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.''
Gophers coach Don Lucia recently talked about how important the next four games are to his team. That they will decide if his team can contend for a second consecutive MacNaughton Cup.
The Gophers play at first-place St. Cloud State this coming weekend and then journey to Madison, Wis., to play the Badgers at the Kohl Center on Friday and in an outdoors game two days later at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The Badgers got off to an awful start with key injuries, a star freshman being suspended. Even one of coach Mike Eaves' assistants, Bill Butters, quit abruptly.
But Eaves has righted the sinking ship. Wisconsin had an 11-game unbeaten streak (7-04) until losing 4-1 to North Dakota on Saturday before 11,962 at The Ralph in Grand Forks.
The Badgers (11-9-6, 8-6-6) gave up a power-play goal in the first minute and another later in the opening period. UND was 2x8 on the power play, Wisconsin 0x5.
Goal-scorers for UND were Mark MacMillan, Joe Gleason and Michael Parks (two).
Here is an interesting stat: When UND took a 2-0 lead against the Badgers, it was the first time in 17 games they had trailed by two goals.
After falling behind 4-0, the Badgers finally scored on Mark Zengerle's goal.
Last weekend's meetings were the 162nd and 163rd between Wisconsin and UND. But they have agreed to play each other in nonconference games next season when UW joins the Big Ten Conference and North Dakota the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
BIG WIN FOR UND
North Dakota really needed the win on Saturday. The team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux was on a five-game winless streak (0-2-3) -- it's longest in 10 years.
Parks, obviously, had a big game for them. The sophomore forward from St. Louis, Mo., had missed 18 of the first 19 games with injuries but has five goals in 11 games since his return.
"It's very important,'' UND coach Dave Hakstol said of the getting contributions from Parks and others. "We have to get scoring throughout our lineup. That's something that hasn't happened over the last three weeks.''
UND's slide began at Mariucci last month when the Gophers beat North Dakota 5-1 and then tied UND 4-4.
North Dakota (14-8-6, 9-5-6) is tied for third in the WCHA race with the Gophers and Denver going into a road series at Nebraska Omaha. One of the games is outdoors.
Wisconsin is in sixth, but just two points behind the traffic jam in third. The Badgers play Bemidji State at the Kohl Center this weekend.
Gophers coach Don Lucia used his weekly radio show on Monday to defend himself from critics complaining that North Dakota won't be on the U's schedule the next three seasons.
"We have a rule at the University of Minnesota -- not put in by me -- but by the regents that we can not play a team with an Indian nickname," Lucia said. "And for years, this controversy with North Dakota and the nickname has been going on. And it has been fought in the courts and everything else.
"And it did not get settled until this summer. Well -- if you want to put the blame on me for not waiting to find out whether it was going to get settled or not, then so be it. I can accept that fact.
"I wasn't going to wait. When the conferences all broke up a couple of years ago. And we were heading into all these new conferences, it was kind of a frenzy and free-for-all for scheduling nonconference games. And when we had the opportunity to schedule some good opponents -- I could have waited, but I chose not to wait. But I wanted to ensure we had a good schedule for our fans and our team."
(Hold on there, coach. Virg Foss, a columnist for the Grand Forks Herald, the paper in the town UND plays in, points out in a recent column that the Wisconsin Badgers have the similar scheduling restriction. Yet UND and the Badgers will play each other the next four years.)
Back to The Don:
"And then once the controversy with the nickname ended, then we would be in a position to put North Dakota back on our schedule and that is exactly what is going to happen. Right now we have our three more years with Notre Dame after this and four with Boston College. It is pretty much done that when Notre Dame drops off our schedule, North Dakota will come back on our schedule."
"They should be on the schedule on a pretty regular basis. Should it be every year? I don't know. We are starting to get so far out that it might be somebody else's decision, not mine. But I do believe we need to play them and our first available opportunity to play them -- when our schedule is clear -- they will be back on our schedule. A year here and a year up there. We will go back and fourth, rather than one and one."
(UND coach Dave Hakstol has said he would like to play a home-and-home series with the Gophers every year over three days. The middle day would be a travel day.)
"That will be good. It will be good for our fans. They will be excited, our players will be excited. It is a win-win for everybody. But you know what, if they wouldn't have fought [for] their old nickname, maybe we would be playing next year, instead of keeping that [controversy] alive for five years."
(Last week Lucia proposed playing North Dakota in 2016-17, 2017-18, then taking two years off, then repeating that pattern. ... Foss in his column, which was picked up by the College Hockey News is here, said UND and Gophers fans should write Lucia and U of M athletic director Norwood Teague asking them to schedule North Dakota every season because it is such a great rivalry.)
