GRAND FORKS, N.D. — After nine periods of hockey, punching the final ticket to the Frozen Faceoff featured a lone top-seeded team in series playoffs.
North Dakota (22-12-3) built an early lead and fought off a hungry Colorado College team to notch a 4-3 victory in Game 3 in front of 10,054 on Sunday evening at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“We’ve had to scratch and claw for everything right from the start of the year,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “We stuck with it. Tonight’s game is a good indicator of that. Nothing came easy and that’s an honest credit to CC. I thought they played a great hockey game again and they were hard to play against. But our guys stuck with it, scratched and clawed and we’re moving on.”
After watching Colorado College (7-24-6) strike first both Friday and Saturday, North Dakota used its third chance against the Tigers to collect the first point as Stephane Pattyn fired a shot at Josh Thorimbert (26 saves) that was deflected and picked up by Nick Mattson, who put it in the net.
UND couldn’t keep the Tigers caged as Alex Krushelnyski sniped the puck from the top of the slot past Zane Gothberg (27 saves) at 6:41 to tally his first goal in six games.
“That was important because even though it wasn’t a sold-out building, it was still loud,” CC coach Scott Owens said. “We knew they were going to come out frenzied because of the first two games. I think that was a good answer.”
It was Troy Stecher’s point shot minutes later, though, that awarded North Dakota back its lead.
The margin increased yet again when Connor Gaarder fed a pass to Pattyn in the zone, who sniped it from the right circle past Thorimbert at 12:22 of the first period to set the teams apart, 3-1.
The duo and its Derek Rodwell linemate collected five points in the first period, but with the continuation of the season on the line, the numbers on the score sheet suddenly meant more than the names.
“As long as we’re winning, I don’t care,” Pattyn said. “[Our line] had a good stretch a few games ago playing together and obviously, after we heard this morning we were going back together, we kind of had smiles on our faces. I think we saw it from the drop of the puck. We were very tenacious on pucks and we had a good jump.”
After a nearly scoreless second period, Colorado College picked up some of that tenacity with a Michael Morin goal after Jeff Collett caught the puck off a UND turnover to send the Tigers within one at 17:17.
“We knew North Dakota was going to come out with a good first period and they did,” Owens said. “But our second period was outstanding. It gave us a chance. We’re going into the ninth period down by one goal and we made it interesting.”
One more goal was all it needed, but UND collected the familiar two-goal lead to begin the third as Rocco Grimaldi caught the puck on a turnover, faked a shot on Thorimbert and passed it to Brendan O’Donnell for North Dakota’s fourth of the game.
Colorado College fought back with a goal from Alex Roos at 18:31, but the final buzzer awarded North Dakota its 17th consecutive home playoff series victory.
“The separation between the teams in this league is so tight,” Hakstol said. “I thought we played a good hockey game last night overall. I would take that performance back to back any weekend, but it wasn’t enough to win last night, so it’s a one-game winner take all tonight. We’re happy to be moving on.”
With a 13-0-0 record when scoring four or more goals, UND again revealed its persistence Sunday night.
But not without facing a competitive presence on the opposite side.
“I thought we were honest, I thought we were dialed in, I thought everybody was on the same page,” Owens said. “That was a pretty good nine periods on the road. Guys have nothing to be ashamed of. That’s just too bad, it would have been nice to keep this little thing going and get to Minneapolis. But hats off to North Dakota, I wish them well down there.”
It became a three-game decision, but North Dakota capitalized on its chances to advance to Minneapolis next weekend.
“Nothing comes easy for us this season, but that’s the way we like it,” UND senior captain Dillon Simpson said. “We’re kind of a team that thrives on adversity, and I think tonight we showed that as well.”