Final play difficult for North Dakota to digest

North Dakota goalie Zane Gothberg gets consoled after a loss to Minnesota on Thursday (photo: Melissa Wade).

PHILADELPHIA — Thursday’s Frozen Four semifinal between Minnesota and North Dakota was just about the perfect game on a lot of levels, but it’s difficult to see it that way when you’re a part of the losing side.

North Dakota lost 2-1 at Wells Fargo Center to its archrival, but the last team into this year’s NCAA tournament did many things right in the game.

2014 Frozen Four

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Two particular things that UND did right Thursday stand out.

First, after Sam Warning finally broke open a scoreless deadlock 10:51 into the third period, UND’s heads didn’t go down.

Instead, UND struck back almost immediately in tying the game just 32 seconds later through a ninth tally of the season from UND walk-on forward Connor Gaarder.

The junior found an initial shot saved by Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox. However, although Gaarder’s momentum deep in the Golden Gophers zone took him beyond the goal line with the puck in the air after Wilcox failed to secure it, Gaarder’s hand-eye coordination won out as he swatted his own rebound into the net.

UND eventually lost the game on a short-handed goal from Justin Holl with 0.6 seconds remaining in regulation, but up until that point, UND controlled large portions of the game.

Holl finished a prior scoring chance, just as Gaarder had, and both teams following their shots at key times will only strengthen this game’s ability to stand the test of time in the minds of those in the college hockey community.

If you’re a UND fan, however, it’s tough right now to appreciate that final flash of inspirational play.

That final play was a bear for those in UND’s dressing room to process, too.

“I don’t know if it was just the momentum of that last power play,” UND senior forward Stephane Pattyn said after the game, visibly stunned as he sat with a pair of teammates and coach Dave Hakstol on the news conference dais after Thursday’s instant classic of a game.

“I thought our whole third period was very hard, very fast, very good paced, and I thought momentum was, I guess you could say, in our hands. A couple of close calls, a couple of good saves by their goalie, and the puck going the other way, it just hit a couple skates, hit a couple sticks and then it was in the back of our net. There’s not much more I can say.”

Hakstol was asked later in the news conference about the teachable moments for younger players watching that filled Thursday’s second game in Philadelphia to the proverbial brim. He suggested that while he could agree with that idea in time, it was difficult to do so Thursday under the circumstances.

“It was good playoff hockey. I think both teams played extremely hard, both teams played disciplined,” Hakstol said. “I know our team played within the way we want to play.

“I’m sure there’s some teachable moments in there for the youngsters, and in a different time and a different place, I’ll be able to answer that a little bit better. I’m happy with the way our team played, but that doesn’t bypass the fact that our season ends tonight.”

Fair as it is for Hakstol to say that he may later be able to better appreciate what these border rivals both accomplished Thursday, though, even he brought up the second-to-last action of the game — the following faceoff was forgettable — that cemented its status of a tilt that neither team’s fans or personnel will forget any time soon.

“You get into these games [where] if you walk away on the end of it that we’re walking away on,” Hakstol said. “It’s real important to know you left everything out there, and our guys did that today.

“It felt like our group played an excellent 60 minutes, and it’s obviously a bit of a numbing feeling to be walking away at this point in time on a good bounce of the puck that our opponent took advantage of right at the buzzer.”