ST. PAUL, Minn. — Through the first three minutes of the second period, Western Michigan dominated North Dakota with the first five shots on goal in the period as the Broncos poured it on to erase a one-goal deficit.
But all that was erased was WMU’s momentum.
Corban Knight scored on a lucky bounce at the 3:16 mark of the second period, scoring what turned out to be the game winner in UND’s 3-1 win over WMU in the West Region semifinals Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center.
UND advances to play the Boston University-Minnesota winner at 4:30 p.m. CST Sunday.
“I had a lot of respect for Western Michigan coming into this game and I have added respect for them going out,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol.
UND grabbed the lead early when Michael Parks brought the puck in along the near boards, wrapped it around the net, off a WMU defender and between Frank Slubowski’s pads 6:04 into the first period.
It was Parks’ 12th goal of the season, scored in familiar fashion for the freshman from St. Louis.
“[Wraparounds] are something we work on a lot in practice as forwards,” Parks said. “We stay after and work on things like that and wraparounds are one of them. I’ve scored two or three goals like that this year.”
UND outshot the Broncos, 11-6, in the first period, but WMU came out firing after the intermission. The shots-on-goal tally was even at 11 three minutes into the second period, and it was all even strength.
“After that tough first period we had, I think we bounced back very well,” said WMU forward Kyle O’Kane.
Just like that, UND got a break, and turned the tide back the way of the white and green.
Danny Kristo forced Matt Tennyson into a defensive-zone turnover in the corner to Slubowski’s left. Kristo got the puck to Brock Nelson in the circle and he fired a shot wide. The puck deflected off a WMU defender and out to Knight at the top of the crease where he tapped in an easy rebound.
“I’d like to say that I developed that play, but you all saw it,” Knight said. “It was one of those goals where you just get it and put it in, go celebrate with your linemates that made it happen.”
The Broncos generated little offense in the stretch after Knight’s goal that gave UND a 2-0 lead. That was until the Broncos exposed a UND defense caught napping.
Dan DeKeyser won the puck out of a battle along the near half boards in the WMU zone and got it out to the middle of the ice for Derek Roehl, who sent O’Kane deep on an outlet pass up the middle. O’Kane beat UND goalie Aaron Dell high glove side for his seventh goal of the season.
Minutes later, the Broncos appeared they might have tied the game when a WMU shot popped straight up off Dell’s equipment and the puck bounced off Broncos’ captain Ian Slater and into the net as he was rode into the crease by Nelson.
Nelson knocked the goal off before the puck crossed the goal line and the goal was waved off immediately. Referees reviewed the play but the no-goal call on the ice stood.
“We said, either way, if they count it or not, we’re still going to continue press hard and get pucks deep,” O’Kane said.
Added WMU coach Andy Murray: “The ref wanted to come over and give me an explanation, but I waved him away because at that point, what can you do?”
Slubowski kept the Broncos in the game despite WMU’s multiple turnovers in the defensive zone.
The Broncos committed a turnover with eight minutes to play in the third period, right in front of Slubowski. UND’s Carter Rowney was right there to pick up the errant pass. He put a double move on Slubowski, who stuffed the puck and Connor Gaarder’s putback went wide right.
Slubowski, a freshman who finished with 25 saves, has a bright future ahead of him but five of his teammates saw their careers end Saturday.
“They may not wear the jersey again, but they’re going to part of the Western Michigan hockey family for the rest of their lives,” Murray said. “And they need to send us money now.”
Nelson iced the game on an empty-net goal with 25 seconds left in the third period to extend his goal-scoring streak to four games. Two of the five goals he scored in the past four games were empty-netters.
As for its next opponent, UND will take on whomever.
“It doesn’t matter who play tomorrow,” Parks said. “We’re going to prepare for the next game, whoever we play.”
Added Hakstol: “Mike said it best. We’ll know in three hours who we’ll play. If you don’t prepare yourself to play your best game, it doesn’t matter who you play.”