GRAND FORKS, N.D. — St. Cloud State got the two points it needed to clinch home ice for the WCHA playoffs, but North Dakota made the Huskies work for every single minute to earn them.
For the second straight night, UND and SCSU played to a tie at Ralph Engelstad Arena. On Friday, the Sioux had to come from behind to gain a 1-1 tie. Saturday, the Huskies needed a late power-play goal from Ryan Lasch, the league’s leading scorer, to salvage a 2-2 tie.
“The win would have been nice, but a point is just as good to get the home ice,” said SCSU goalie Jase Weslosky, who held the top-ranked Sioux to three goals for the series. “That’s fantastic with the fans and the crowds we usually get at our games.”
The tie enabled UND to extend its nation-leading unbeaten streak to 14-0-3, a new school record. However, Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said keeping the streak alive didn’t affect how the team played.
“We’re playing to win,” he said. “The streak hasn’t even entered my mind. That’s a non-factor as far as I’m concerned.”
Until Lasch scored on a power play with 2:39 remaining in regulation, it appeared that SCSU would start the playoffs on the road at Wisconsin. The Sioux clung to a 2-1 lead and effectively stymied the Huskies attack.
In a game in which only four penalties were called, three in the first half of the first period, a hooking penalty late in the third period on UND’s Andrew Kozek proved decisive. It gave the Huskies the opportunity they needed to put the WCHA’s top power play on the ice.
Sioux goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux made a difficult pad save on a shot from the point by SCSU defenseman Aaron Brocklehurst, but the rebound went directly to Lasch at the left side of the net. He fired the puck over a sprawling Lamoureux, giving SCSU the tying goal and the point it desperately needed to finish in a fourth-place tie with Minnesota State.
“You play the whole season and you get down to the last game,” said SCSU coach Bob Motzko. “You could see that their (UND’s) foot was probably off the gas pedal a little bit tonight because the race was over. We had to try to take advantage of it and we couldn’t. We had to scramble at the end to get a special teams play to tie it. That was one of the biggest ties for all of us.”
Hakstol didn’t agree that the Sioux backed off because Colorado College wrapped up the WCHA championship on Friday against Denver.
“The guys gutted it out and played hard,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we did a good job. I was proud of the guts we played with. We weren’t all that sharp in some areas, but we played hard.”
UND was forced to juggle its lines throughout the game because junior center T.J. Oshie, the team’s leading scorer, played just a few shifts early in the first and second periods. The Sioux are also without defenseman Chay Genoway and forward Evan Trupp, both injured last weekend at Duluth.
Although Hakstol wouldn’t comment on why Oshie missed most of the game, he revealed that the team hasn’t been healthy for most of the past week.
“A lot of guys missed practice because of illnesses,” he said. “We’ve got guys who played with illnesses and sicknesses. Everybody knows what our injury situation is. We just didn’t have a lot of gas in the tank. We played as hard as we could play tonight.”
UND cashed in on one of its two power plays to take a 1-0 lead at 8:23 of the first period. Sioux junior forward Brad Miller came in alone from the left of the net and fired a sharply-angled shot from close range that beat Weslosky through the pads.
“He came across and got a shot off a little bit quicker than I expected him to,” Weslosky said. “It just caught me between the legs, unfortunately.”
Hard work in the UND zone paid off for SCSU in the second period. Lamoureux couldn’t control the rebound off a tipped shot from the point. With the puck bouncing around in the crease, Huskies’ forward Brent Borgen knocked it in out of a scrum in front of the net to knot the game 1-1 at 4:23.
With 1:08 left in the second period, UND reclaimed the lead. Sioux freshman defenseman Derrick LaPoint fired a shot from the right point that pin-balled into the twine off a deflection from the slot by junior forward Matt Watkins.
Lasch’s power-play goal at 17:21 closed out the scoring. Neither team could net the game-winner in the five-minute overtime.
“We’re playing our best hockey at the end of the season,” Motzko said. “We still have to find ways to win games. We came in here and didn’t win a game.”
UND ends the regular season in second place with an 18-7-3 record in the WCHA (23-8-4 overall). For the first round of the conference playoffs, the Sioux will host ninth-place Michigan Tech for a best-of-three series beginning March 14.
SCSU ends the season 12-12-4 in conference play and 17-14-5 overall. The Huskies will host sixth-place Wisconsin for a best-of-three series that begins March 14.