Lucia said the Gophers don't have as much scheduling flexibility as some might assume even though they will be in the six-team Big Ten Conference.
He said they will play 20 conference games and eight more every year against the four other Division I teams in Minnesota: Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth. Minnesota State Mankato and St. Cloud State. Six of those Gophers' games will be two-game series, two will be part of an all-Minnesota teams tournament at Mariucci.
Here's how the Gophers' schedule next season will look like, for instance:
Two games at Bemidji State
Minnesota State at Mariucci for two games
Minnesota Duluth at Mariucci for two games
St. Cloud State in first game of Gophers' new second tournament, in January
Minnesota State or UMD in second game of Gophers new second tournament, in January (Bemidji State will not be in the field the first year)
Bottom line is, Gophers will play St. Cloud State once next season, Bemidji State twice and Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State either twice or three times. ... The following year, another of the Minnesota teams takes St. Cloud State's place in the rotation, facing the Gophers only once, and so on.
With the Big Ten Conference schedule, those eight games against other Minnesota teams and the Mariucci Classic, between Christmas and New Year's Day as usual, the Gophers have 30 games.
That leaves only four more available games.
And the Gophers have those spots filled for three seasons:
2013-14: Notre Dame twice, probably on road; Boston College twice at Mariucci.
2014-15: Notre Dame twice, probably at Mariucci; Boston College and Northeastern for single games on road
2016-17: Notre Dame twice, probably on road; Northeastern twice at Mariucci
"Next year, we will have a very attractive schedule," Lucia said, "and this is what we are the most concerned with because, I mentioned, with the breakups of the leagues and everybody scrambling to find your nonconference opponents I liken it to like when you are a kid and you are playing musical chairs. When the music stops, you better find a chair. And we wanted to make sure we locked into our non-league games with quality opponents.
"We weren't willing to wait. And we didn't have to. We had an opportunity to schedule good non-league opponents and that's what we did."
Lucia said he likes playing the in-state Division I schools. "That was a priority," he said. "They all wanted to play us. That is important for our state.
He said the 2013-14 Big Ten schedule won't start until Thanksgiving time, so 10 of the Gophers' 14 nonconference games will be early, except for the Gophers' two tournaments.
"[The schedule] is almost going to be like Big Ten basketball," he said, "where you have your nonconference games before your Big Ten season starts."
RECAP OF UND SERIES
"Saturday's game was much more entertaining for the fans," Lucia said. "It was a better hockey game. The teams [on Friday] looked a little tentative and didn't have the pace of what Saturday's game was. ... What I liked that final 10 minutes, we had a good push."
The Gophers scored twice in the last 10 minutes of the third period to tie North Dakota 4-4, which was the final score after a scoreless overtime.
"Saturday's game was like an NCAA tournament game," Lucia said. "It was a playoff game, it was a March, April game in intensity. ... It just makes you better playing in a game like that."
* Lucia said senior center Erik Haula, who was moved to left wing on the first line for the UND series, was pretty sore after the games were over. He had missed the previous three games after being slashed on the hands.
Haula will get two days off this week, and play wing again versus Minnesota State. Then, after a week off the following weekend, Lucia said he hopefully expects Haula to be 100 percent and back at center on the second line for the series at St. Cloud on Feb. 8-9.
* Nate Condon had five points in the UND series, centering the second line. "He was really good this weekend," Lucia said.
* The Gophers have scored at least four goals in their past nine games, going back to the first game at Colorado College on Dec. 7.In that stretch they are 7-0-2 and are averaging 4.89 goals per game (44 total).
"The start we have had since Christmastime has been critical for us, not only in the league but, certainly, in the national picture," Lucia said.
The Gophers are tied for first place in the WCHA with St. Cloud State and ranked No. 1 nationally.
Asked if freshman goalie Adam Wilcox will every get a game off, Lucia said, Wilcox will get a break next weekend when the Gophers are idle after a home-and-home series with Minnesota State Mankato this weekend.
Lucia said he and Justin Johnson, the team's goalie coach, have talked about Wilcox and if his play starts to suffer, he will get a night off and junior Mike Shibrowski -- remember him? -- will play.
"I don't think we are talking about giving Bjugstad a day off on a Friday night because he is tired. Or anything like that. We will monitor it. We want to make sure he is fresh for us come playoff time.
"And if that means rotating goalies for a few weeks, we will do that. If he continues to play well and feels good, he will continue to play."
Translation: Wilcox will keep starting ever game unless a team really lights him up. Lucia, in recent seasons, seems to prefer one goalie. The torch got passed to Alex Kangas, then Kent Patterson and now Adam Wilcox.
