MADISON, Wis. — A young team might have panicked being put in a similar situation.
Down 2-0 in the opponent’s home arena with a berth in the 2008 Frozen Four hanging in the balance, top seed North Dakota had everything going against it — the crowd, the momentum and the bounces.
Even so, that didn’t stop the Fighting Sioux from making it back to the national semifinals for the fourth consecutive year.
Coming back to score two goals in a 47-second span of the third period, North Dakota’s Andrew Kozek got the bounce in overtime to complete the comeback, winning 3-2 over the host Badgers Sunday night.
“Collectively as a group of 25 players, what a tremendous performance,” said UND head coach Dave Hakstol of his team. “To overcome all types of adversity through the first couple periods, as they have done all year, stuck together, believed in one another and found a way to get the job done tonight.”
With North Dakota (28-10-4) grasping the reins of the momentum from the beginning of the third period and continuing to play physical in the Wisconsin zone in overtime, defenseman Robbie Bina fired a bullet into traffic that hit Badger forward Kyle Turris square in the chest.
The puck rebounded right to Kozek, who was coming cross-ice, and he corralled it, turned and fired the game-winner past UW goalie Shane Connelly, who was screened by his defenseman and never saw the puck until it was in the back of the net.
“I saw the puck laying there around the hash marks and kind of just took a whack at it,” Kozek said. “I wasn’t really trying to put it anywhere and was just fortunate it went in for us.”
But even to be in position to score the overtime winner, the Fighting Sioux had to fight through the tremendous odds facing their path.
With the Badgers (16-17-7) getting a lucky bounce which transformed into a fluke goal with 29 seconds left in the second period, North Dakota came out of the third period determined to bring the momentum back.
The Sioux did not make adjustments; they just regrouped, as savvy veteran squads do.
It started with senior captain Rylan Kaip, who grabbed the loose puck, turned and fired a shot at Connelly (28 saves) which sneaked underneath his leg pad to cut the lead in half.
Forty-seven seconds later, junior Ryan Duncan scored his fourth goal of the tournament when his linemate, T.J. Oshie, skated with the puck to the center of Wisconsin’s zone and chipped the puck back to Duncan, who rocketed it off the pipe and into the back of the net.
Within the first four minutes and 20 seconds of the final period, North Dakota had corrected all of its mistakes from the first 40 minutes.
“As a whole, we just had to regroup,” North Dakota goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux said. “It could have been demoralizing for a team to give up a goal (late in the period) and a two-goal lead going into the third on top of that. It’s a position we’ve been in before this year. Our big-time leaders stepped up and made big-time plays for us.”
Wisconsin had its chances but unlike the previous night, where everything it threw at the net seemed to find its way in, the Badgers were the ones who racked up post after post with no such luck.
“It’s tough but they are obviously a very good team; you expect some kind of push from them,” said UW senior captain Davis Drewiske about the back-to-back North Dakota goals. “We still felt we were going to pull through and we had some great opportunities to make it a three-goal lead. That goal would have been huge for our confidence.”
In another cruel twist of fate for the Badgers, Wisconsin had scored more goals in the third period (33) than any other period during the season, including four Saturday night, and had outscored its opponents by 14 in that period.
On Sunday, no such luck.
“It’s kind of ironic, paradoxical tonight,” UW coach Mike Eaves said. “Last night we were very excited, and I think it stings a little bit more tonight because we were so close. … Usually we are scoring goals in the third period and we weren’t able to do that tonight. That was a thing that was out of character for us.”
One of the things that was in character Sunday night was the play of Lamoureux. Entering the night leading the nation in both goals-against average (1.63) and save percentage (.935), Lamoureux stopped a career-high 41 shots, including 17 in the first period, to keep the Sioux within striking distance.
Now, North Dakota will have another chance in the Frozen Four, facing Boston College 11 days from Sunday.
“It was an unbelievable experience tonight,” Duncan said. “We’re definitely happy to be going back to the Frozen Four.”