One night before Senior Night at Ralph Engelstad Arena, North Dakota’s elder statesmen came up big in a 1-1 tie with St. Cloud State.
Senior captain Rylan Kaip scored UND’s lone goal, senior goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoure (22-8-3) turned aside 17 of 18 shots, and fellow classmates Kyle Radke and Robbie Bina turned in impressive performances.
St. Cloud survived a furious first period during which North Dakota generated several quality chances and did everything but score a goal. The Huskies’ first shot on goal came with eight minutes remaining in the opening frame. UND finished with an 8-2 edge in shots on goal over the first twenty minutes, and 30 to 18 for the game.
“We had to weather the storm the first 10 or 15 minutes of the game, and then I thought we played a pretty good game,” SCSU head coach Bob Motzko said.
For the majority of the game, it seemed as if the officiating crew had swallowed their collective whistles. Only three minor penalties were called in the entire hockey game. The Huskies capitalized on the first of their two power plays at 16:43 of the second period after UND’s Brad Malone was whistled for slashing at 16:02. North Dakota did not score on its lone man advantage situation.
Dave Hakstol felt strongly that North Dakota should have been given a power play with under one minute remaining in the overtime. The UND head coach was visibly upset when Ryan Duncan was hauled down from behind while carrying the puck in the slot and no penalty was called.
The game may not even have gone to overtime had a disputed goal review gone St. Cloud’s way. Motzko claimed after the game that an apparent goal scored by the Huskies 75 seconds after Kaip’s game-tying goal should have counted. “It was a goal,” Motzko said. “What do you do? It was clearly a goal. I just watched it.” The third-year coach explained that when sophomore forward Ryan Lasch batted the puck out of the air, it was at his waist. “It wasn’t even close,” he concluded.
I watched the reply no fewer than a dozen times, and I tend to agree with that assessment. The problem is that it was ruled a high stick on the ice, and the lone camera angle that the referees are allowed to use shows nothing to contradict that call. There is no way of knowing from the overhead camera how high Lasch’s stick is when he makes contact with the puck.
So in a game where both teams desperately needed two points, each team came away with one. For North Dakota, that result, paired with Colorado College’s win over Denver, means that they are locked into second place in the WCHA and can not do anything tomorrow night to affect that position. It remains to be seen how that situation will impact their play on the ice during Saturday’s finale. My favorite quote on this matter comes from former Sioux defenseman Andy Schneider, who had this to say after UND defeated Minnesota for third place at the 2005 WCHA Final Five (several Gopher players and coaches were heard explaining that the game didn’t really matter):
“There’s a certain amount of pride when you put on a Sioux jersey. We know how fortunate we are to play here. Going into that Saturday game for third place, it didn’t matter that it was for third place. For North Dakota, we’re playing for the 70 years that there’s been hockey here.”
Last year, the Sioux and Huskies met in St. Cloud on the last weekend of the regular season, and the roles were reversed. SCSU was locked into second place in the WCHA, and North Dakota could move up to third place with a victory. UND spoiled Senior Night for the homestanding Huskies, rolling to a 7-2 win.
Each team has collected three points (one win and one tie) in the race for the Challenge Cup. Whichever team wins Saturday’s series finale will win the UND/SCSU commemorative trophy and have its name engraved on the trophy for the 2007-08 season. If the teams tie again, they will share the Cup. The Challenge Cup will be on display at the UND/SCSU fan social from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at Southgate Grill and Bar in Grand Forks.
On Saturday night, St. Cloud needs to collect at least one point to secure home ice advantage for the first round of the conference playoffs. The Huskies, currently tied for 11th in the PairWise rankings (with Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Boston University), could also improve their situation in the national picture with a victory. North Dakota dropped to 4th in the PairWise with the tie on Friday night.
In the first round of the conference playoffs, North Dakota will be playing at Ralph Engelstad Arena against either Minnesota-Duluth (12-15-6 overall, 8-14-5 WCHA) or Michigan Tech (12-18-5 overall, 8-15-4 WCHA), pending Saturday’s game results. Minnesota-Duluth leads MTU by one point in the standings and plays at Minnesota on Saturday night; Michigan Tech faces off with the Mavericks in Mankato. Both Duluth and Michigan Tech lost on Friday night.
Personally, I would rather see Michigan Tech as UND’s opponent for the first round of the playoffs. Yes, North Dakota went 3-1-0 against both MTU and UMD, but the Bulldogs played the Sioux tough last weekend in Duluth and could easily have won one or both of those games.
UND carries a 16-game unbeaten streak (14-0-2) into Saturday’s game, a stretch that ties a school record. St. Cloud State is the last team to defeat North Dakota, posting a 3-2 victory on January 4th. The Sioux have lost only one game in the year 2008, and no opponent has swept North Dakota this season.
Jean-Philippe Lamoureux has definitely earned Hobey Baker award consideration. Lamoureux leads the nation with a 1.6527 goals-against average and his .93415 save percentage is a fraction behind Colorado College freshman Richard Bachman (.93432) and New Hampshire senior Kevin Regan (.93428). UND’s senior netminder has posted five shutouts and allowed only one goal fifteen times while playing the toughest schedule in the country.
Despite being whistled for only two minor penalties, UND is still the second-most penalized team in the country. North Dakota’s average fell from 20.76 penalty minutes per game to 20.26 after Friday’s tilt. The Sioux boast the best defense in the nation, allowing a mere 1.76 goals per game. St. Cloud’s power play percentage of 22.9% is third best in Division I.
The line of Darcy Zajac centering Kyle Radke and Brad Malone brought a physical presence and some offensive spark. This could be the checking line North Dakota employs in the post-season.
The WCHA scoring race will go down to the final game of the regular season, and six of the top seven point getters in the league will be on display at Ralph Engelstad Arena. St. Cloud’s Ryan Lasch (16-17-33) collected an assist to stay one point ahead of Colorado College’s Chad Rau (23-9-32), who scored two goals in the Tiger’s 5-2 win over Denver University. SCSU’s Andreas Nodl (15-15-30) and UND linemates T.J. Oshie (12-17-29) and Ryan Duncan (9-19-28) were held off the score sheet on Friday night, while the Huskies’ Garrett Roe (11-17-28) and North Dakota’s Chris VandeVelde (12-12-24) notched single assists.
Lamoureux (1.7390 GAA) holds a slight edge over Colorado College’s Richard Bachman (1.7536) for the league’s goaltending title, awarded to the netminder with the best goals-against average in WCHA games. No other goaltender in the conference has a GAA under 2.10.
So it seems that North Dakota has plenty to play for on Saturday night: the senior class, Lamoureux’s goaltending title, momentum, the all-important PairWise rankings, and Sioux pride. As then-captain Matt Greene said about that same 2005 Final Five third-place game:
“We were here. There was a game,” Greene said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s three in three nights or five in five, we’ve got to do our job. We’ve got to come out to play. We’re a team that wants to win every game.”
Remember, the 2004-05 Sioux used the momentum from that Final Five third-place victory to advance to the Frozen Four, where they met those very same Gophers 19 days later. North Dakota defeated Minnesota on that day as well, recalling their earlier success.
And last season, UND’s 7-2 victory over St. Cloud State on Senior Night (when the Huskies had “nothing to play for”) carried over into North Dakota’s 6-2 win in the Final Five semifinal exactly two weeks later.
So don’t tell me the game doesn’t matter. And don’t tell the Fighting Sioux.
Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions. For more on the matchup between the two teams, click here. Check back after Saturday’s game for more reaction, analysis, and commentary.