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UND rallies past Colorado College

FNS Photo by Eric Hylden University of North Dakota’s Michael Parks flips the puck past Colorado College goalie Josh Thorimbert to tie the score at 2-2 in Friday’s NCHC playoff opener at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

GRAND FORKS — The start wasn’t pretty, but in the end, the University of North Dakota can breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Thanks to a four-goal rally, UND was the only home team to win in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs Friday night, posting a 4-2 victory over Colorado College in front of 10,217 in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

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Top-seeded St. Cloud State, third-seeded Nebraska Omaha and fourth-seeded Minnesota Duluth all fell, and UND nearly joined them after falling behind 2-0 in the opening 7 minutes, 5 seconds of the game. But thanks to goals from Drake Caggiula, Michael Parks, Bryn Chyzyk and Brendan O’Donnell to take Game 1 of the NCHC first-round playoff series.

UND has a chance to earn a 12th consecutive trip to the Twin Cities if it wins Game 2 at 6:08 p.m. tonight.

“That’s the way the league is,” Hakstol said after being informed of the results around the NCHC. “I said it coming in. These playoff series are going to look an awful lot like the regular season. There’s very little separation between any two teams in this league.”

That includes UND, which improved to 21-11-3, and Colorado College, which dropped to 6-23-6.

The Tigers overwhelmed UND early. UND didn’t get a shot on goal for the opening 6:28 while Colorado College led in shots 6-0. They also built a lead on a tip-in goal by Sam Rothstein and a point shot by defenseman Aaron Harstad.

UND, which hadn’t lost a Game 1in a first-round series since 2006, battled back with one goal in the first, two in the second and one in the third.

“I thought we skated well and executed our plan,” Colorado College coach Scott Owens said. “We took advantage and scored a couple of goals early. From our perspective, it’s a little bit like our season in that we weren’t able to parlay our good early work into anything more. We made a few mistakes not taking care of the puck against a team that forechecks well and they convert.”

The key sequence in the game happened midway through the first. With the Tigers leading 2-0, Jeff Collett had a breakaway, but UND defenseman Jordan Schmaltz was able to break it up with a strong backcheck. UND went the other way with the puck and Caggiula blasted a wrist shot glove side at 12:11 to cut the lead and inject some life into Ralph Engelstad Arena.

“The crowd got into it and every time the crowd gets into it, we start to get a little more amped up,” Caggiula said. “It would have been terrible to go into the first intermission 2-0. It was a lucky goal we got there and we were able to continue with that play throughout the second and third.”

In the second period, Mark MacMillan (two assists) fed and open Parks down low at 7:14 for a goal. Parks outwaited the goalie and went top shelf with a shot from in tight.

With just 1:53 left in the second, Chyzyk gave UND the lead for good. Tiger forward Christian Heil couldn’t corral a pass at his feet and Chyzyk picked up a loose puck and blasted it glove side for his first goal in 16 games — since Colorado College’s last trip to The Ralph.

In the third period, UND tacked on one more goal when O’Donnell converted a turnaround shot from the right circle.

“We dug ourselves a hole,” Hakstol said. “The most important part is that we found a way to dig ourselves out of that. It’s a credit to our guys. We weren’t ready to play off the drop of the puck, but we fought our way back, even though nothing was coming easy.”

Zane Gothberg continued his strong play for UND, stopping 20 of 22 shots, including several key stops to keep UND in the game early.

“I specifically remember a big glove save, diving across the crease,” Caggiula said. “He did his part and kept us in the game. He’s been great for us all season and, once again, he played great again tonight.”

Notes: Gage Ausmus played his first game in a month, replacing Keaton Thompson on defense. Ausmus last played Feb. 15 against Miami. . . Brendan O’Donnell and Mitch MacMillan traded places on left wing on the third and fourth lines. . . Lee Goren, the MVP of the 2000 UND national championship team, attended Friday’s game. It was the first game he has watched in Ralph Engelstad Arena. . . Four of Chyzyk’s nine points this season have come against the Tigers.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer 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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