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FNS Photo by Grand Forks Herald Staff University of North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi, right, takes a shot on goal during the third-place game of Saturday’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Target Center in Minneapolis.

UND blanks Western Michigan

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MINNEAPOLIS — After the University of North Dakota beat Western Michigan 5-0 in a must-win game at the National Collegiate Hockey Association Frozen Faceoff, the team went back to its hotel and downtown Minneapolis and settled in.

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“Pray to the Hockey Gods at this point,” Connor Gaarder said.

It worked.

UND needed some help from other teams Saturday night and it arrived in dramatic fashion. Wisconsin, trailing by two goals in the third period, rallied to beat Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, which allowed UND to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament for the 12th straight year — the longest active streak in the country.

Some members the team watched the game in the lobby lounge at the Marriott City Center with a large group of fans and the place erupted when Mark Zengerle scored the overtime goal for the Badgers. The fans then belted out a loud, “Let’s go Sioux” chant and erupted again when they saw head coach Dave Hakstol walk off the elevator in the lobby.

“The first part of the day was easy,” Hakstol said. “We did what we normally do: prepare for a game. You go out and try to control your own destiny. We did that. We did our part. The last four hours hasn’t been so easy watching and looking at other results. We worked hard for this over the last six months. We needed a couple results to give us that change and things worked out.”

UND will find out its destination for the NCAA regional during the selection show at 10 a.m. on ESPNU. The regionals are in St. Paul, Cincinnati, Bridgeport, Conn., and Worcester, Mass. St. Paul does not appear to be an option for UND, though.

After a 4-7-2 start to the season, UND charged through the second half with a 19-6-1 mark to put itself in position to make another NCAA tournament. The win in the third-place game against the Broncos made it possible.

“We earned this over a long period of time,” Hakstol said. “Not just today. Not over the last few weeks. We earned it over the season. Twenty-three wins, in most years, gives you a good chance to be in the tournament. It looks like, by the skin of our teeth, we’re going to be in.”

UND senior captain Dillon Simpson embraced his teammates in the lobby after the Wisconsin result.

“I think I lost three years of my life on stress levels that entire game,” Simpson said. “When Ohio scored that fourth goal, I think we were all pretty deflated. But after Wisco tied it up, I think we were all pretty confident. It was a roller-coaster of emotions that entire game.”

Junior alternate captain Stephane Pattyn said: “I haven’t stopped shaking yet. I’m still shaking. All the boys were on the same floor. When they scored, we all ran out and we were jumping in each other. It was the best thing in the world.”

UND knew it had to get, at minimum, one win at the Frozen Faceoff to have a shot at the NCAA tournament. It didn’t happen in the opener as Miami dropped UND 3-0 on Friday night.

But UND bounced back Saturday afternoon and took care of business.

Gaarder scored the first two goals of the game in the opening frame and UND tacked on three goals in the third from Jordan Schmaltz, Rocco Grimaldi and Paul LaDue to beat the Broncos 5-0 at the Target Center.

“From where we were, waking up on the morning of Nov. 30 with (four) wins, to where we are now, I couldn’t be prouder of this group,” Hakstol said. “We fought hard for our 23rd win of the year today.”

Hakstol said it was “awfully disappointing” to lose to the opening game at the Frozen Faceoff, but he was pleased with the way his team responded Saturday.

“After (Friday), we said that this one’s done and we have to take care of what we can control,” Hakstol said. “That’s a real credit to the leaders. There was no question that we were going to be ready to play, that we’d be relaxed and we’d be focused and we’d come out and play a real good hockey game.”

Western Michigan, which was looking for its 20th win of the season, knew its season would come to an end Saturday no matter the result.

“We made two mistakes and they scored goals,” Western Michigan coach Andy Murray said of the start of the game. “If we analyze scoring chances, I think they would be pretty even through the first 40 minutes. I thought we were good. When that third goal went in, it was pretty tough for us after that.”

UND, meanwhile, went back to the hotel and watched its season continue in dramatic fashion.

“There were about 20 of us all in different rooms upstairs,” Simpson said. “Once they scored, all of us erupted into the hallways and the screaming never really stopped for five minutes. It was a good feeling.”

Notes: UND made one change for Saturday’s game. Mitch MacMillan replaced Andrew Panzarella up front. . . Western Michigan suited up sophomore J.T. Osborn up front. It was Osborn’s first-career game. . . Murray played his seniors for the final 1:40 of the game and didn’t let them come off the ice. He said it was a tribute to their careers. . . Zane Gothberg registered his third-career shutout, making 25 saves against the Broncos.

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Brad Elliott Schlossman
Schlossman is in his 11th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2014, he was named one of the top three beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.
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