GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Dont tell Colorado College and North Dakota the playoffs havent started yet.
Although the game at Ralph Engelstad Arena between two of the WCHAs top teams ended in a 4-4 tie, the Fighting Sioux and Tigers played as though their seasons were on the line.
The building was rocking and everyone was very intense out there, said UND assistant captain Matt Watkins. The game had a lot of speed, a lot of plays being made. It was physical, playoff-type hockey.
CC forward Chad Rau, who netted the game-tying goal and had a power-play goal and an assist, said, Being a forward, its the kind of game you like to play in.
CC had the best opportunity to end it in regulation. With just over two minutes to play and the score tied, Tigers forward Scott McCulloch backhanded a rebound toward an open net. Sioux freshman goalie Brad Eidsness dove across the crease and got just enough of his glove on the puck to deflect it away.
No save bigger than that in the hockey game said UND coach Dave Hakstol. He (Eidsness) took one away there for sure.
The Sioux had the best opportunities in overtime. Defenseman Chay Genoway, open in the slot, whistled a shot over the net. Watkins just missed duplicating the goal he scored in the first period when he tried to beat CC goalie Richard Bachman short side and hit the post.
Considering that the Tigers gave up a goal with just over five seconds left in the second period and had a puck go in the net off one of their own players, Owens was satisfied with his teams play.
It isnt often that you give up a goal with five seconds to go in a period, put in a goal yourself, you have a chance at a semi-empty net and not lose a game in Grand Forks, he said. I was proud of our guys. I thought we played well; I thought they played well. It was a good old WCHA game.
The Tigers outshot the Sioux 10-6 in the first period, but it was UND that came out with a 2-1 lead. The Sioux missed on a golden scoring opportunity when winger Andrew Kozek, all alone in front of Bachman, rang a shot off the crossbar at the 7:05 mark.
Watkins opened the scoring at 10:56. Leading a 3-on-2 rush down the left side, he fired a wrister from just below the dot that beat Bachman short side. The Tigers answered at 14:04. From the slot, center Matt Overman chipped the puck over to junior forward Mike Testwuide, whose quick wrister cleanly beat Eidsness.
Center Ryan Duncan took the puck off the boards, skated out of the right circle into the slot and let go a wrist shot tipped past Bachman by freshman forward Brett Hextall, his 10th goal of the season.
The Tigers took control of the third period with two goals and a 3-2 lead. But they couldnt hang on to it as the Sioux scored with 5.5 seconds showing to knot the score 3-3.
CC cashed in on the power play at 3:06 when wing Bill Sweatt, flying down the left side, blew past a Sioux defender and put centering pass in front of the goal tipped in by Rau, his 15th of the season.
The Tigers took the lead of the first time just as their power play expired at 14:35. Sweatt gathered the puck in the slot, turned and fired a wrister that beat Eidsness high.
It looked as though CC would hold the lead through two periods until Bachman failed to control defenseman Joe Finleys shot from the point and junior center Darcy Zajac put in the rebound at the 19:54 mark.
The Sioux regained the lead at 1:49 of the third period on Hextalls second goal of the game. Coming into the CC zone 3-on-2, he fired a hard wrist shot from the right circle that hit the far post, bounced off backchecking Tigers forward David Civitarese and into the goal.
Raus 16th goal of the season came at 7:59 when he scored on a wraparound to tie the game 4-4 and close out the scoring.
I made a pass that was kind of a dump-in, Rau said. I led (Eric) Walsky too far. He got tied up with one of their defenders and the puck was just laying there. He (Eidsness) was out of position a little bit and I just tucked it in five hole.
UND went 0-7 on the power play, rendered ineffective for much of the game by CCs high-pressure penalty kill.
Two of our power plays were excellent; we just didnt score, Hakstol said. A couple, I didnt think we dealt with the pressure very well.
We played kind of aggressive, and when youre on, youre on, Owens said. We did the same thing to Minnesota down the stretch. Its not that the technique is great, but the will is there. Sometimes thats as important as anything.
One factor working in CCs favor is that players are getting healthy again.
Were kind of getting everybody back into shape and going, Owen said. Its the most full lineup weve had since Thanksgiving. It makes a difference. Its good for the schedule we have right now. Hopefully, we can parlay that into something good in the month of March.
UND, second in the WCHA, is now 20-11-4 overall and 15-6-4 in league play. CC, third in the WCHA, is 16-9-9 overall and 12-8-6 in the conference. The two teams will meet for the second game of the series Sunday at 3:37 p.m. in Engelstad Arena.