No parting gift for UND as Gophers rally for tie

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 20, 2013 - 4:27 AM

Top-ranked Minnesota scored two late goals against its longtime WCHA rival.

When North Dakota scored to regain a two-goal lead Saturday night, Nate Condon took a good look at his Gophers teammates. Less than 13 minutes remained in a tense game, and exhaustion had begun to settle in.

But Condon noticed that no one seemed defeated, which didn't surprise him given the situation: It was the final game in this heated rivalry for at least four years, played before a frenzied full house at Mariucci Arena. "No one was giving up,'' the junior center said. "You want to beat them. And if you don't, you're going to remember it for a long time.''

Condon didn't get exactly what he wanted, but he did help to write a memorable end to this chapter of the Gophers-North Dakota story. His goal with 2 minutes, 58 seconds remaining lifted the top-ranked Gophers to a 4-4 tie, a fitting conclusion to another hard-fought, heartstopping game between the rivals. The Gophers (17-3-4, 9-3-4 WCHA) twice rallied from two-goal deficits to earn a point that kept them atop the WCHA standings and ran their undefeated streak to 10 games.

The Gophers opened the series Friday with a 5-1 victory over No. 6 North Dakota (13-7-4, 8-4-4), taking three of four points in the last regular-season series the teams will play as members of the WCHA. A crowd announced at 10,256 provided an ear-splitting backdrop, on a weekend when 20,574 fans packed Mariucci Arena for the two games.

Eden Prairie's Danny Kristo staked North Dakota to a 1-0 lead in the first period. Jake Parenteau quickly tied it before Corban Knight and Rocco Grimaldi put UND up 3-1 in the second.

After Sam Warning pulled the Gophers within 3-2, Drake Caggiula scored at 7:20 of the third to restore the two-goal margin. Nick Bjugstad sparked the rally with a goal at 11:10, with Condon slamming in a nice pass from Zach Budish to secure the tie. North Dakota banged two shots off the goal posts in overtime.

Gophers coach Don Lucia lauded his team for rallying and praised Condon for an outstanding weekend, which included two goals and three assists. He also noted that the Gophers have not lost at home to North Dakota in the past four seasons, going 4-0-2 in that span -- which gave Condon another reason to remember this one for a while.

"The coaches were all over us, telling us we could fight back,'' said Condon, who assisted on Warning's goal. "We scored five goals Friday, so there was no one hanging their heads.

"[The end of the rivalry] is sad. This is the weekend you look forward to all year.''

While Lucia was pleased with the three points, some players were a bit disappointed as North Dakota ended the Gophers' six-game winning streak. Kristo's goal came after the Gophers lost the puck in their end. Knight scored on a breakaway when a pass slipped off Brady Skjei's stick, and Grimaldi's goal came after he intercepted the puck as the Gophers tried to get it out of a corner.

Lucia also said that goaltender Adam Wilcox -- who has been solid all season -- seemed to be struggling. But the Gophers were both pugnacious and persistent against a sharp, determined North Dakota team that was outshot 35-26. When Bjugstad pounced on a rebound and beat goalie Zane Gothberg to cut the deficit to 4-3, Budish said, they could sense they had the advantage.

Both Lucia and his players expect they will face off against UND again this season in the playoffs. Whether or not that happens, they won't soon forget the weekend.

"Everyone in the program loves playing against them, and I'm sure it's the same for North Dakota,'' Budish said. "It was a hard-fought series, as always. I'll definitely remember these games when I'm older.''

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