Michigan Tech did all it could to make North Dakota a victim of the upset bug, but the Fighting Sioux prevailed with a gritty 3-1 victory and will move on to the WCHA Final Five tournament in St. Paul as the No. 1 seed.
Taylor Dickin, a freshman forward from Winnipeg, Manitoba who joined UND at midseason, scored the game-winning goal in the second period. With six seconds remaining, senior forward Matt Frattin iced the win for UND with an empty-net tally.
“It’s kind of typical of our team,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol. “Taylor Dickin, chipping in and helping us to win a hockey game, is a guy who maybe isn’t expected to score. He chipped in, it helped us get the lead, and I thought we played a real good third period.”
Before 11,689 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the No. 1 ranked Fighting Sioux improved to 28-8-3 while MTU’s season ends with a 4-30-4 record.
“I was proud of our effort,” said MTU coach Jamie Russell. “It’s been a tough year in terms of adversity, and our guys have stuck with it. It’s difficult when you’ve had your teeth kicked in three games in a row. I thought we picked ourselves off the mat and played a pretty good game here tonight against the No. 1 team in the country.”
In the first period, the Huskies got something they hadn’t had in the previous three meetings between the two teams: a lead. MTU got on the board at 6:15 when defenseman Deron Cousens hit freshman forward Ryan Furne with a cross-ice pass. From the right circle, Furne fired a wrister that beat Sioux sophomore goalie Aaron Dell short side.
UND started applying more pressure and generating good scoring chances, but MTU junior goalie Josh Robinson proved equal to the task. Although the Huskies were outshot 15-9 and had to kill two consecutive UND power plays, the period ended with MTU holding a 1-0 lead.
“We knew it would be this type of game tonight,” Hakstol said. “We didn’t get off to a great start. Michigan Tech played very well; they played hard.”
In the second period, MTU continued to shut down UND’s big guns of Frattin and Jason Gregoire, as well as the Sioux power play. However, junior forward Brett Hextall tied it up at 3:33 and Dickin gave the Sioux the lead at 5:34.
Hextall’s goal came when the puck deflected in the MTU net off his skate during an attempted wraparound by forward Gregoire. The play was reviewed and the goal stood to make it a 1-1 game.
“I tried to get to the net where the puck was going to be,” Hextall said. “I think I swung at it and missed. I was trying to stop at the top of the crease and it hit off my skate.”
Russell said he thought the officials made the correct call.
“I watched it in between periods,” he explained. “I thought it was a very good call. It did go off his foot, but he was in the stopping motion.”
Dickin scored when converted defenseman Joe Gleason fought his way to the front of the MTU net. In the ensuing melee, Dickin found the loose puck and fired it past Robinson to give UND a 2-1 lead with his first collegiate goal.
“The first period wasn’t what we wanted it to be, but we ground out a couple of ugly goals in the second period to get a lead,” Hakstol said.
Both teams had quality scoring chances in the second and third periods, forcing Dell and Robinson to make big saves, but the Huskies couldn’t get the equalizer.
“A big part of that is how desperate North Dakota plays to score goals in front of the net,” Russell said. “They compete like men. Tonight, we matched that. We got the game down to a bounce one way or the other.”
MTU pulled Robinson with about a minute to play. The game wasn’t decided until Frattin stole the puck at the red line and scored his nation-leading 33rd goal of the season to give the Sioux the 3-1 win.
After playing the Sioux four games in a row in which MTU was outscored 28-4, Russell gave his impression of UND: “I think that’s just a tremendous hockey team,” he said. “Their first two lines are outstanding; their third and fourth lines know their role and play it to a ‘T.’
“They’re very good on the power play; their penalty kill, they don’t give you a whole lot,” he continued. “They’re good on transition; they’re really good on the cycle. They get good goaltending. I think the coaching staff has done an amazing job with a veteran team.”
After the game, WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod was on hand to present UND with the MacNaughton Cup, the trophy given to the regular season champion. The Sioux had wrapped up the title on the road at MTU the previous weekend, but elected not to celebrate until after they’d punched their ticket to St. Paul. Superstitiously, the team also decided not to touch the cup.
“Our eyes are on the big picture,” explained Sioux senior defenseman Derrick LaPoint. “This is a great accomplishment for our team, but we’ve got more important things to accomplish.”
Following the presentation, UND’s seven seniors skated around the ice and gave a stick salute to Sioux fans.
“They’re a special group,” Hakstol said. “They’re a great group of individuals, and collectively a tremendous senior class.”
“It’s a great tournament; it’s an exciting time of year,” Hakstol said. “It’s so fun with all the Sioux fans that are there. It’s a work week for us, but it’s a work week we’ll really enjoy.”