Sioux throttle Huskies in Final Five
ST. PAUL -- The final moments were tense. But when Thursday night finally ended, the University of North Dakota men's hockey team could let out a big sigh of relief. The Sioux are headed back to the NCAA tournament for a 10th consecutive season. ...
ST. PAUL -- The final moments were tense.
But when Thursday night finally ended, the University of North Dakota men's hockey team could let out a big sigh of relief.
The Sioux are headed back to the NCAA tournament for a 10th consecutive season.
Thanks to a 4-1 win over St. Cloud State in the quarterfinals of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five, the Sioux have mathematically assured themselves a spot in the 16-team national field according to Pairwise expert Jim Dahl of SiouxSports.com.
The field won't be revealed until 11 a.m. Sunday, but Dahl says the Sioux cannot drop below No. 12 in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to determine the NCAA tournament field.
"Our guys are fully aware of where we're at in the national scene," said UND coach Dave Hakstol, whose team was in ninth on Thursday night. "I think tonight goes a long way to solidifying us to play next week. But you never say never. Until you hear your name called Sunday, you never take anything for granted."
The victory over St. Cloud State wasn't an easy one -- UND held off a furious Husky onslaught in the final five minutes before tacking on two empty-net goals for the final margin.
When it was all said and done, the Sioux had notched their 11th consecutive WCHA playoff victory, one shy of matching the all-time league record set by Northern Michigan from 1991-93. UND can reach that mark in tonight's semifinal showdown against rival Minnesota (6:07 p.m., Xcel Energy Center, FSN North).
"If you like competition, you love the game tomorrow," Hakstol said. "We're in the greatest venue possible for postseason play in college hockey. The entire town of St. Paul is electric. This building is an awful lot of fun with the fans in the building. And we have an opportunity to play a rival tomorrow night.
"I hope it will be a great college hockey game."
Brock Nelson scored a pair of goals, while Corban Knight and Danny Kristo each chipped in a tally for the Sioux, who have won 13 consecutive March games and improved their overall record to 23-12-3.
Nelson reached 25 goals for the season and had the key game-winner.
With the game tied 1-1 late in the second, the sophomore from Warroad, Minn., took a pass from Ben Blood, beat Ben Hanowski along the wall, mixed up defender Kevin Gravel in the right circle and sniped a shot over goalie Mike Lee's blocker.
"I think that's the player in our league who we are going to watch play in the NHL for a long time," St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said of Nelson, who later added an empty-netter.
Lee, a goalie who led Roseau (Minn.) High to a state championship in this building, dropped to 0-6-1 all-time against UND, despite having a strong game.
UND went with Aaron Dell, who was even better on the other end, stopping 29 of 30 shots. He did a great job finding pucks through traffic in the third period when the Huskies through 14 shots on net.
The teams traded ugly goals in the first period with Knight throwing a puck off of St. Cloud State defenseman Sam Zabkowicz at 7:40 and Hanowski sniping a power-play goal after the Huskies were offsides at 16:14.
After that, it was a tight-checking game until the final buzzer.
"I thought it was an extremely hard-fought hockey game," Motzko said. "I don't know if there were a ton of plays being made... If we could have gotten a break, it might have went our way. But they were selling out, blocking shots and we couldn't get the equalizer."
St. Cloud State's season ended with a 17-17-5 mark.
"If I could ever have a team like this again, that's what it's all about," Motzko said. "It's an absolutely special group of guys. We don't want it to end. It hurts. That's all I can say. It's a tremendous group of guys that came together. It hurts because we think we should still be playing."
Schlossman is a sports reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.