THE DON SAYS
* On Alabama Huntsville being admitted to the WCHA for next season: "It is great. ... When I was coaching at [Alaska] Fairbanks, we used to play them every year. And we'd go down and play at Huntsville. It is just another opportunity for kids to play college hockey and coaches to coach college hockey in a footprint that is in a nontraditional area that maybe it can spread some day. ... Probably in this instance, if Huntsville didn't get into the WCHA, they would have shut down their program."
On Minnesota State, the Gophers' next opponent: "They are 12-3-1 in their last 16 games and two of those losses were in overtime to Wisconsin a couple weeks ago. They are playing very good. ... They are a team that had a whole host of injuries the year before. Those kids were coming back. It was a team that really had a chance to jump up. And we've seen that. ... They are as skilled as anybody."
So was this a good tie or a bad tie?
Of course, it depends on the team. For North Dakota, the 4-4 tie with the Gophers was a bad tie. They were up 4-2 with six minutes to play. Someone once told me that a two-goal lead is the most dangerous you can have in hockey. Never believed that.
But in this case, UND lost the lead and hit two posts in the overtime. It was a bad tie for the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux. Even wearing their more menacing black jerseys didn't help.
For the Gophers, who won 5-1 on Friday, it was a good tie. Nick Bjugstad, picked to be the WCHA's player of the year in the preseason polls, scored his 13th goal to bring the U within 4-3 with 8:50 left and then Nate Condon, the Gophers' hottest players, with six goals in the past seven games, tied the score with 2:58 left.
Condon has been playing center lately with Erik Haula injured for three games and moved to winger the past two games.
This was the second stirring comeback in two weekends. Going back one series, the Gophers scored two goals in the last nine minutes to beat Alaska Anchorage 4-3. That was a little easier, though, because both late goals came on power plays. Bjugstad had the first, defenseman Ben Marshall the second with 2:58 left.
Assorted observations on Saturday's game:
* There were big hits, but most of them were clean. Penalties were few. UND was 0-for-1 with zero shots on the power play, the Gophers 0-for-3 with three shots.
* The Gophers did a good job limiting UND two hottest players, the K & K boys, Danny Kristo and Corban Knight. Kristo had one goal and five shots in the second game but was a minus-2. Knight extended his points streak to 19 games with a goal but that was his only shot and he was a minus-1.
Redshirt freshman Rocco Grimaldi did have a good game with one goal, one assist and six shots. He was a plus-1.
* Defenseman Nate Schmidt led the Gophers with seven shots and was a plus-2. Condon had a goal and an assists, two shots and was a plus-1.
* Named the three stars of the game were Condon, Grimaldi and UND defenseman Jordan Schmaltz.
* Sophomore winger Sam Warning of the Gophers scored his fifth goal on Saturday. He has five goals on 16 shots, so he scores almost once every three times he shoots. That's the best percentage on the team.
* The Gophers outshot North Dakota 13-3 in the opening period, but then UND matched the Gophers shot for shot. Both had eight shots in the second period, 13 in the third. And in the five-minute overtime, the Gophers had one shot and UND zero, but the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux hit two posts. Oh, so close.
* Erik Haula, who had an assist on Bjugey's goal, has a 16-game points streak.
* St. Cloud State beat Denver 5-1 on Saturday to pick up two points, and with the Gophers tie for one point, the two share the WCHA lead with 22 points apiece.
* Last season, the Gophers and UND played six times. The U had a 3-1 edge in the regular season. UND beat the Gophers 6-3 in the Final Five, but the Gophers won 5-2 in the West Region final.
REMATCH DEFINITE POSSIBILITY
The Gophers and North Dakota appear to be the two best teams in the WCHA at this point. If they do finish 1-2 in the league, they would both have byes in the Final Five quarterfinals. And, if that is the case, a win in the semifinals by both would produce a rematch in the championship game. How sweet would that be?
UND has won the Final Five the past three years.
A rematch, of course, could also happen in the NCAA tournament. After Saturday's games, the Gophers are No. 2 in the PairWise ratings, North Dakota is tied for No. 6.
Those ratings mimic how the NCAA fills out its 16-team field. Five conference tournament champions advance, plus the nine highest PairWise teams, excluding the five automatic entries.
So the Gophers would be one of four No. 1 seeds, and the team formerly known as the Sioux a No. seed. If place in the same region, they could meet in the region final in that scenario like they did last year. Or, if they are in different regions, they would each have to win a regional title to advance the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. That would be swell, too.
I kept it close, but Joe Van Thomme, aka Joe the Lawyer in my blog, edged me 9-3 to 8-4 this weekend in correctly forecasting games involving WCHA teams (ties count as 1/2 point if we picked a win or a loss. I picked one tie but didn't hit on it. There were three in other series).
