St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko expected an intense North Dakota team for Friday's first semifinal in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center.
"Do you ever think you're not going to get intensity from North Dakota?" Motzko asked. "I don't know if you can be more intense."
Motzko's Huskies, however, weathered that intensity and earned the chance to play for their second NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship in three years. Meanwhile, North Dakota's NCAA tournament hopes are hanging by a thread.
Nick Poehling scored 1:47 into overtime as the top-ranked Huskies beat the fourth-seeded Fighting Hawks 3-2. St. Cloud State (25-7-6) will meet Denver, a 3-1 semifinal winner over Minnesota Duluth, for the championship on Saturday night. With the victory, St. Cloud State (25-7-6) made the path to the NCAA tourney for North Dakota (16-13-10) a narrow one.
The Fighting Hawks will play UMD in the third-place game Saturday afternoon. The result might not matter for North Dakota, though, because of scores out east. Princeton upset top-seeded Cornell 4-1 in the ECAC semifinals, while second-seeded Clarkson edged Harvard 5-4 in overtime. If Princeton beats Clarkson, then North Dakota, which sits No. 14 in the PairWise Ratings, would not make the NCAA tournament. Or if Boston University wins the Hockey East tournament, that would knock out UND.
If both Princeton and Boston University win, the No. 13 team, currently the Gophers, would be bumped, too. Minnesota, however, could move up to No. 12 on Saturday in scenarios that include Minnesota Duluth losing to North Dakota.
"We've got to come back tomorrow and go to battle," North Dakota coach Brad Berry said. "We need to win one game tomorrow and get some help from around the nation."
St. Cloud State also got goals from Patrick Newell and Easton Brodzinski, and goalie David Hrenak made 21 saves. The Huskies are No. 1 in the PairWise and have secured the No. 1 overall NCAA seed. If they do so and North Dakota is not in the NCAA field, they would play in the West Regional in Sioux Falls next Friday and Saturday.
"I like how we played tonight," Motzko said. "I thought we had great legs early in the game. … But as well as we were playing, we were on the verge of getting knocked out of the game."
That's because North Dakota freshman forward Jordan Kawaguchi tied the score 2-2 with a power-play goal at 10:10 of the third period.
In overtime, St. Cloud State ended it quickly. On the winner, Poehling pounced on a turnover by North Dakota defenseman Josh Rieger along right wing boards, drove to the circle and hammered a shot over the left shoulder of goalie Cam Johnson, who made 31 saves.
"[Rieger] tried to get it out of the zone, and it came right to me," said Poehling, a sophomore from Lakeville. "I cut in to create an angle, shot it, and I guess I got a little lucky."
Said Motzko, "Poehling's got a little magic."
North Dakota, as is its norm, controlled play early in the first period and didn't allow the Huskies to get comfortable.
North Dakota's Nick Jones tied score 1-1 with a wraparound goal 4:39 into the second period, prompting chants of "Let's Go Sioux!" from the largely pro-UND crowd of 11,983, which is a single-session record for the Frozen Faceoff.
In the second semifinal, Denver's Colin Staub broke a 1-1 tie at 4:22 of the second period, and the Pioneers (21-9-8) won 3-1, beating Minnesota Duluth (21-15-3) for the sixth consecutive time. The Bulldogs got a power-play goal from freshman Scott Perunovich but couldn't score on a five-on-three advantage and later a five-minute major.
"We had opportunities on the power plays, but you've got to capitalize, especially against this team," said UMD coach Scott Sandelin, whose team dropped to No. 11 in the PairWise and hasn't yet secured an NCAA berth. "They did on their opportunities, and that was the difference."
Henrik Borgstrom, the NCHC's Player of the Year, also scored for Denver, and Adam Plant added an empty-net goal. Tanner Jaillet made 24 saves.