Jubilation…that’s the best word I can use to describe the scene across Downtown Minneapolis last Saturday night. From the bars across the Twin Cities, to my condo containing myself and three of the most crazed Sioux fans you’re likely to find. I would first like to apologize to my new neighbors that moved in a week ago. I promise I’m not a crazy person that spontaneously erupts in celebration at 11 PM every Saturday as if I just won the lottery. UND can only sneak into the tournament once a year so it’s an exception.
In fact, in the last 12 consecutive years that the Sioux have made the tournament this has to rank at the top of the list as the most dramatic. Fans were so desperate to get a shot at that national championship, they were visibly cheering for the filthy, no-good Badgers that were opposite the green and white in “The Water Bottle Incident”.
For 65+ minutes, we were all Badger fans and hoping on all hope that the varmints could comeback against the sticker-crazed Ohio State Buckeyes after going down 4-2 with 6 minutes remaining in the game. To be honest, I thought it was over at that point and it was devastating. Wisconsin was already securely in the tournament and OSU was playing to keep their season alive, so I couldn’t imagine what was to follow.
Wisconsin responded with a goal 20 seconds after the apparent dagger goal from Tanner Fritz, and then again 28 seconds later! The Sioux were still alive and my spirits had been resuscitated. Going into overtime Wisconsin hit a post a few minutes in that nearly brought me to my knees, as if I was Tiger Woods lipping out a Masters-winning putt. Then Ohio State had a streaker that received a pass and nearly beat the Wisconsin goalie, Joel Rumpel…bullet dodged.
Finally a shot on net created a huge scrum and Mark Zengerle, seemed to be drawn by fate and circled the pile of bodies. Once he reached the other side, the puck perfectly squirted out to him and he put a stick on it nearly missing it, but the nearly fanned shot somehow made it under the Buckeye goalie and pandemonium ensued. My girlfriend, taking a nap in the bedroom, thought someone was being murdered and in one way, she was correct . The Buckeyes season was killed, giving UND a chance, a shot, and hope that they still could win the NCAA National Championship in 2014. I haven’t cheered so hard for an opposing team since March 24th, 2006.
Of course, there was the fact that UND had to take care of their business on Saturday afternoon against Western Michigan, who weeks earlier had denied them a share of the Penrose Cup. Western Michigan seemed to have good moments of pressure throughout the game but the common denominator was the Sioux goalie Zane Gothberg, who earned his 3rd shutout in about a month on the back of 25 saves in a 5-0 thumping.
After Friday night’s disappointment to the Miami Redhawks, losing 3 to 0, I was nervous going up against a Broncos team that has stifled our offensive potency all season. The game against Miami felt like the puck just didn’t want to go in for the Sioux, so when Connor Gaarder re-directed an intentional shot by Keaton Thompson, I felt completely at ease…or maybe that was the liquids I consumed before the game finally taking effect. Either way, North Dakota seemed to cruise getting scoring from Gaarder(X2), Jordan Schmaltz, Rocco Grimaldi, and Paul Ladue.
This type of game going into the NCAA tournament is a good thing for UND. First of all, I believe that it leaves them very hungry, missing out on the Penrose Cup and the NCHC Tournament Championship when it was within their grasp. North Dakota has felt defeat and it’s apparent they don’t like the taste in their mouths. They know what it feels like to be in big games already and what type of work ethic it will take to win them.
Secondly, they were on the brink of elimination with their season 6 minutes from almost assuredly being over and the seniors leaving the program that they put so much blood, sweat, and tears into. They now have been given new life and another shot to win the big game, almost as if catching a river card to stay in the World Series of Poker. They’re playing with house money and, as Yale showed last year, sneaking into the tournament can provide the drive needed to beat anyone.
Lastly, UND didn’t beat Western Michigan, they took them out back and kicked the crap out of them. It was a complete game that saw them get scoring, goaltending, and defense. I can’t think of a better way to go into a tournament while at the same time not having a conference tournament to rest their laurels on. They erased all of the bad thoughts remaining from the Miami game in dispatching Western Michigan and for that I say thank you…to the NCHC for deciding to have a 3rd place game.
Tune in Friday for analysis of the upcoming NCAAs and the run for #8. I leave you with a classic goal that ended the season of the team that just extended ours…