Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
Freshman goalie Pheonix Copley made 29 saves and C.J. Eick scored the game-winning goal with 2:02 left to play as Michigan Tech, the 10th seed, stunned third-seeded North Dakota 2-1 on Saturday at The Ralph in the WCHA playoffs.
Deciding Game 3 of the best-of-three, first-round series is 7 p.m. Sunday. North Dakota, which has won the Broadmoor Trophy the past three years, had won 14 conference playoff games in a row. UND's last lost was to the Gophers in the second game of a three-game series in Grand Forks in 2010.
North Dakota (20-11-7) has played in the past 10 Final Fives.
Tech (13-19-4) held a 1-0 lead for much of the game after Tanner Kero tipped home a Blake Pietila shot 20 seconds into the second period. The teams were skating four-on-four at the time after Dennis Rix of Tech was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind and UND's Michael Parks was called for hooking at the end of the first period.
Kero's goal was the only scoring until late in the third period.
UND came with a lot of pressure then entire third period and had several grade A scoring chances. Copley, according to a Tech news release, made at least three saves on what looked like sure goals.
Danny Kristo, a senior wing from Eden Prairie, finally beat Copley with a wrister from the slot with 5:03 to play to tie the score at 1-1. It was his 24th goal of the season and third of the series.
On Eick's winning goal, teammate Brad Stebner took away the puck in the defensive zone and sent it rink-wide to Ryan Furne. Furne returned it across the neutral zone to Eick, who had a step on a defender. The freshman got his third goal of the season on a backhand into the top left corner.
"I was trying to take it wide and get the puck on net,'' Eick said, according to a UND news release. "Ryan Furne made a great pass to put me on, I wouldn't say a breakaway, but I had a little step on them.''
Eick said he tried going short side with his shot. "I think he [Clark Saunders] was making the read I was going to cut to the far post, so he leaned and I tried to tuck it short side.''
His goal came about 30 seconds after UND freshman star Rocco Grimaldi had a similar rush at Tech but slid his shot wide.
"We earned this win," said head coach Mel Pearson. "The guys did the little things it takes to win.
"I told them last night there's no moral victories. The guys really rallied, and we live to see another day."
Tech's win was its first win at Ralph Englestadt Arena since Mar. 15, 2008, when the Huskies defeated the Fighting Sioux 3-2 in overtime in game two of a WCHA playoff series.
Both teams used a different goaltender than last night and got strong play in net. Clarke Saunders made 29 saves including several key stops. His counterpart between the Huskies' pipes was the difference in the game.
Copley stopped nine shots in the first period, seven in the second and 13 in the third.
Tech nearly scored on the power play in the first five minutes of the game as Furne beat Saunders. Furne's shot was gloved away by a defenseman and play continued. The overhead replay showed the puck passing the cross bar, but the play was never reviewed.
The Huskies killed all four UND power plays in the game including the major to Rix. Tech went 0-for-3 on the man advantage.
"They pressed us hard in the third period, and we were able to come out on top," said Pearson. "[Sunday]'s going to be a heck of a hockey game."
UND pulled its goaltender for the extra attacker for the final 1:31, and Copley made several more saves.
It was a hard-fought playoff game,'' UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "We came up one goal short. We battled hard. It was kind of an up-and-down first period, I thought they carried the momentum in the second period and we had a good push throughout the third. But it wasn't enough.
"We didn't find a lot of holes on him [Copley].''
Copley had lost his previous four starts and given up 19 goals in those games. Go figure.
Kristo led UND in shots on goal with six, followed by Grimaldi with five.
"He's got to keep creating opportunities and make sure he gets pucks on net and keeps working hard,'' Hakstol said of Grimaldi.
"We've just go to come back and play an outstanding 60 minutes,'' Hakstol said. "It's two teams fighting to move on.''
Said UND captain Andrew MacWilliam, "It's playoff hockey. If you don't bring your best, you're not going to like the outcome. We kind of lulled there in the second period and it came back to bite us.''
St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, who always sounds genuine, was talking after his team's 5-1 loss to Michigan Tech on Saturday. He said his team played better than the night before, except for the first few minutes.
Oh, but those first few minutes decided the game.
Tech, the Huskies from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, scored three goals in the first 4 minutes, 23 seconds to take a 3-0 lead. Tanner Kero made it 1-0 at 28 seconds. Jujhar Khaira made it 2-0 at 3:51 and Riley Sweeney 3-0 at 4:23.
Saturday's loss -- after a 5-3 win the night before -- kept the Huskies, who joined the WCHA in 1990-91, from clinching a share of their first MacNaughton Cup which goes to the regular-season champion. And now the Huskies have to go on the road to play surging Wisconsin in Madison. But now at the Kohl Center, at small Veteran's Memorial, which holds just over 10,000.
