GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Western Michigan played itself out of home ice Friday night. So on Saturday night, the Broncos refocused and got back on track — and in the process, crushed North Dakota’s Penrose Cup hopes.
Two opportune special teams goals from Colton Hargrove, one on a power play and one short-handed, captured a 2-1 victory for Western Michigan (17-14-5, 11-11-2 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) over No. 9 North Dakota (20-11-3, 15-9 NCHC) in front of 11,937 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
North Dakota’s loss allowed St Cloud State to capture the Penrose Cup outright with its victory over Colorado College.
The missed opportunity was a lot to take for UND, especially on Senior Night.
“At the end of the day, that one stings,” senior Dillon Simpson said. “There was a lot on the line. It being senior night for me and my classmates, so it’s one that we definitely wanted.”
But Saturday night wasn’t about playing “spoiler” for the Broncos. It was about finding consistency and focus.
“We’re just trying to play good hockey at this time of the year,” said Broncos coach Andy Murray. “We never talked once about spoiling North Dakota’s party. Our only focus was trying to focus on winning the hockey game.”
Key special teams plays at key moments defined the ebb and flow of this regular season finale.
Hargrove put some wind in Western Michigan’s sails 7:22 in, sniping his ninth of the year past Zane Gothberg (22 saves) on a power-play rush. However, the Broncos couldn’t build that lead, despite a 24-second five-on-three power play late in the first.
Instead, North Dakota’s power play unit provided the equalizer at 8:55, with Stephane Pattyn burying a rebound initially shot in by Rocco Grimaldi.
“We put ourselves back in position with what I thought was a really good second period,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol.
UND outshot the Broncos 17-5 in the middle frame, but couldn’t blow the lid off of the Western Michigan defense for a go-ahead goal. Lukas Hafner’s glove provided quite the insurance policy for the Broncos too, stopping 28 and making important stops, most notably on a Mark MacMillan breakaway in that second period. North Dakota also hit two pipes in the game.
Then Western Michigan came out of the third period poised.
“I think they did a good job of building their momentum and they did a good job of keeping us on our heels,” Simpson said.
That momentum appeared to be tempered when Josh Pitt was kicked out of the game for a contact-to-the-head penalty on Drake Caggiula at 5:53. But a few minutes later, a broken play, a pass from former UND forward Mike Cichy and a second breakout goal from Hargrove gave Western Michigan a 2-1 lead at 7:56.
An onslaught of penalties and broken plays ensued the rest of the way, and despite a late Shane Berschbach penalty giving UND a power play for the game’s final 38 seconds, there were no heroics. And there was no trophy presentation, just a gritty win realized by the Broncos.
“In the third period, I thought the first two or three shifts of the game built momentum their direction,” Hakstol said. “Even after giving up the short-hander, we just couldn’t get enough going in the offensive zone or possession-wise.”
“It was gratifying for us to come in here and win tonight,” Murray said. “And I think the win was deserved.”
Now it’s on UND to regroup and hope that their second half run wasn’t all for naught.
“We care so much about each other,” said Nick Mattson. “Especially on senior night, you just want to win it for them. It’s something that could really throw your confidence away if we really let it get to us. It’s tough, it’s awful, but we got to move on because we have some bigger things ahead of us.”
“Like I said in our dressing room, we missed out on a white (NCHC Championship) banner, but our end goal is still the same and we have to move forward toward that,” said Simpson.