The Century Link Center aka ‘The Clink’ was as full as it had ever been last weekend. This was mainly due to the biggest stage UNO had every played on in their relatively short history as a program. UND came into the series ranked the #1 team in the USCHO poll and #2 in the Pairwise, UNO also held a top 5 spot in both polls which was a program first, especially this late in the season. To top it all off, the game was on national TV with CBS broadcasting Friday’s game. The pressure was all there for one team to show a crack in the armor or wilt under intense pressure but it seemed neither batted an eye. I had predicted a UND sweep with two 1-goal games with one being decided in overtime. Well, fact is stranger than fiction, because both teams doubled down and had two OT games with UNO taking Friday 3-2 and UND winning the thriller on Saturday 4-3.
Friday’s game began about as well as could be expected for UNO with Tyler Vessel making a nice toe drag move around a recently returned Troy Stecher and then flipping a backhand shot under goalie Zane McIntyre’s armpit. Omaha was able to extend the lead to 2 goals in the 2nd frame with an Avery Peterson goal 2:46 into the period. Following this goal, North Dakota seemed to flip a switch that stayed on the rest of the series. In this game at least, it seemed that UNO also flipped a switch to fall into prevent defense, with shot attempts being 34-9 in the 3rd period. It was only a matter of time before the dam broke on the Mavericks.
It began with a Brendan O’Donnell shot that went wide of the goal and off the end boards 3:23 into the final period. It came out to Luke Johnson who snuck it in the near side of the net before Ryan Massa(who may have overplayed the puck) could slide over. The tying goal came in a similar fashion to the Air Force finale earlier this year. A UND powerplay and extra man provided a 6 on 4 for the Sioux to create a goal mouth scramble. Similar to the game against the Falcons, a loose puck made its way to the side of the net where Drake Caggiula banged it home. The difference from the Air Force game, however, was former UND coach Dean Blais ‘Gronk-spiking’ his unsuspecting water cup onto the bench. Any Sioux fan who knows Blais from his time at UND got a good chuckle out of that, including yours truly. Blais knew his team had let a huge game slip away. The OT had a couple good chances both ways and displayed some more fire from each team.
However, with 2 minutes left the referees gifted a 5 on 3 to UNO, something rarely seen in OT. I tweeted something to the effect that they had just handed UNO the game. Sure enough, with the 5 on 3 expiring a pass found Austin Ortega in front of the goalie for a re-direct past Zane. The expected result after giving a team a 2 man advantage on the ass end of a furiously played 65 minutes of hockey.
The loss was disappointing, no doubt, but encouraging in the sense that it showed UND can dominate long periods of time against any team in the country.
Saturday night, UND did what any good team does after a difficult loss, they learned from it and became stronger. A back and forth game on Saturday night started out with Mark McMillan, the guilty party on Saturday night for the 5 on 3, scoring a couple of goals. Coincidentally, each of the goals was answered by Jake Guentzel. The 2nd goal being perhaps Zane’s softest of the year. Three minutes into the period with UND playing strong hockey Guentzel essentially passed the puck from the half boards to Zane, who didn’t get his stick down quick enough. It was a tough shot to the gut for a team that had played so well defensively all game but the resolve they game back with is good foreshadowing for a deep playoff run.
Five minutes after the tying goal, the General batted a puck out of midair to take the lead back 3-2. Like he’s done so many times Captain Pattyn scored a huge goal at a crucial time. It looked as though the green and white may be able to hold onto this lead but a Brian Cooper powerplay goal with under 4 minutes left knotted the game once again, another punch to the gut. Then with 7 seconds remaining and an offensive zone faceoff, the Sioux allowed an offensive push that led to a breakaway for UNO. Zane calmly gloved the breakaway shot and flung it onto the ice as if he was insulted by the attempt. As he has always done, Zane shrugged off a tough goal and came back even stronger.
Overtime was very much in favor or UND and came to a crescendo with Brendan O’Donnell taking a pass from Gaarder near the dot and sniping it over Massa’s shoulder before he could react. It was a fitting end to a hard-fought series. North Dakota outshot UNO 77-65 on the weekend but powerplays were a huge factor with UNO going 3 for 7 and UND 2 for 10.
This weekend’s series showed the boys in green can take a few punches to the mouth and come back swinging rather than cowering in a corner somewhere. This series will be great experience to draw on where they find themselves down in an NCAA tournament game, and if they are to make a run at national championship #8 for the program, they will most likely be placed in similar situations.