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UND takes on third Hobey Baker finalist goalie

GRAND FORKS — In the first round, it was Hobey Baker Award finalist Joel Rumpel.

In the regional final, it was Hobey Baker Award finalist C.J. Motte.

On Thursday, the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team will become the first team in college hockey history to take on three Hobey Baker Award finalist goaltenders in the NCAA tournament when it goes head-to-head with Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox (6:30 p.m., ESPN2).

It wasn’t easy to generate offense against Wisconsin’s Rumpel and Ferris State’s Motte in the NCAA Midwest Regional last weekend in Cincinnati, but UND managed to pass both tests.

Against the Badgers, UND beat Rumpel three times — once when Michael Parks was left alone in front, once on a backhand by Rocco Grimaldi and once on a deflection by Mark MacMillan.

The next day, it took 92 minutes, 28 seconds to score two goals against Motte. One was a tip by Stephane Pattyn and one was a rebound goal by Connor Gaarder.

Three of UND’s five goals in the regional were the result of traffic being in front of the goaltender.

“When we’re successful, we’re getting pucks and bodies to the net,” Grimaldi said. “That was one thing we didn’t have enough against Ferris was pucks and bodies in front for rebounds. Obviously, our game-winning goal was that, but that’s what we needed the entire game.

“When we’re playing well, we’re smart with the puck and not turning it over. We just need to get in front of this guy’s eyes, get pucks and bodies there and we’ll be all right.”

Wilcox presents a bigger challenge.

The sophomore draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning ranks second nationally in save percentage (.934) and third in goals-against average (1.89).

Wilcox has a 25-5-6 record this season and has lost just one time in the last month, and his numbers are even more impressive since Feb. 15 (6-1-1, .948, 1.48). He enters the NCAA Frozen Four with a shutout streak of 65:13.

“Some good goalies against us the last few games,” UND junior forward Mark MacMillan said. “The biggest thing when you’re playing against a great goalie is to make sure you get pucks and bodies to the net. It’s an easy game for a goalie if he’s seeing pucks. All the best goalies in college hockey are going to step pucks pretty easy if you’re not getting traffic to the net.

“Against Wisco and Ferris, it’s pretty obvious that some of our goals weren’t the prettiest. But those are the kind of goals you need to score in the playoffs if you want to win, especially if you’re going against top-notch goaltenders.”

UND became the first team since Michigan State in 2007 and Notre Dame in 2008 to beat two Hobey finalist goaltenders in the NCAAs. The Irish went on to lose in the national championship game. The Spartans won it all in 2007.

UND hopes to take it one step further Thursday.

“If he sees a puck, he’s going to stop it,” Pattyn said. “So, we’re just going to have to have bodies in front and throw a lot of pucks there and hopefully get one through him or on a rebound. We need to get traffic in front and not make it easy.”