ST. PAUL, Minn. — Last season, Minnesota-Duluth made Final Five history, becoming the first team to win three games in three nights.
This year, North Dakota repeated the feat, beating St. Cloud State, 5-3, game to capture the championship.
“Minnesota-Duluth proved that it could be done last year,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol. “We came in both nights after our wins, we came in with a ‘one game at a time’ mentality and the gas level was not going to be an issue for this hockey team.”
Fans may have thought fatigue was an issue for the Fighting Sioux early, as the Huskies jumped out to a two-goal lead within the first 55 seconds of the game. Forty seconds in, Ryan Lasch came out of the right corner, skated around the net and passed the puck in front, where a pinching Garrett Raboin came down and knocked it past UND goaltender Brad Eidsness (29 saves).
Then, 15 seconds later, David Eddy knocked a pass from Drew LeBlanc past Eidsness to take a 2-0 lead.
“Our guys were ready to go; we could feel it,” said SCSU coach Bob Motzko. “We had a little step. We came out, got the puck deep and went to work right away. To score two goals in the first minute; you’ll always take that.”
“We got caught on our heels, two shifts in a row, they made a couple of good plays and it was 2-0,” said Hakstol. “The real positive thing at the time, you look up at the clock and the majority of the game remains.”
The Sioux didn’t let the early deficit dishearten them and they were able to get on the scoreboard five minutes later with a power-play goal. 14 seconds into a penalty on Aaron Marvin, Corban Knight came out of the right corner, passed it in front of the net and eventually came back around the net to get the rebound past SCSU goaltender Mike Lee (23 saves).
“The key for us was just getting the next goal, the power-play goal,” said Hakstol. “Once we got that first goal, we just gotta say, ‘Hey, we’re in the fight and now, let’s just go to work and see what we can do.’”
What the Sioux were able to do was score the next three goals. UND tied the game at 2 with three minutes left in the first period when Brad Malone took an Evan Trupp pass from behind the net and beat Lee low on the ice glove side.
Then, 5:22 into the second period while on a five-on-three power play, the Sioux took their first lead of the game. Danny Kristo took a shot from the point that trickled in past Lee and into the net.
“Their guy charges our net and we come out of it down five-on-three and that’s awful tough to battle through and it ends up being a one-goal hockey game,” said Motzko. “That jumpstarted them.”
Forty-three seconds later, the Sioux went up 4-2 on another power play goal; this time, from Chris VandeVelde. VandeVelde took a pass from Ben Blood at the right faceoff dot, circled in and wristed one past Lee, causing Motzko to switch Lee out for Dan Dunn (11 saves).
“Our two goalies have battled through the whole season,” said Motzko. “Dan got in there tonight and he’s had a little run against North Dakota and he held the fort down … and from that point on, I felt we got much stronger in the hockey game.
The Huskies kept battling, and narrowed the lead back down to one with 3:14 left in the second period on Eddy’s second goal of the game. LeBlanc took the initial shot from the left of Eidsness and Tony Mosey swatted at it before Eddy finally knocked it in.
The Huskies kept coming in the third and it appeared for a while as if the Sioux had run out of gas. However, the UND defense and Eidsness were able to hold on.
“I looked up at the clock somewhere around the eight- or nine-minute mark and I kind of took a look at our bench and I had a feeling that I probably shouldn’t let in another goal or the boys might not be too happy with me if we had to go to overtime,” quipped Eidsness.
Luckily for Eidsness, the Sioux got a break with just under a minute to play. As the Huskies went to pull Dan Dunn for the extra attacker, the puck hopped over Oliver Lauridsen’s stick, going all the way down the ice. UND’s Matt Frattin streaked back down the ice, won the foot race and put the puck in the empty net, giving the Sioux a 5-3 lead and the win.
“That’s about the only time I took a breath,” said Hakstol. “I didn’t completely relax until the horn sounded. I think we all know well enough that 40 seconds left on the clock, anything can happen. You have to grind it out until the final buzzer and our guys did that.”
“We just had that stretch through the last part of the first period and part of the second where we had to fight through and as a coach, I’m so proud of our guys. They showed great heart,” said Motzko. “They battled back and we ended up one shot short from making that a more fun ending, or a chance at it.”