker finalist Bobby Goepfert and the fourth-ranked St. Cloud State Huskies, controlling play for long stretches and at times scoring with ease as they cruised to a 6-2 victory Friday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center.
“They come at you at 110 miles an hour,” said Goepfert. “Every shift, every player.”
“You’ve got to stay in the game to beat them,” said SCSU head coach Bob Motzko. “They play so bloody hard and they want to come after you. If you can carry them deep into the game to the point where they have to be more careful and not take penalties, then you’ve got a chance. We didn’t get there today.”
“As a team, you want to keep finding ways to get better,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “We’ve been through some tough times this year, but we’ve never had a problem showing up and working and that work is paying off.”
From the get-go, it was all North Dakota. At first, it appeared that Goepfert was living up to his Hobey Baker candidacy and more — the Sioux put 12 shots on net in the first 10 minutes of the game alone, and Goepfert was outstanding in keeping every single shot out. In all, the senior from Kings Park, N.Y., stopped the first 16 shots that he faced.
The chances for the Sioux included a give-and-go opportunity that featured an extra pass between Toews and T.J. Oshie. Goepfert put himself in position to stop the expected shot from Oshie, and had just enough location to stop the shot by Toews.
Shot number 17 came on the power play, and since shooting the puck directly at Goepfert hadn’t seemed to work, North Dakota took to the skies with a strange shot that was basically impossible to stop. A shot by Toews was deflected straight up and over Goepfert, and came down behind him and went into the net to break open scoring.
“It wasn’t a very big opening,” said Toews. “It was just kind of instinct to throw it on the net, and sometimes those go in.”
In all, Goepfert stopped 17 pucks in the first period, as North Dakota tied its season high with 18 shots in the game’s first 20 minutes.
As the second opened, the onslaught continued, and Goepfert was forced to make an athletic move to get his glove on a nifty shot by sophomore Joe Finley. Goepfert took just a split-second to cross the width of the crease to catch the quick release shot.
The save seemed to give St. Cloud just the kind of lift the Huskies needed to tie the score. Junior Andrew Gordon, working with the puck behind the net, made a no-look pass across the slot and hit WCHA Rookie of the Year Andreas Nodl, who was standing just to the left of Sioux goalie Philippe Lamoureux. Nodl switched to his forehand and deposited the puck into the net before Lamoureux could move across the crease.
It would prove to be just a bump in the road for North Dakota. Just 70 seconds later, UND freshman Chris VandeVelde notched his second goal of the year off a miscue by Goepfert. The initial shot by senior captain Chris Porter was pushed aside to the slot by Goepfert with little attempt at minimizing the rebound. VandeVelde was waiting nearby and scooped up the loose puck, hitting the wide-open net to regain the lead.
VandeVelde’s third of the year was not far away. About three and a half minutes later, a shot by sophomore Matt Watkins to the left of the net rebounded off Goepfert’s leg pad into the right faceoff circle. VandeVelde was, once again, in the right place at the right time as he scooped up the rebound and fed the net after SCSU captain Casey Borer tried to play the puck and missed it entirely.
St. Cloud would keep themselves in the game with a power-play goal by Gordon just over a minute later, as Nodl passed the puck the width of the ice from behind one faceoff circle to the other, finding Nate Dey waiting. Dey quickly moved the puck to Gordon in front, and Gordon unleashed the one-timer.
Almost immediately, UND sophomore Andrew Kozek, who had been in the box for Gordon’s goal, took a second penalty, and St. Cloud had the opportunity to climb back into a tie. The ensuing power play was much the same as many of their opportunities had been a weekend prior, when the Huskies went 1-for-22 on the man advantage.
Late in the power play, North Dakota managed to get control of the puck and wasted time with it in the St. Cloud zone to the point where they were actually able to begin making chances count. Just as Kozek exited the box, a shot by Chay Genoway was gloved aside by SCSU senior defenseman Grant Clafton. The puck deflected aside to T.J. Oshie, who moved it the puck back in front where Toews was waiting to put the puck into the open net.
Less than a minute later, Watkins made it 5-2 by roofing a shot top-shelf over Goepfert, who was virtually in the splits and was unable to find the range to stop the shot.
Down three, the chasm at that point was too wide for St. Cloud to rebound from. They managed to control play much more in the third than they were in the first two periods, it was apparent from the flow of the game that the Sioux were well on their way to victory.
Porter iced the game midway through the period when he pounced on a puck just after being released from the penalty box and brought Rylan Kaip with him into the zone on a two-on-none. All alone, Goepfert had no chance.
Despite the loss, Goepfert made 29 saves to make the final score a little closer than it might have been. Lamoureux stopped 25 of 27 shots in victory.
“There was no real turning point in the game,” said Gordon. “It was mostly just a culmination of things. There were certain things that happened that we had to overcome, and they just kept coming at us.”
“We’ve been getting better every game,” said Toews. “When you go the extra mile and work harder, sometimes that gives you the bounces you need.”
The victory was the third of the season by North Dakota over St. Cloud State, and the Sioux are undefeated in six consecutive games against the Huskies, dating back to last season’s title game. In the last two meetings, UND has outscored SCSU 13-4.
“These guys want to get it done,” said Motzko. “But mentally, you have to stay so sharp when you’re playing a team like North Dakota, and we’ve made some mental mistakes.”
North Dakota advances to the WCHA championship game with a chance to repeat as Broadmoor champions for the first time since accomplishing the feat in 2003 and 2004. The Sioux will take on the winner of the second semifinal between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“This time of year, as players and coaches, these games are an awful lot of fun to be associated with,” said Hakstol. “It’s a tremendous challenge, and to a certain degree, it’s all on the line. In order to move forward and play tomorrow, you have to play well today.
“You’re only as good as your last game.”
St. Cloud State will play in the early game on Saturday, but it’s far from a throwaway for the Huskies. SCSU can likely lock up a number-one seed in the NCAAs with a victory on Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve been strong all year,” said Motzko. “We’ve taken points every weekend, and we have one more shot tomorrow. We have to right the ship and take this as a learning experience, because we only have one more week to redeem it.”