It happened again. And it happened again.
North Dakota pulled off what could have been termed the Miracle of Albany … if only the Sioux would have won Saturday’s national championship game against Boston College.
Just three weeks ago, the Sioux came back from a three-goal deficit in the last six minutes to force overtime at the WCHA Final Five title game. But they lost the game.
They lost again, this time 3-2 in overtime to the Eagles, and again, they were that close to being left for dead.
A penalty with 6 minutes, 29 seconds left put them a man down and in a big hole. They were down two goals, down in numbers and maybe even down in spirit.
Their best chances all game long had gone achingly wide of BC goaltender Scott Clemmensen and the net. The desperation factor was high. They had not yet cracked the scoreboard and couldn’t get anything done.
“We weren’t going to roll over and just give up,” North Dakota coach Dean Blais said.
And then it happened. Again.
Boston College took a too-many-men penalty with just under five minutes left, putting the teams back at full strength.
When the Sioux went on the power play, Blais went for broke.
He put all his chips in the center of the table, pulling Karl Goehring out of the net for an extra attacker. With 4:13 on the clock, it was a desperate move for a desperate man and a desperate team.
“That’s why he’s the best coach in the nation,” North Dakota senior forward Jeff Panzer said. “He makes plays like that to give you a chance, and he’s done that all year long.”
Said Blais: “It doesn’t matter if you lose 3-0 or 2-0, you might as well try to go out and try to get the first goal of the game.”
Then, a breakthrough. Tim Skarperud got the first one, redirecting Travis Roche’s point shot through traffic and past Clemmensen so hard the puck shot out of the back of the net just as fast as it went in.
When it went in, the Sioux were back in. The game, all Boston College to that point, was suddenly in limbo.
It continued that way for seconds. Then a minute. Then another frustrating minute for the Sioux, who tried in vain to get the puck to the crease for a good shot. When those chances came, again, no dice.
The time came for Goehring to again leave his crease for an extra forward. BC had a chance to put the game away, but missed out.
Wes Dorey, though, didn’t miss.
The North Dakota senior, watching the seconds rolling off the scoreboard also chipping away at his collegiate career, did the improbable. Or, for the Sioux, the expected.
Dorey got the puck past Clemmensen and into the back of the net with 36.4 seconds on the clock.
For the Sioux, it was like Pepsi Arena had turned into the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. There, just 21 days earlier, the Sioux scored with seven seconds left to force overtime in the WCHA title game.
And the celebration was similar. The Sioux players on the ice mobbed Dorey as he skated out of the zone.
“Definitely, it was the biggest goal of my career,” Dorey said. “I was real excited, but for some reason I knew my job wasn’t done. We had to get one more.”
The bench turned into a mob scene, with players jumping on each other while the crowd’s frenzied, pro-BC cheers were replaced with the screams from the North Dakota end of the ice.
Then there was Goehring, seemingly re-energized, hitting the ice almost immediately after the goal was scored to leave the celebration and make his way back to the net.
“I thought we had ’em,” Blais said. “I thought we were going to win that game, based on momentum.”
A half-minute and a BC odd-man chance later, it was overtime, and the North Dakota players were sure this one wasn’t going to end up like St. Paul.
It couldn’t. They had too much momentum, too much on their side at the end of the game to lose it.
But then came the intermission. Somewhere in that 15 minutes, Boston College got its wind back. Early in overtime, the Eagles grabbed that momentum, for which the Sioux had worked so hard in the last minutes, away again.
It wouldn’t come back.
“We definitely had the momentum,” Skarperud said, “and I’m sure [BC] just wanted to regroup in the locker room. I think the fact they had the intermission in the locker room helped them out because they calmed down and came after us in overtime.”
Said Blais: “If the game would have went on without that intermission, I think we could have won it. Maybe it was meant to be.”
When Krys Kolanos scored to give BC the title, the North Dakota players looked as though they weren’t really sure what to do. As the Eagles celebrated in the corner, Blais went around and hugged his players.
“We’re real disappointed,” junior forward Bryan Lundbohm said. “We worked so hard tying it up and we worked so hard all year. You get to sudden death to win the national championship — that’s where we want to be.”
Panzer went around and tapped many of his teammates on the head.
“I just said, ‘Hey, heck of a year, guys. Keep your head up,'” Panzer said. “There’s no reason to hang your head. We’ve done more than most people thought we could do. You have to be proud of that. You have to be proud of the character we’ve showed all year long.”
As BC emerged from its celebratory pileup, the Sioux players slapped their sticks on the ice in appreciation.
Then they went to the same corner in which BC feted its championship, the same one in which their fans were seated, and raised their sticks to the crowd. The fans — all of them, even those clad in BC maroon and gold — roared their appreciation.
Panzer stayed on the ice to accept the runner-up trophy, did a radio interview and left, ending his collegiate career to a number of pats on the back.
The Sioux couldn’t get the overtime goal that would have made them national champions for the second year in a row — the first since 1972.
But the display of character in the face of adversity was enough to reassure Blais that everything was all right.
“We’ve had some losses at North Dakota and, personally, I have cried after a tough, tough loss,” Blais said. “This loss, I thought, what a character-type team and year we’ve had. Not a lot of balance, not a lot of depth. The one line, and it got us into the national championship game.
“We forged on, worked hard, and it almost got us another national title. I’m not happy ever to lose, but I’m happy in the manner with which we lost.”