GRAND FORKS, N.D. — When the scoreboard displayed a two-goal advantage for Colorado College early in the first period, North Dakota knew the points wouldn’t come easy.
But in a night when only one game in NCHC playoff games featured a home team victory, UND (21-11-3) claimed a 4-2 advantage over the Tigers (6-23-6), thanks to a Drake Caggiula goal that triggered a surge of momentum Friday night in front of 10,217 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Caggiula’s goal at 12:11 of the first period put UND within one goal of Colorado College and it didn’t’ look back.
“There’s different points to this game you can point to that are critical points,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “But it’s small plays within a game that add up to being big plays. I thought we were fortunate to come out of the first period within one. We took advantage of that and we built a better final 40 minutes, even thought it was a dead-even hockey game.”
The Tigers came out hungry as Sam Rothstein put them on the board first with a snipe past Zane Gothberg (20 saves) just over a minute into the opening frame.
The visitors increased the margin to two at 7:05 of the first when Aaron Harstad found the puck at the top of the point and shot it through traffic to the back of the net.
“We came ready to play, and I thought we skated well and we executed our plan and took advantage,” CC coach Scott Owens. “We weren’t able to carry our good early work into anything more … We make a few mistakes, not taking care of the puck against a team that forechecks well and has good speed – and they convert and they slowly work they way back.”
But UND’s comeback didn’t start slowly.
Caggiula rushed down the wing and fired a quick wrist shot from the right circle to beat Josh Thorimbert (18 saves) and erase the deficit.
“The crowd got into it and any time the crowd gets into it, we start to get a little more amped up,” Caggiula said. “It would have been terrible to go into the first intermission down 2-0, but that was a lucky goal there and we were able to continue with that play through the second and the third.”
With Colorado College holding the edge on the scoreboard to begin the second period, UND found the equalizer when Mark MacMillan capitalized on a CC turnover and passed the puck to Michael Parks, who went top-shelf at 7:14.
The turnover battle continued as Bryn Chyzyk got his stick on a puck fired it from the top of the slot to give UND the 3-2 advantage with minutes left in the second period.
Far from where it was in the first period, North Dakota held tight onto the lead.
“We obviously dug ourselves in a hole,” Hakstol said. “The most important part is that we found a way to dig ourselves out of that hole. Credit to those guys, we weren’t ready to play off the drop of the puck, but we found our way back to get it within one goal, even thought nothing was coming easy. We built from there in the second period.”
Both teams carried persistence into the third period, but North Dakota doubled the Tigers’ figures as Brendan O’Donnell caught Jordan Schmaltz’s attempt on the net and fired one on the glove side past Thorimbert at 8:08.
North Dakota was awarded the victory, despite a tough fight put up by the Tigers and an even 22 shots put up by both teams.
“I liked our compete and I liked our battle, we just couldn’t execute and we couldn’t make a play at the right time,” Owens said. “They’ve been winning a lot of close games and their penalty kill is pretty good. Right to the end, I thought we had chances to close the gap a little bit. Pretty good playoff game – I was just disappointed again that we couldn’t build off of our early success.”
Despite its advantage, UND knows it doesn’t hold the edge by much.
“To put it simply, these playoff games are going to look a lot like our regular season,” Hakstol said. “There’s very little separation between any two teams in this league.”