Joe was 2-0 on the UMD-Colorado College series (a split). I was 2-0 on the Miami-Wisconsin series (a split). Should have picked more ties, darn. Hitting on a tie is a 1 in my scorekeeping system.
The Gophers and North Dakota will play each other for the last time as WCHA rivals on Friday and Saturday at Mariucci. And if you don't have a ticket yet, good luck getting one.
Gophers coach Don Lucia said all the standing-room tickets for Saturday's game -- about 700, 800 -- have been sold already. So Mariucci will be filled to the brim.
And why not?
These strong rivals will not meet in the regular season again until the 2016-17 season, according to what Gophers coach Don Lucia said on his weekly radio show on Monday.
"We are going to get them the first available opportunity back on our schedule," Lucia said.
That opportunity won't come until the 2016-17 season. Yikes. Of course, they could meet in the NCAA tournament, but that's not a given.
Next season the Gophers will be in the new six-team Big Ten Conference, UND in the new eight-team National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Lucia said the Gophers couldn't schedule North Dakota as a nonconference opponent because, at the time the current agreements were being made, UND still had an American Indian nickname. (The U of M has a policy prohibiting its teams from playing nonconference opponents with such nicknames. Now, of course, UND has dropped its Fighting Sioux nickname.)
So the Gophers scheduled Notre Dame for the next three seasons -- Lucia's alma mater and the team his son Mario, a freshman, plays for -- and Boston College and/or Northeastern for four years.
After the Notre Dame contract runs out, UND will be back on the U's radar.
"We pretty much have it worked out, when Notre dame drops off, [North Dakota will play] the first year here, then we will go up to North Dakota," Lucia said.
"i would not mind seeing a scenario we play them two [years], then take two off. Definitely, every four years [we'll be] in each other's building."
Once in four years???
"That probably a pretty good win situation for everybody," Lucia said. "I think we do need to play, it is an important rivalry. ... We not have room to play that series each and every year with out commitment to in-state schools. ... [But] it could all change in three, four years."
The Big Ten could add teams, Lucia said.
As things stand now, he said, the Gophers have a 20-game conference schedule, plus eight nonconference games against the other four Division I in-state teams: Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State Mankato and St. Cloud State. That's 28 games already.
Add two games for the Mariucci Classic and the Gophers can schedule only four nonconference games beyond that to reach their 32-game maximum the NCAA allows.
Last season was great for fans of the rivalry. The Gophers and North Dakota played six times. There were two games in Grand Forks, two at Mariucci in Minneapolis and two at the Xcel, one in the Final Five and one in West Regional.
The Gophers won three of four in the regular season. UND won in the Final Five semifinals and the Gophers own in the West Regional final for a trip to the Frozen Four in Tampa.
When the Gophers were in Grand Forks, UND coach Dave Hakstol told a boosters group he hoped the Gophers and UND could play every season. He said that UND would keep a spot open in its schedule for the Gophers, preferably for a home-and-home, two-game series, with the teams traveling the day in between. So the games would be either Thursday and Saturday or Friday and Sunday.
Clearly, one side in the Gophers-UND rivalry seems more anxious to keep the rivalry hot and stoked than the other.
* Here is how the Gophers' upcoming nonconference games against Hockey East teams break down:
2013-14, Boston College plays at Mariucci
2014-15, Gophers play at Boston College and Northeastern (presumably single games same weekend against both teams. Both teams are in Boston.)
2015-16, Northeastern plays at Mariucci
2016-17, Gophers play at Boston College and Northeastern just like in 2014-15
Lucia said he and his players enjoy going East. The Gophers played at Vermont this season. So that's what the U will doing in upcoming seasons.
Lucia also said the Gophers will eventually mix in other WCHA rivals outside the state from time to time, teams such as Colorado College, where he once coached, Denver and Michigan Tech. Those teams could take North Dakota's place possibly the two years out of four the Gophers skip UND, he said..
TWO WCHA POWERS
The Gophers are 7-0-1 in their last eight games, rated No. 1 in the country and tied for third in the WCHA -- one point behind co-leaders Denver and Nebraska Omaha.
North Dakota has lost once in its last 15 games, is rated No. 6 in the country, and is the team the Gophers are tied with for third place in the conference.
"The rivalry is a whole lot better when both teams are good and that is certainly the case this year," Lucia said. "They are a team that can win it all, certainly not only the WCHA, but the national title. And we feel we should be talked about in thiose ways too."
* The 20 conference games the Gophers play will be two home games and two away games against the five other Big Ten teams: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
* Stub Hub, a site on the Internet where people can buy tickets to sports events, has fewer than 100 tickets available each night for the Gophers-UND series. They run form $75 (standing room) to $374 for Friday, and from $85 to $424 for Saturday.
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