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UND continues hot streak, blanks Broncos

GRAND FORKS — A little more than three months ago, the University of North Dakota sat in its locker room an hour after the game ended, trying to figure out where the season was headed.

It was 4-7-2 at the time.

Believe it or not, that same squad is one game away from winning a conference championship.

UND beat Western Michigan 2-0 on Friday night, giving itself a chance to hoist the Penrose Cup as the inaugural champs of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference if it wins tonight’s series finale against the Broncos (6:07 p.m., Ralph Engelstad Arena).

“Probably the only people who believed in us was ourselves in that locker room,” alternate captain Stephane Pattyn said. “We had a bit of a rough start. It was ugly, but we kind of stuck together. Everyone nutted up and got the job done. We have to keep doing the same thing.”

UND is 16-3-1 in its last 20 games, surging to the top of the NCHC standings with 45 points. St. Cloud State, which is at Colorado College in its regular-season finale tonight, also has 45 points, but UND holds the tiebreaker between the teams.

UND also is at No. 9 in the Pairwise Rankings, in position to make the NCAA tournament for a 12th consecutive season.

Coach Dave Hakstol now is 10 for 10 in leading UND to 20-win seasons after Friday night’s victory. UND improved to 20-10-3 overall and 15-8 in league play.

The game started with Grand Forks natives Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux dropping the opening faceoff with their Olympic silver medals around their necks and Team USA jerseys on. After the ceremony, they took off their jerseys, revealing their Fighting Sioux jerseys underneath to rev up the sold-out crowd of 11,682.

The crowd got going again late in the second period when Pattyn and Luke Johnson scored goals just 18 seconds apart to give UND a comfortable lead.

In net, goaltender Zane Gothberg was outstanding again, stopping all 18 Western Michigan shots for his second-career shutout and his first in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

“He’s a quality goaltender,” Western Michigan coach Andy Murray said. “Certainly, their resurgence here, I think, goes along with him getting the net and finding his game. He’s been good for quite a while now.”

UND took advantage of a power play to go up 1-0 at 17:21 of the middle frame. Defenseman Paul LaDue snapped a shot from the point to the crease area, where Pattyn made a waist-high tip past Bronco goalie Lukas Hafner (33 saves).

On the next shift, UND sophomore forward Rocco Grimaldi stole the puck from Bronco forward Josh Pitt in the corner and quickly centered a pass to Johnson, who was wide open in the slot. Johnson turned around and snapped a shot just under the bar for a 2-0 lead.

“North Dakota was hungry,” Murray said. “They were sniffing blood and they came after us. They played hard. We weren’t as good as we needed to be tonight.”

After tonight’s series finale, UND will honor the seniors. If they win the game, they will be able to celebrate with the Penrose Cup, which is in Grand Forks.

“It’s a great thing,” Hakstol said about having the opportunity to win the league. “We have to come back tomorrow night and play really well. I thought we played a solid game tonight, as did they. We have to come back and play an excellent game tomorrow night.”

Pattyn said the team is looking forward to the series finale.

“Tomorrow is a big night,” he said. “We’ve got our senior night. That’s a big night every year. We want to play for those guys.

“We’re just trying to win as many games as we can coming down the stretch here. You can’t lose any games or your season is over. We want to start that mentality. It started tonight. We’re going to keep it going tomorrow night.”

Notes: Greg Enkers called the game on Midco Sports Network, filling in for Dan Hammer. . . UND scratched Wade Murphy, Gage Ausmus, Andrew Panzarella, Coltyn Sanderson and Matt Hrynkiw. . . UND has killed 20 of the last 21 opponent power plays.