UND hopes to build momentum from otherwise meaningless overtime goal
By the time UND and St. Cloud State started the 3-on-3 portion of overtime late Saturday night, nothing was at stake.
Minnesota Duluth had already beaten Nebraska Omaha, while UND had already squeezed out a tie to earn home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs.
The battle for one NCHC point meant nothing in terms of position in the standings at that point.
But when Rhett Gardner scored at 4:14 of 3-on-3 overtime to finish off the 2-2 tie at Ralph Engelstad Arena, it was clear the goal carried some secondary significance.
For players, coaches and fans, it was finally a feel-good moment at REA after some tough results through the second half of the season—including the previous night when UND lost to St. Cloud State in overtime.
"That was nice," Gardner said. "We've had tough overtimes. Last night was a tough pill to swallow so it was kind of meaningless but it was something to build off for us, and we're going to run with it."
UND coach Brad Berry carried the same line of thinking about Gardner's goal, which was met with fan reaction equal or greater than any other goal in the series.
"We won a game," Berry said. "To give these hardworking fans that come out here loyally both here and on the road ... to give them a victory, albeit in overtime, that's a huge deal.
"That's a morale push for us, too. We did win a game. The point was insignificant in the standings, but it was huge for us and huge for our fan base."
The positive ending was perhaps a just finish for a Fighting Hawks team that took much of the play in the weekend series to the No. 1-ranked Huskies despite little to show for it.
The play against St. Cloud was a meaningful stride in the right direction for a team in need of some momentum with ground to make up in the national picture and hopes of an NCAA tournament bid.
The positive vibes also coincided with UND's return to health, regaining the services of Gardner, defenseman Gabe Bast, forward Nick Jones and forward Ludvig Hoff.
"I thought it was two really good 60-minute efforts by us," Gardner said. "There are things to clean up, but that's a great test going to the playoffs. That's one of the top teams in the country and we hung with them and felt we took over the game at points. I was really happy with the efforts."
Berry called it one of the best weekends of the year.
"Yesterday, we played good enough to win but we didn't get the result," Berry said. "Today was the same way. For 120 minutes, we played complete hockey."