College Hockey:
Gaarder scores twice for North Dakota, which blanks Western Michigan for third in NCHC

North Dakota’s Stephane Pattyn celebrates a goal as Western Michigan’s Frank Slubowski and Kenney Morrison look on (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

MINNEAPOLIS — Asked how his team was able to right the ship and score five goals Saturday after being shut out Friday night, North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol flashed one of his stoic smiles and retorted, “We put Connor Gaarder on the ice.”

Whether he was joking or not, Gaarder’s mischief between the dots was just what the doctor ordered.

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The scrappy junior forward put up two goals and an assist, and UND did what it needed to do in its quest to secure a 13th straight NCAA tournament appearance with a 5-0 drubbing of Western Michigan at Target Center in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff third-place game on Saturday.

North Dakota couldn’t get inside the perimeter in most of Friday’s 3-0 semifinal loss to Miami. So early in Saturday afternoon’s third-place game, UND’s grinders made sure to change that.

Gaarder scored the first of his two goals just 1:42 into the game, tipping a Keaton Thompson point shot past Frank Slubowski (24 saves). He tallied another after collecting the rebound off of a Troy Stecher shot at 10:27.

“It’s always good to establish a good net front early in the game, giving the goalie some tough shots and pushing him back in his crease,” Gaarder said. “I think we did that early on and it helped out throughout the game.”

Despite keeping up the pressure with UND, the Broncos were already out of contention for the NCAA tournament and North Dakota’s resolve may have been too much to handle.

North Dakota (23-13-3) was able to shift into cruise control from there, keeping the Broncos (19-6-5) off the scoreboard and not relenting.

Western Michigan certainly didn’t go away quietly, plugging away and keeping the game close in the second. But the Broncos weren’t able to find an answer for Zane Gothberg, who cashed in his third shutout of the season (and collegiate career) with 25 saves.

And when Jordan Schmaltz plugged in a shot from near the right boards to push the lead to 3-0 at 11:00 of the third, that was all she wrote for the Broncos.

“It’s interesting. We made two mistakes and they scored two goals,” Broncos coach Andy Murray said. “We had two coverage mistakes where our guy didn’t pick up the right player. We had a tap-in and a point shot on both of them. I think we had some decent scoring chances over 40 minutes. Even early in the third period I thought we were good. But when that third goal went in, it was pretty tough for us after that.”

UND was able to roll for two more goals in the third. Just after a five-on-three power play expired, Rocco Grimaldi made it 4-0 on a shot from the doorstep that originally looked to be saved on the goal line by Broncos defenseman Kenney Morrison. A review showed the puck crossed the line for the fourth goal at 13:34.

Then just a few minutes later, Paul LaDue rounded out the scoring, slapping in a point shot right after another five-on-three had begun to capitalize on another opportunity that UND couldn’t seize Friday night.

“I look back at last night’s game and we missed several golden opportunities,” said Hakstol. “We had an open net in the first period and an empty net in the second period and made pretty good plays on them, but the puck just didn’t go in. It’s a game of inches.”

Overall, Hakstol said, “we didn’t do a whole lot different. We penetrated a little bit better, and the puck went in those empty nets.”

Hakstol said the team was going to stay in town and leave late Saturday night, watching and waiting to see if results around the country were going to fall in UND’s favor. That’s all the team could do.

“That puts us in a situation where while we don’t control our own destiny; we gave ourselves a good chance,” Hakstol said. “We did what we had to do today. We played a good hockey game.”

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