GRAND FORKS, N.D. — With six unanswered goals, North Dakota rebounded from a loss Saturday night to claim Game 3 of their series over Michigan Tech to clinch its 11th straight WCHA Final Five berth.
After dominating all three periods — posting 44 shots on net and scoring a shorthanded goal – UND sealed a 6-0 victory in its final home game of the season in front of 10,384 Sunday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
North Dakota’s momentum was exemplified as Colton St. Clair rushed out of the penalty box late in the second, the team still remaining one man down, to find a loose puck and skate down the zone and shoot it in past MTU goalie Pheonix Copley (38 saves), scoring the team’s fifth goal, shorthanded.
“For me, it was a huge leap, but for the team, I think we just put the pedal to the metal and just kept going,” St. Clair said. “We didn’t let up the whole game and that’s the way we need to play from here on in.”
The Huskies’ effort was silenced as UND came out strong from the drop of the puck when Rocco Grimaldi’s wraparound attempt was deflected up the slot by an MTU skater, allowing Dillon Simpson to fire a shot in past Copley to signal an early lead for UND at 12:13 of the first — and the margin would only increase.
“They simplified their game a little bit,” MTU coach Mel Pearson said. “I think they just concentrated on getting the puck deep and really coming with some pressure. They forced us into quite a few mistakes in that first period and we just had trouble getting out of our zone, but I thought once we got the first with it only being 1-0, we were in good shape.”
Much like Saturday’s result, the recipient of the first goal seemed to hold control of the game.
“It was important,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “More important is how we went about working for that first goal. Obviously, it’s important to get that first one, but sometimes you score the first goal in hockey and maybe not deserve it. We deserved it tonight and kept our foot on the gas after we got the first one.”
UND came out strong in the second period as Corban Knight rushed down the left wing, dipped around a defender and put one in five-hole. Minutes later, Grimaldi’s shot from the top of the zone deflected off Carter Rowney’s stick and into the net to put North Dakota up 3-0.
After St. Clair’s shorthanded goal and an additional goal from Brendan O’Donnell, Michigan Tech found itself in a six-goal deficit that looked difficult to erase.
“We were just trying to get pucks behind and forcing the defense into some mistakes,” Pearson said. “But as the goals went in, you get the second and third goal and you can just see the bench just sag a little bit. They’re a good team. They were the best team tonight and they outplayed us and they deserve to be moving on.”
With 4:02 left on the clock, North Dakota pulled Clarke Saunders (27 saves) and replaced the experienced goaltender with Tate Maris, who had yet to play any regular-season minutes.
As the final buzzer sounded, the Huskies skated off the ice — unable to punch a ticket to the Final Five, but succeeding in what many teams have failed to achieve.
“We accomplished something last night and we beat them in a playoff game, which no one has in a while, so we did some good things,” Pearson said. “We’re a program that’s still developing. We’re still on our way up and we’re going to have some nights like this.”
The tight three-game series favored North Dakota as it earned a spot in the league tournament after a continuous hard-fought battle.
“It’s important to advance in this tournament,” Hakstol said. “All you have to do is look at this series to understand how hard it is to advance. I felt like we maybe had the toughest draw in the WCHA first-round playoffs with Michigan Tech with how well they were playing. We knew it was a big challenge in front of us, but the guys got it in the three games and great credit to them, and we earned the trip down there.”