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Huskies beat UND, maintain NCHC title lead

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — So, it will all come down to the final weekend.

The Penrose Cup went back in its case Saturday night after St. Cloud State pulled even with the University of North Dakota in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings with a 3-1 victory on Saturday night.

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The green and white portion of the 5,745 in the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center were hoping to see UND win the league’s inaugural title with a victory in the series finale, but instead, this series ended much like the previous 11 in this building.

The Huskies used a go-ahead goal by Cory Thorson with 1 minute, 5 seconds left in the second period and an empty-netter by Kevin Gravel to seal the series split, leveling the two teams at 42 points in the NCHC standings.

Next weekend, UND hosts Western Michigan to close the regular season. St. Cloud State travels to seventh-place Colorado College. The destination of the Penrose Cup and commissioner Josh Fenton has yet to be decided.

“It’s probably the way we expected it would be at the start of the year,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “You would expect everything to come down to the final weekend — the Penrose Cup, home-ice advantage — that’s all still to be decided. That’s the way you would expect it. It sets up to be a great weekend for the league.”

UND (19-10-3, 14-8 NCHC) was looking to sweep St. Cloud State in the National Hockey Center for the first time since the 1998-99 season, and things got off to a good start on a shorthanded goal by Rocco Grimaldi.

The dynamic center stole the puck from defenseman Ethan Prow at the blue line, skated in alone and fired a shot five-hole on Husky goaltender Ryan Faragher. The initial attempt was stopped, but the Grimaldi followed it up to make it 1-0 at 14:17.

The Huskies (19-8-5, 13-6-3) were able to even it just as the power play expired when Kalle Kossila found Joey Benik with a pass from the left circle to the right circle. Benik, who also scored Friday night, was able to sneak one by UND goaltender Zane Gothberg, who lost his first start since Nov. 9.

Late in the second period, UND started a rush, but a blocked shot turned into a rush the other way. Thorson cut from the right circle to the center before snapping a shot past Gothberg’s glove at 18:55.

“It was a battle,” Hakstol said. “It was hard fought for 60 minutes. The difference in the game was they made one play toward the end of the second period that was a turning point in the game.”

UND pushed to tie it in the third, but found it much more difficult to get to the top of the crease than Friday night, when it scored three times from in tight on rebounds in a decisive 5-2 victory.

“We didn’t have the energy that we had last night in certain areas,” Hakstol said. “I thought it was a tighter checking game as well than last night. It was the battle we knew we would get.”

UND forward Drake Caggiula said: “I thought the work ethic was there. Guys battled hard. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough left in the tank to get that tying goal. A few power plays for them gave them momentum through the game. We’ve got to be a little more disciplined.

“I thought the effort was there. We can’t do much about it now. We’ve got to move on and start preparing for Western.”

UND, now 15-3-1 in its last 19 games, swept the Broncos in Kalamazoo earlier this season with a pair of one-goal victories.

If UND remains tied with St. Cloud State after next weekend, UND will have the tiebreaker and become the No. 1 seed for the NCHC tournament. Both teams will be declared NCHC co-champions.

“Western Michigan is pressing for home ice right now,” Caggiula said. “They’re going to be coming out all guns firing. We want to hang a banner in our arena as well. It’s going to be a heck of a weekend. It’s senior weekend and the last weekend of the regular season. It’s going to be a fun weekend.”

Grimaldi also is looking forward to the regular-season finale.

“It’s going to be a barn-burner,” he said. “Western is going to come in looking for home ice. We’re going to be hungry, looking to put ourselves in position to win this trophy.”

Notes: UND used the same lineup as Friday night. . . St. Cloud State scratched forward David Morley (injury). Morley went into the boards awkwardly during the first period Friday night, but later returned to the game. The Huskies also scratched Joe Rehkamp for Garrett Milan and Joey Holka up front. They went with senior Brandon Burrell over Jarrod Rabey on Senior Day.