"Give Tech credit, they were much more determined [Saturday]." Motzko said. "You could tell right from the start. ... Their top players were outstanding."
Motzko said the Huskies' defense did not give sophomore goalie Ryan Faragher much of a chance.
And at 13:03 of the middle period, Tech took a 4-0 lead on David Johnstone's goal. Freshman Alex Petan, who also had two assists, made it 5-0 at 8:28 of the third.
Faragher was replaced after Tech's fourth goal. He only had 14 saves. Rasmus Reijola, his replacement, stopped eight of nine shots.
Freshman Jimmy Murray finally broke the shutout at 17:16 of the third period.
Jamie Phillips, a 6-3 freshman who had not started since Dec. 3, made 36 saves. Tech coach Mel Pearson said he played a hunch to put him in. Tech improved to 11-17-4 with the win, 7-15-4 in the WCHA.
The home Huskies, playing in retro uniforms, outshot Tech 37-27 in the second game but were 0-for-7 on the power play, Tech was 0-for-2.
St. Cloud State (20-13-1, 17-8-1) did clinch home ice for the playoffs, but the Huskies want more than that.
"We just couldn't make a play," Motzko said.
He said his players know the situation, how tight the WCHA is, but are trying to focus on getting wins first and foremost.
"We are figthing for home ice," he said. "We are fighting for the NCAA tournament, we are fighting to win a league title." Motzko said.
Announced attendance on Saturday was 5,037.
Said Murray, who scored the lone goal for SCSU: "It is pretty fitting it goes down to the last weekend of the year."
St. Cloud State built a 4-0 lead in Friday's game before the visiting Huskies got within 4-3 in the third by scoring three goals within 4:37. It was a sign of things to come.
Faragher made 42 saves, which allowed SCSU to build its lead. Freshman forward Kalle Kossila scored two goals. A lout cheer went up at the National Hockey Center when the Gophers' score on Friday was announced: Denver 2, Minnesota 0.
But things change quickly in the WCHA.
It was the Gophers' fans cheering the next night because of SCSU's loss.
The St. Cloud Times story on Saturday's game is here.
* Kassila now has 15 goals for SCSU.
* St. Cloud State is tied for 10th in the PairWise ratings, which mimic how the NCAA seeds and fills out its NCAA field. The top top 14 teams in the PairWise are normally in.
* Since a 4-2 loss to the Gophers on Feb. 8 at St. Cloud State, the Huskies are 3-3, splitting series with the Gophers, Colorado College and Michigan Tech.
Michigan Tech announced its recruiting class for the 2013-14 season earlier this week. It has three players from the state of Minnesota:
* Tyler Heinonen, Delano, 6-0, 190 F, second year with Muskegon of USHL ... Has 8-7-15 in 19 games this season; 21-12-33 in 50 games last season
"Tyler is a pure goal scorer," Huskies assistant Damon Whitten said, according to a Tech news release. "Any time you can add a guy who scores goals naturally, it's a great addition to your program. He's a real dynamic player with his ability to shoot and score."
* Jake Jackson, Oakdale, 5-11, 175. Plays for Tartan. Had 25-19-44 last season.
"He's a great skater who will add a ton of speed to our lineup," Whitten said. "He also has the ability to score goals and play a tenacious game. He really fits the style we are looking to play."
* Dylan Steman, Hanover, 5-10, 180 F. Playing for Cedar Rapids of UHSL. Has 1-7-8 in 17 games. Played high school hockey at Maple Grove.
"Dylan's another great all-around player," Whitten said. "He skates very well, he's tenacious and he has great skill. He'll fill a lot of different roles for our team."
Three players from Michigan:
* Mark Auk, Grosse Point Park, 6-0, 170 D, playing for Port Huron of NAHL. Has 3-9-12 in 24 games.
* Christopher Leibinger, Saginaw, 5-9, 170 D. Plays for Muskegon of USHL. Spent most of last season with Traverse City of NAHL, 5-15-20 and plus-12 in 55 games.
* Joel L'Esperance, Brighton, 6-2, 195 F. Playing for Tri-City of USHL. Has 1-2-3 in 19 games.
And two from other parts:
* Marcus Ericsson, Lulea, Sweden, 6-0, 185, D, playing for Des Moines of USHL. Has three goals in 11 games.
* Michael Neville, Woodbridge, Ontario, 6-0, 180 F. Playing for St. Michael's in Ontario Junior Hockey League. Has 5-15-20 in 17 games.
Said head coach Mel Pearson of this signing class, "As a whole, this group really fits our program's needs with size, speed, skill and character."
