CINCINNATI — Thanks to opportune goals in back-to-back tight, physical hockey games, North Dakota is headed back to the Frozen Four.
Connor Gaarder’s rebound goal at 1:28 of the second overtime sent North Dakota to a 2-1 victory over Ferris State, securing its first Frozen Four appearance since 2011 in front of 5,721 at U.S. Bank Arena Saturday night.
2014 NCAA Midwest Regional
Zane Gothberg’s 44 saves kept UND in it, and two shifts into the second extra session, UND got a shot to the net, and Gaarder plugged in the rebound to send North Dakota to Philadelphia.
“In a game where it was really back and forth — and for a time there things weren’t going our way — I liked how everybody kind of kept their composure and stayed positive,” said North Dakota captain Dillon Simpson. “No one stopped believing in that locker room, and that was one key thing to get our push in overtime.”
Ferris State had a 12-2 shot advantage in the third period alone, taking a stranglehold of the game in the third after a 40-minute stalemate.
The two teams played about as even a game as possible for those first two periods. A scoreless first set the stage for a crazy second period that saw eight penalties — four for UND, four for Ferris State.
The Bulldogs’ Cory Kane solved Gothberg at 7:31 of the second, sending a shot from between the dots that slipped through Gothberg’s legs.
But three minutes later, after two consecutive penalties on Ferris State wiped out what was a Bulldogs power play, North Dakota got its chance on the man advantage — and capitalized when Paul LaDue’s point shot hit Stephane Pattyn in front and got past CJ Motte (24 saves) at 10:40.
Back and forth it went from there. North Dakota (25-13-4) negated two of its own power plays with penalties in the second, then couldn’t capitalize when Ferris State did the same a minute into the third.
But the Bulldogs (29-11-3) stormed furiously through the third period, capturing momentum after Rocco Grimaldi’s holding-the-stick penalty gave the Bulldogs another power play at 3:46. North Dakota spent the balance of the third trying to put out that fire.
“We definitely started sitting back on our heels,” Grimaldi said. “We’re not exactly sure why that happened, but it happened and Zane kept us in it.”
As so often happens in playoffs, Ferris State kept shooting, only to find that Gothberg only got better.
“I thought we carried the pace throughout the first overtime and even the third period and throughout the game,” said Bulldogs right wing Garrett Thompson. “It’s just frustrating not to put one past him. He had a good game, and hats off to him, but it’s frustrating.”
“As the game got longer, I think he started to get more confidence and was feeling a lot better,” said Kane. “It’s tough and we wish it would have gone another way.”
Gothberg made 27 saves in the final 41 minutes, but his defense helped too, blocking 21 shots in the game and clearing a lot of rebounds out of the zone.
“Not enough can be said of [Zane],” Simpson said. “He played great and he made big saves for us. Furthermore, I think our team more than anything did a good job defensively. They got a lot of shots, but we did a great job playing desperate inside our own paint and controlling sticks and limiting their chances to one instead of having a few rebound chances.”
The shot count disparity softened only slightly in the first overtime session (14-6 in the Bulldogs’ favor) but UND knew it still needed only one shot and one chance to turn things around.
And before two minutes had passed, a gritty goal from Gaarder sealed it for UND, which heads to its 20th Frozen Four appearance in school history.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Grimaldi said. “Going into double overtime, your legs aren’t really there. I’m really happy it’s over.”
After a two year drought — still an eternity for some of the North Dakota faithful — coach Dave Hakstol is sending his sixth team to the Frozen Four in 10 seasons at the helm.
“My biggest thought is how proud I am of these guys and their teammates and how happy I am for them that they get to experience a regional championship, but more importantly moving on in the tournament,” he said.