Shawn Hunwick stopped all 40 shots he faced, and Ben Winnett scored the game-winer midway through the first period to lead the Michigan Wolverines to a 2-0 win over North Dakota in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
The Fighting Sioux dominated for long stretches of the game, outshooting Michigan 40-20, including 26-7 over the final two periods, but Hunwick was brilliant.
“We definitely had our opportunities, but their goalie played an outstanding game,” said North Dakota senior Derrick LaPoint. “The plays we made weren’t there, and when they were, their goalie stood on his head.”
“We played extremely hard, left nothing in the tank but we couldn’t put one past their goaltender,” said Sioux coach Dave Hakstol. “It’s a hard loss for us, for everyone in the locker room, especially for our seven seniors.”
“We were on our heels”, said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We played in our own zone a lot of the game. Scoring first was huge. Our team hung on. Who would have thought that the first goal of the game would be the deciding goal.”
That goal came at 13:26 of the first period. After Jon Merrill hit the near post, Winnett got to the rebound through traffic and waited out Fighting Sioux goaltender Aaron Dell before putting a wrist shot inside the far post.
“(Luke) Glendening went hard to the net and (the puck) kicked out to me,” said Winnett. “I put it in the open net.”
North Dakota’s Matt Frattin had several good chances, the best coming with 1:05 to play in the first period. He intercepted an errant clearing attempt and walked in all alone on Hunwick, firing wide from 20 feet out.
Michigan blocked 16 North Dakota shots and bottled up passing lanes throughout the game, especially during a late North Dakota power play.
“We had a mindset, to block every shot and get the puck out,” said senior Carl Hegelin.
“I don’t think I had to make a save after they pulled their goalie,” said Hunwick, who posted his fourth shutout of the season. “Guys were blocking shots like crazy.”
Dell came out for an extra attacker with 1:12 to play, but Michigan’s Scooter Vaughan finished a nice breakout with an empty-net goal to seal the win with 35 seconds to play. It started with a block by Hagelin.
“I’m usually bad at scoring the empty-net goals so I gave it to Louie (Caporusso),” said Hagelin. “He’s not that good either, so he got it to Scooter.”
Vaughan’s goal quieted most of the 19,139 in the Xcel Energy Center and sent No. 1 North Dakota to its first defeat since Jan. 28.
“I’ll be bluntly honest, I don’t think anyone in our locker room considered losing down the stretch as an option,” said Hakstol. “For it to come to a close short of our goal is pretty difficult. That’s the nature of Division I college sports. You win and you move on, you lose and there’s a sudden finality.”
“Our team had to play more in our own zone tonight than we have all year,” said Berenson. “That was a great team in North Dakota. They proved it. They just couldn’t score.
‘We knew we had to overachieve to find a way to win this game. And I think that’s what you saw tonight.”
North Dakota was short a forward for most of the game after freshman Brock Nelson was checked hard into the boards in the first period. He suffered a lower body injury and was taken off the ice on a stretcher and then to the hospital.
“After that injury, their fourth line didn’t play as much and it was difficult to match lines with them,” said Berenson. “But our fourth line played well when they were out there and gave us quality minutes.”
Winnett’s goal was just his fourth of the season and first since Dec. 30.
“He’s playing his best hockey right now,” said Bereson. “I put Winnett with (Matt) Rust and Luke Glendening, I think they had 18 goals all season and they were going up against a line that had 69 goals, and yet they outscored them.”
Michigan will play Minnesota-Duluth for the national title on Saturday.
“We have to play better than we did tonight,” said Berenson. “We can’t have our goalie be the number one star.”