UND HOCKEY: UND upends Michigan to earn another berth in the Frozen Four
CINCINNATI, Ohio -- Break out the swimsuits and the sun tan lotion.
The University of North Dakota is headed to Tampa.
This spring break trip has been on the agenda for a year now and nothing was going to get in the way.
Losing the head coach to an NHL team in the offseason? No worries, Brad Berry picked up where Dave Hakstol left off, leading the team to its eighth NCAA Frozen Four in the past 12 seasons.
Losing nearly every player on the roster to an injury at some point during the season? That wasn't an issue either. UND rolled to the Penrose Cup as the National Collegiate Hockey Conference champion and a 30-win season.
A tie game late in the third period against the most explosive offense in the country? That didn't faze this UND team, either, on Saturday night in U.S. Bank Arena.
Rhett Gardner and Coltyn Sanderson scored on deflections from the top of Connor Gaarder Crease to break a 2-2 tie and give the Fighting Hawks the lead for good. When Paul LaDue added an empty-netter with 1:41 to go, the celebration was on.
North Dakota 5, Michigan 2.
UND is the Midwest Regional champion, headed to the Frozen Four for a third straight season.
The players grabbed their regional champion hats and took a team photo in front of a section of UND fans, who chanted "Let's Go Sioux" -- and ode to the school's old nickname.
Once they retreated to the locker room, the players already were thinking about getting Frozen Four redemption. UND has made eight trips there since winning the last title, coming up shorthanded each time. Many members of this group were in Philadelphia in 2014 and Boston in 2015, when UND fell in the semifinal game.
"I remember sitting in that locker room in Boston last year just hoping we could get back and change the fate," UND senior Bryn Chyzyk said. "We took care of business to get back there. Now, the real work starts. We've got to go home and work on a few things. We want to get to the final game. That's going to happen. We want it so bad."
Sanderson, sitting beside Chyzyk, echoed the thoughts.
"It's awesome. We've been there before. We know what it's all about. But we haven't got the job done. It's exciting to get back there, but once this wears off, we're just going to be focused on trying to get to the championship game. We know how important it is and how bad we want it."
UND (32-6-2) will play the winner of today's game between Ferris State and Denver on April 7. The Fighting Hawks earned that right with back-to-back resounding efforts in Cincinnati.
One day after manhandling Hockey East playoff champion Northeastern 6-2, UND thoroughly dominated Michigan territorially. Shots on goal were 24-8 UND in the first and 36-18 by the end of the second period, but the Fighting Hawks couldn't pull away.
J.T. Compher's second goal of the game -- a power-play tally -- tied the game 2-2 with 11:21 remaining in the third period.
But UND went right back to work. With 7:57 left, Gardner put UND back in front with a tip-in goal. Junior defenseman Paul LaDue launched a shot from the point into the crease area, where Gardner deflected it.
"I just kind of put a tip on it and it took a weird bounce," Gardner said.
Just 1:14 later, Tucker Poolman held a puck in the zone at the point and wristed a shot that appeared to be going wide. But Sanderson, planted on top of the same crease where Gaarder scored a double-overtime winner two years ago to send UND to the Frozen Four, re-directed it into the corner of the net to make it 4-2.
"That's a characteristic of our group -- they got one on us, but there was no panic at all on the bench," Sanderson said. "That calming effect from Bubs (Berry) is huge. We just stuck to our game plan. We knew we were playing a strong game. We knew if we kept doing that, good things would happen."
While the game was billed as a showdown between two of college hockey's best lines -- Hobey Baker Award finalists Compher, Tyler Motte and Kyle Connor from Michigan and Drake Caggiula (goal), Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz from North Dakota -- it was the second and third lines that scored the game's decisive goals.
"All of us freshies are pretty excited," Gardner said. "We know how much this means for the older guys in this locker room. They've been there a couple times and haven't got to where they wanted to be, so we wanted to work hard tonight and get them back there, because they've been so great to us all year."
Berry, in his first season as head coach at any level, credited his players for the success.
"I truly believe we have a special group in our locker room," Berry said. "They do the right things on and off the ice. It's a team culture. It's a team-first mentality. We've got a lot of high-end players in that locker room. They check their egos at the door. It's team first and I think you witnessed that this weekend."