Denver forward Luke Salazar is the WCHA's offensive player of the week. He had a goal and five assists as the Pioneers swept Alaska Anchorage 4-2 and 6-3.
Salazar, a 5-7, 155 senior winger, had a goal and two assists in the first game and three assists in the second for Denver, which moved up to third place in the WCHA standings with the sweep.
He has six goals and 12 assists this season.
The Gophers play at DU in two weeks.
TECH DUO HONORED
Goalie Josh Robinson of Michigan Tech is the defensive player of the week. He stopped 62 of 66 shots as the Huskies tied UMD 4-4 and beat them 5-0. He shut out the Bulldogs the last five periods of the weekend and had a .939 save percentage.
Saturday's shutout was the first against UMD in 105, dating back to a 2-0 loss to visiting North Dakota on March 1, 2008. Robinson, a senior, is 11-9-2 with a 2.69 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.
The rookie of the week in the WCHA is Tech forward Blake Pietila. He had an assist on Friday against UMD and a goal and two assists on Saturday.
"Tech is off to a great start with their new coach," Gophers coach Don Lucia said, referring to Mel Pearson. "He wants to play a much more pressure-based system. They had a good nucleus of returning players. Three of their top four scorers were freshmen. [Jordan] Baker didn't play last year with an injury. He is one of their top scorers. [Brett] Olson only played half their games, he is one of their top scorers as a senior.
"They have some guys who can put the puck in the net. And more than anything else, that is what has been missing from their program the last number of years. But now they are scoring."
Tech is tied for sixth place in the WCHA this season after finishing last the past three seasons.
"They basically had three freshman forwards who had 20 points, which is an outstanding freshman year," Lucia said. "Well, now they are sophomores. And a couple of freshman have come in and scored again. They have six guys who have scored five goals or more so far this year. So they are off to a great start."
Sophomore Milos Gordic leads Tech in goals with seven.
And Gordic, a 6-5, 210 sophomore center, is one of those freshmen who put up numbers last season. He tied for the team scoring lead. He are the three freshmen who were among Tech's top four scorers:
1. (tie) F Gordic 15-6-21
1. (tie) F Ryan Furne, 6-2, 215 12-9--21
4. F Jacob Johnstone, 5-11, 190 4-15--19
OTHER TECH STRENGHTS
"Their specialty teams have been very strong," Lucia said, "and they are getting a great performance from their senior goaltender [Josh Robinson]."
The Huskies have scored 15 power plays and fiven up 14, so they are a plus-one.
Robinson is 7-5-1 with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage -- third best in the WCHA.
"They are off to a great start," Lucia said. "They have taken advantage of some of their home games [6-3-1]. Their crowds are coming back, so it is great for their program."
BJUGSTAD CINCH FOR WORLD JUNIORS
Lucia said forwards Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau still have to go through the U.S. tryout camp for the World Junior Championships, but he expects Bjugstad to make the cut down from 29 to 22. The camp starts Dec. 17 in Camrose, Alberta, just outside Edmonton.
"Kyle probably has a little bit of work to do when he gets up there to make sure he impresses the coaches," Lucia said. "But both of them are deserving. Both have had outstanding seasons for us this year. Both of them are terrific teams players and you need that for a short tournament environment. They will be willing to accept whatever role given [them].
"Both would represent our country tremendously."
Rau's versatility -- he can play on the power play and penalty kill -- should help his chances of making the team. USA head coach Dean Blais, who also coaches Nebraska Omaha, is looking for players capable of fitting into several roles.
Rau has played left wing for the Gophers, but he could play center in a pinch, too. He was a center all his life.
The Gophers will be without Bjugstad and possibly Rau, just for their two games in the Mariucci Classic on Dec. 30 and 31.
"It will give a couple of other players who maybe haven't had a chance to play much to show what they can do," Lucia said.
THE DON SAYS
* On surging UMD which has a 12-game unbeaten streak (10-0-2): "They are going to be a force the second half of the season, so we are glad we are finished with them right now."
* On freshman forward Seth Ambroz, who broke a long dry spell with a goal last Saturday: "We made a very difficult decision to take him out of the lineup on Saturday [at Michigan State two weekends ago]. We told him we did that because sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward. We told him we thought it would be good for him just to sit up and watch a game and hopefully relax a little bit.
"He came back, had a great week of practice and it was nice to see him get rewarded. We have seen him perform in practice. It has not necessarily carried forth during the game. But he got rewarded [last] Saturday which was good to see."
* On 13-4-1- record so far: "We are sitting in great shape, but at the same time it is not even Christmas. There is a lot of hockey to be played. We have a very difficult second-half schedule within the league. ... As long as we can stay healthy and Kent [goalie Kent Patterson] continues to play like he has, we will be in good shape at the end."
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