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FROZEN FOUR NOTEBOOK: Rivalry between UND and Minnesota still there

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PHILADELPHIA — UND and Minnesota have a long history of wild games, scrums and fights.

But this meeting – the first one of the season for these teams – had a much different flavor.

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With a berth in the national championship on the line, there wasn’t a single scrum and the teams combined for just three minor penalties as the Gophers topped UND 2-1 in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals.

“The rivalry is still there,” UND junior forward Mark MacMillan said. “It was a great hockey game out there. Both teams were battling. I think the biggest reason you didn’t see the stuff after the whistle is because the stage it was on. You don’t want to be taking any penalties after the whistle when you are playing for a berth in the national championship game.”

UND’s lone penalty was a too many men call in the second period. Minnesota’s Seth Ambroz was called for tripping in the second period and Gopher forward Connor Reilly was called for holding late in the third period.

By comparison, the last time these teams met in Mariucci Arena last season, they combined for 18 penalties for 64 minutes.

“Whenever we face them, it’s bound to be a great game,” Gopher defenseman Brady Skjei said. “This doesn’t change any of that. It was an unbelievable game.”

Simpson’s final game

UND said goodbye to its small, four-person senior class on Thursday night.

Two of them were in the lineup – defenseman and captain Dillon Simpson and forward Derek Rodwell.

“It’s hard to say goodbye,” junior forward Mark MacMillan said. “Every year, there’s always a great group of seniors and it’s no different this year. We had Dill back there. It seemed like he was playing the whole game every game and wears his heart on his sleeve and leads by example all the time.

“We have three other guys that did what they needed to do every night and were always supporting the team. It’s always hard to say goodbye to them. Each year they bring new things and add to the tradition. Obviously, every year you want to send them out, leaving with a national championship and we couldn’t do that this year.”

Last-minute decisions

All three NCAA tournament games this season were decided in dramatic fashion for UND.

Its two wins in the NCAA Midwest Regional in Cincinnati were decided late in the third period and in double overtime.

In the first round against the University of Wisconsin, MacMillan scored a goal with less than two minutes to go in regulation. UND added a couple of empty-net goals and won that game 5-2.

In the regional final against Ferris State, junior forward Connor Gaarder scored a goal at 2:28 of the second overtime to send UND to the Frozen Four.

This game was decided on a goal by Minnesota’s Justin Holl with less than a second left – the latest game-winning goal in Frozen Four history.

“We knew it was going to be a close game to the end,” UND forward Rocco Grimaldi said. “Whether it was a shootout or a 0-0 game, we knew that every time we play Minnesota, it’s going to be one of those hard-checking, tight games. We just wanted to outlast them, but unfortunately, not tonight.”

Notes and quotes

  •     Former Philadelphia Flyers great Ron Hextall, the father of former UND forward Brett Hextall, stopped by the UND locker room before the game to wish the coaching staff well.
  •     Both teams wore their dark jerseys – UND went with greens. Minnesota went with golds.
  •     UND freshman forward Luke Johnson and Minnesota freshman forward Vinni Lettieri were linemates for part of last season with the Lincoln Stars in the United States Hockey League.
  •     UND led in shot attempts 83-52, including a 30-15 advantage in the third period.
  •      Thursday’s game was not the first time UND gave up a devastating goal in the final second of an NCAA tournament game. In 2009, New Hampshire tied the game with a tenth of a second left on the clock, then won it in the first minute of overtime.
  •     The Gophers will play in the national championship game for the first time since 2003, when they beat New Hampshire in Buffalo, N.Y.
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Brad Elliott Schlossman
Schlossman is in his 11th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2014, he was named one of the top three beat writers 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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