ST. PAUL, Minn. — Third-place games routinely have their merits debated, but Saturday’s WCHA consolation wasn’t simply a matter of going through the motions.
With seeding priority in the NCAA tournament on the line, North Dakota (26-10-4) defeated Colorado College (28-11-1) 4-2 behind 33 saves from Hobey Baker finalist Jean-Philippe Lamoureux and three power-play goals, including a key score by T.J. Oshie late in the first period.
After a disappointing semifinal against Denver, the win gave Fighting Sioux a needed lift.
“Today was more about our performance than anything else,” said UND head coach Dave Hakstol. “We didn’t feel very good last night about our performance. … I thought we got back to the way we need to play.”
“Getting a win under us is going to build some confidence, and hopefully lead to a good week of practice,” agreed Oshie.
Special teams were critical to the outcome. North Dakota went 3-for-7 with the man-advantage, while CC was 1-for-4.
“They move it quick,” said CC head coach Scott Owens. “That was as good a power play as we’ve seen all year.”
The win gave the Sioux the last available No. 1 seed in the national tourney, relegating CC to a No. 2, though the Tigers can take consolation from the fact that they will play at home in next weekend’s regionals.
“Our goal was to be a No. 1 seed, but we’ll take the hand we were dealt,” said Chad Rau, who scored the first Tiger goal.
Owens, meanwhile, was focused on performance. “I’m concerned about our inconsistent play going into next weekend,” not the Tigers’ seed, he said.
The early omens were favorable for CC, which broke on top eight minutes in on a goal by Rau, the team’s leading scorer. He took a home-run pass from Mike Testwuide for a breakaway, deking to his backhand and beating Lamoureux five-hole. The tally, Rau’s 28th of the season, moved him into a tie for second nationally in goals.
The Tigers had a golden opportunity when a puck bounced off the rear boards and out past Lamoureux, but Chay Genoway tied up Scott Thauwald to prevent a wide-open chance. At the other end, UND’s Chris VandeVelde put a tip attempt on WCHA Player of the Year Richard Bachman (31 saves), but the netminder stoned him and followed that with sterling saves on Robbie Bina and Andrew Kozek.
But the Fighting Sioux refused to leave the first period scoreless. On a power-play faceoff, VandeVelde won the puck back to Taylor Chorney, whose slapshot was knocked down by Bachman. But with the puck free outside the crease, Oshie swept in and rapped it home for his 18th goal of the season with 39 seconds left, sparking the Sioux going into the first intermission.
“Like any good athlete, he took the loss last night to heart,” said Hakstol of Oshie. “T.J. certainly did his job as a leader.”
Bachman stood strong again early in the second, stopping Oshie at the end of a scrum in front of the CC net. The Tigers’ Kris Fredheim took a delay-of-game penalty in the process, though, putting UND on its third power play.
For the second time the Sioux converted, with VandeVelde redirecting Chorney’s blast from the left point past Bachman at 5:01. The sophomore’s 15th goal put UND up 2-1.
“It was just kind of a scrum in the corner,” said VandeVelde. “‘Chorns’ kind of shot-passed it to me and I put it top-shelf.”
Five minutes later, Genoway made it a two-goal edge for the Sioux with a spectacular individual effort. Gathering the puck in the defensive zone, the sophomore blueliner went end-to-end before cutting in front and stuffing the puck five-hole with a backhander.
CC got back in the game in the waning minutes of the second. On the power play, defenseman Brian Connelly unleashed a point shot that rebounded to Jimmy Kilpatrick along the goal line, and the senior zipped it behind Lamoureux at 16:36 to narrow the Sioux lead to one.
The game slowed down in the third period, but Darcy Zajac padded the lead at 10:02, sailing wide up the left side and unleashing a quick wrister that landed just inside the left post to make it 4-2. Three minutes later Lamoureux kept the score that way, stopping Eric Walsky’s shorthanded try from point-blank range.
Both teams will advance to the NCAA tournament next weekend, with Colorado College hosting and therefore playing at the West Regional in Colorado Springs, Colo. For Owens, the tonic of World Arena’s Olympic-sized rink at altitude is just what the Tigers need right now.
“We’re 18-2 at home,” said Owens, “and part of that is because we’re pretty good on the big sheet.”
North Dakota will learn its regional assignment Sunday, which depends upon later results and the selection committee’s discretion in balancing competing factors for seeding and bracketing.
“Wherever we go, we go, and we’ve just got to get prepared,” said VandeVelde.