DENVER — After beating Michigan Saturday, North Dakota Fighting Sioux forward T.J. Oshie spoke of having a “feeling in my gut this week” after last weekend’s 3-2 loss in overtime to the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the WCHA Final Five championship.
Sunday afternoon at the Pepsi Center before 11,217 fans, the Sioux played out the same score but changed the result, getting a 3-2 victory on Chris Porter’s wraparound goal at 9:43 of overtime to advance to a rematch with the Boston College Eagles in the Frozen Four next week in St. Louis. It will be the Sioux’s third straight appearance in the Frozen Four.
The loss by Minnesota also meant that this is the first time in NCAA history that no number-one seeds advanced the Frozen Four.
“It was just the end of shift play,” said Porter. “I was kind of gassed so I all I wanted to do was get it on net, and like the old saying, put it on net [and] good things happen, and fortunately for me it went in tonight.”
The Gophers struck first on a pretty setup pass from their captain, Mike Vannelli. Vannelli, stationed just inside the blue line on the right boards, spied Mike Carman, the hero of Saturday’s game against Air Force, alone at the left faceoff dot and slid a perfect pass over to him. Carman lined up the shot and beat Philippe Lamoureux with a wrister through the five-hole at 2:22.
The Sioux regrouped, however, and, as he has all season, Ryan Duncan came up big. Brian Lee fired a shot from the middle of the blue line that ricocheted off the back boards left of Gopher goaltender Jeff Frazee and came out to Duncan at the bottom of the circle. He one-timed the bounce into the net over Frazee’s right shoulder at 6:49.
The teams settled down defensively after that, and both goaltenders made some fine saves. Carman sidestepped a check from Chay Genoway near the left side boards at the red line and broke in on a two-on-one, but Lamoureux got his left pad down to stop Carman’s snap shot.
“Ultimately, he gave us a chance to win a game, and it’s a job well done by Phil,” said Sioux coach Dave Hakstol.
At the other end, Frazee got some help from the post when Andrew Kozek, flying down the right-side boards on a two-on-one, fired a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that hit Frazee’s left pad and caromed off the post behind him. Frazee also stoned Porter with a right pad save on Porter’s backhand from the slot.
The second period lacked any sense of flow or dynamics. Both teams played stifling defense. Eight minutes into the period, Minnesota had outshot the Sioux 4-2 in the period.
A controversial call at the midway point disallowed a goal by Mike Vannelli. Vannelli fired a wrist shot that beat Lamoureux stick-side, but referee Tim Benedetto ruled a crease violation by Blake Wheeler, who appeared to have been driven into Lamoureux by a Sioux defender, knocking him down just as Vannelli got his shot off.
“I had a guy coming out at me pretty hard at the point and I wasn’t able to see what was going on in front,” said Vannelli. “I was just trying to fire it on net and I guess I was a little surprised that the net was wide-open. That’s what they said, that Blake came through and clipped him. Whether he was in the crease or out of it I wasn’t sure. There was some question of whether or not he was pushed into the goaltender.”
Late in the period, both teams had quality chances. Gophers forward Jay Barriball redirected a shot from the left point by Alex Goligoski, but Lamoureux, moving to his left, was just able to keep his right pad down and make the stop.
On a power play in the last minute, Frazee robbed Oshie when he fired a shot from the slot as he came over the blue line, but Frazee, falling backwards, stuck out his glove to make the stop.
The Sioux caught a break early in the third when Wheeler was called for holding Jonathan Toews when he stepped out from the right-side boards. The Sioux didn’t take long to capitalize, as Toews fed Robbie Bina coming down from the right point. Bina caught the pass at the left hashmarks of the right circle and fired the puck low past Frazee at 2:08.
The Gophers got their chance shortly thereafter when Kyle Radke was given a marginal five-minute major penalty and accompanying game misconduct for hitting Erik Johnson from behind. Johnson went into the boards and ended up bent over them, but the hit could easily have been only a two-minute call.
The Gophers, however, except for one great chance by Barriball on a stuff attempt from the left post that Lamoureux just stopped with his left skate, were unable to generate any scoring chances and had very few shots on the penalty.
“They killed well,” said Goligoski. “Last time we played them I think we were 0-for-8 on the power play. They were making plays and they kept running it down and it seemed like we couldn’t get anything going there.”
“I thought it was a big kill for our team,” said Porter. “It kind of gave us some momentum and a lot of confidence.”
Added Lamoureux, “I think the killers did a tremendous job on the five-minute penalty. If I recall, they only had two shots. I thought we did a really good job killing up ice and really limited their chances in the zone.”
Barriball, however, made it up for it at the 13:11 mark on another power play when Bina was whistled for a trip along the left-side boards. Barriball took a pass from Vannelli and one-timed a slapshot that Lamoureux got a piece of, but the puck trickled through the five-hole.
Before the overtime, the Sioux talked about how they would play. Said Porter, “Last weekend Minnesota played great; they made the one extra play and it was a sour taste for our team. Nobody likes to lose the WCHA championship game and it kind of stuck with us all week. Going into overtime, we just wanted to keep making the plays. We had a lot of momentum going into overtime, and I thought we carried it throughout overtime.”
In the overtime, the Sioux took it to the Gophers, spending large chunks of time in the Gopher end. The Gophers were reduced to icing the puck and making desperate clears. The Gophers best chance came on a rocket from the point by Vannelli that just went wide left. The Sioux outshot the Gophers 7-3 in the overtime.
“They’re a good hockey team but at the same time I think we had our fair share of chances,” said Vannelli. “I wouldn’t discredit our team at all. I think we played hard till the final goal.”
The Sioux almost scored seven minutes in when a shot rocketed off the back boards, hit the top of the net and trickled through the crease, but the Gophers defense tied up the Sioux forwards and Frazee cleared it.
That set the stage for the game winner by Porter, who picked up the puck along the left boards near the corner and cut behind the net, then came out and wrapped it inside the right post as Frazee tried to slide over to cover it, leading to an ecstatic celebration by the Sioux.
“It’s tough to end it like this,” said an emotional Vannelli. “The last four years I’ve had here have been fun, and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot.”
Asked about the rematch of last year’s Frozen Four loss to the Eagles, Lamoureux made it clear they are first worried about playing their best.
“This regional and the upcoming Frozen Four seems pretty similar to last year,” said Lamoureux. “We’re not really putting too much thought into it. We have to beat the best teams in the league if we want to be national champs. We’re mainly focused on how we’re going to perform and how we’re going to prepare.”
Said Hakstol of the rematch, “They’re a tremendous team, also a program with a great history of tradition. It’s going to be a heck of a matchup.”