GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Some performances inspire awe, others excitement.
But when asked of Connor Gaarder’s hat trick performance for UND Friday night, Rocco Grimaldi started with a chuckle.
“What do you want me to say? It’s unbelievable,” Grimaldi said. “The kid was absolutely flying out there.”
Gaarder, an undrafted sophomore walk-on, exploded for three goals to help No. 5 North Dakota (3-1-1) overcome two pipes, a major penalty and a controversial waived-off goal in a 4-2 defeat of the No. 12 Boston University Terriers (3-2) in front of 11,589 at Ralph Engelstad Arena Friday night.
Gaarder finished his last season of juniors for the NAHL’s Coulee Region Chill with no scholarship offers, but instead of heading to Division III, the Edina native filled an extra roster spot last season for North Dakota.
He got his chances down the stretch of an injury-stricken season for the Fighting Sioux and he now plays right wing on the second line of a team that has no shortage of blue-chip recruits.
Gaarder never had that label as a recruit, but he played like one Friday night.
“Those things don’t matter,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol. “He’s a good hockey player. He goes to those hard areas. He wasn’t the only one who played a good hockey game, but obviously, he was a key player for us. That’s the type of player he is. He’s a hockey player. He’s a gritty kid that goes to those greasy areas.”
“Obviously, hat trick — huge, huge game for him,” added Grimaldi. “Big game for us, for him to do that for us.”
Gaarder’s hat trick headlined a memorable tilt that featured nine power plays, two pipes, two waived-off goals and a major penalty to UND’s captain Andrew MacWilliam for contact to the head. Instead of losing control, however, North Dakota took charge and gathered relentless pressure to exhaust the Boston University offense more and more as the game wore on.
That was after UND hit two posts in a whirlwind first period, pelting freshman netminder Sean Maguire (31 saves) with 12 shots on goal, but having nothing to show for it.
Instead, Boston University’s Danny O’Regan’s maneuver around goaltender Clarke Saunders (20 saves) made it 1-0 at 16:52.
Gaarder tied it 1:11 into the second after a Mark MacMillan centering pass caromed in off his leg, then the sophomore gave UND the 2-1 lead at 7:08 with a rushing slap shot from the right circle.
BU remained opportunistic, taking advantage of the MacWilliam major when Ahti Oksanen — the player MacWilliam checked — whistled one through traffic to tie it.
Gaarder thought he had the hat trick and go-ahead goal soon after, poking the puck through during a goalmouth scramble. But referee Derek Shepherd waved it off, apparently calling intent to blow the whistle. The officials didn’t review the goal, leaving UND with another setback in that crazy middle stanza.
But North Dakota kept at it, and so did Gaarder. And upon receiving a five-on-three after back-to-back penalties to Sean Escobedo and Matt Grzelcyk, UND’s — and Gaarder’s — elusive third goal of the evening was a no-doubter, as Gaarder took a behind-the-net drop pass from Grimaldi and whisked one blocker side on Maguire at 4:24 of the third period.
“We stuck together and pulled it together and we bent, but we didn’t break, but that’s all we could do,” Grimaldi said.
UND didn’t let BU get any closer, outshooting the Terriers 12-5 and sealing it with Grimaldi’s empty-net goal at 19:39.
“A really exciting game, obviously,” Terriers’ coach Jack Parker said. “There was a lot of good chances.
“We made a couple of mistakes with the puck that kept them alive and kept them alive and that kind of wore us out. We didn’t generate much offense the second half of the game and I think that’s a credit to how hard they played defensively and how hard they played through center ice. They played really well in their own zone, but more importantly, I thought they played really well through center ice and I thought we fed into it by trying to make too many long passes that weren’t there.”
North Dakota, meanwhile, will look for the sweep Saturday night to remain unbeaten against the Terriers at home (6-0-1 all-time).
“I thought we battled to the end really hard there and got a big two points,” Grimaldi said. “Obviously, we’re looking forward to tomorrow now.”