MEN'S HOCKEY: UND wins 2-1 in double overtime, advances to Frozen Four
CINCINNATI — Two summers ago, Connor Gaarder had no Division I offers and was about to go play Division III hockey.
That’s when UND assistant coach Dane Jackson called and offered him a spot on the UND men’s hockey team as a nonscholarship, recruited walk-on after a big-time recruit opted to sign an NHL deal and play in Canada.
Could there be a better player to send this lunch-pail, scratch-and-claw-for-everything UND squad to the NCAA Frozen Four?
“It is fitting for this group, this unheralded group,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said after his team topped Ferris State 2-1 in double overtime to win the NCAA Midwest Regional at U.S. Bank Arena on Saturday night.
Yes, the team whose season nearly ended two weeks ago in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs — and again last weekend in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff — is headed to Philadelphia and its sixth Frozen Four in the past 10 years.
Its opponent won’t be determined until today, but at this point, UND probably doesn’t really care.
UND, the last at-large team to make the NCAA tournament field, knocked out top-seeded Wisconsin and second-seeded Ferris State in Cincinnati to earn the trip to the Frozen Four. Both games ended in dramatic fashion.
Saturday’s contest started in the afternoon but ended deep into the Cincinnati night on Gaarder’s dramatic goal.
Early in the second overtime, Gaarder won a battle along the wall and sent the puck back to Nick Mattson at the left point. Mattson moved it to Paul LaDue at the right point and the Grand Forks native launched a slap shot through a Derek Rodwell screen.
Ferris State goaltender C.J. Motte, a Hobey Baker Award finalist, made the initial save, but Gaarder was standing on top of the crease, picked up the rebound and slipped it five-hole.
After the goal, Gaarder slid on his back to the boards, where his teammates met him for a jubilant celebration.
“A great feeling,” captain Dillon Simpson said. “I couldn’t be prouder. Nobody stopped believing.”
At the other end, goaltender Zane Gothberg — who made 44 saves and stole the game from Ferris State — watched it all unfold.
“It was a flood of emotions, I guess,” Gothberg said. “Once that happened, it’s just craziness. Every emotion in the body is excited. Every hair is standing up, you’re so pumped for our team. It’s been a long road, but that’s a good payoff.”
Indeed, it was a long road for this UND team.
Four months to the exact date, UND sat in its dressing room for over an hour after a 5-2 loss at home against St. Lawrence. The team’s record was 4-7-2 at the time.
“We had all the pieces to the puzzle, it was just a matter of putting them in place and going from there,” Gothberg said. “It all started with our coaching staff setting the tone, putting what is expected of us on a daily basis. From there, we had to find our roles and go from there. It’s a long way from that point in the season.”
Ferris State (29-11-3) outplayed UND for large stretches of the regional final. The Bulldogs outshot UND 36-13 in the second, third and first overtime periods. But Gothberg continually stonewalled the Bulldogs.
“Obviously, the number of shots we had were unbelievable,” Ferris State forward Garrett Thompson said. “I thought we carried the pace throughout the first overtime and even the third period. It was frustrating not to put one past him. He had a good game, hats off to him, but it was just frustrating.”
Ferris State had the first lead of the game when Cory Kane snapped a shot from the top of the circles five-hole on Gothberg at 7:31 of the second period. Just over three minutes later, UND evened it on the power play. LaDue fired a point shot that Stephane Pattyn tipped past Motte at 10:40.
The game stayed that way as the Bulldogs pressured until Gaarder’s goal.
“We were fortunate enough to make a play and get a break,” Hakstol said. “My biggest thought is that I’m proud of these guys and happy that they get an opportunity to experience a regional championship, and more important, move forward in this tournament.
“Connor is a heart-and-soul guy. He shows up every day and he plays for the jersey. It’s nice to see him of that kind of reward and that kind of reward for our team.”