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MEN'S HOCKEY: Yale downs UND to claim regional title

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Early in the month, UND finished one goal away from winning the MacNaughton Cup. Saturday afternoon's near-miss was a lot more painful. In the final eight minutes, UND watched a 1-0 lead turn into a 4-1 loss to Yale Univers...

Yale teammates celebrating after scoring a goal against North Dakota
Yale teammates celebrating after scoring a goal against North Dakota in the third period of their NCAA college hockey regional championship game, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Yale won 4-1. (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Latara Appleby) ALL LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL TV INTERNET OUT.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Early in the month, UND finished one goal away from winning the MacNaughton Cup.

Saturday afternoon's near-miss was a lot more painful.

In the final eight minutes, UND watched a 1-0 lead turn into a 4-1 loss to Yale University in the NCAA West Regional final in a quiet Van Andel Arena.

Josh Balch scored the tying goal with 7 minutes, 35 seconds left and Jesse Root added the eventual winner on the power play just 2:39 later as the Bulldogs crashed UND's hopes for a sixth Frozen Four trip in nine years.

Instead, it's a Yale team -- the last one to earn an at-large bid into the NCAA field -- that will be going to Pittsburgh in two weeks.

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"It's a tough spot in our locker room right now," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "It's a pretty tough situation for them. It's difficult to walk into a press conference a few minutes after your season ends."

It's the first time in 10 years that UND finished a season without a MacNaughton Cup, Broadmoor Trophy or a trip to the Frozen Four. Two of the three were inches away, which made it tougher for the players to take afterward.

The locker room was silent 20 minutes after the game with all the players still wearing their gear.

"It's tough no matter what," junior goaltender Clarke Saunders said. "We've got 26 guys that care more than anyone in that locker room. It's never easy to end your season, but I think with all the factors that were involved, it's an extremely tough pill to swallow."

Saunders made a surprise start in place of Zane Gothberg, who had a foot ailment that kept him from playing in the regional championship. The junior from Brockville, Ont., was excellent, though, and kept UND in the lead most of the game.

UND got off to a good start when Corban Knight turned a Yale defenseman inside out, skated past him wide and sniped the glove-side corner of the net at 7:22 of the first. After that, the Bulldogs pushed back, outshooting UND 25-16 through two periods.

"Yale played an outstanding hockey game," Hakstol said. "There were a lot of ebbs and flows. They pushed the pace throughout the game. They did a good job throughout. I thought we had a pretty good third period going, but we got ourselves back on our heels with a couple of penalties. Ultimately, that pushed us toward our undoing."

On the tying goal, UND couldn't get a puck deep from the red line and the Bulldogs came back with numbers. Forward Anthony Day threw a shot from the corner to the top of the crease, where Balch was able to knock a rebound by Saunders.

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Less than two minutes later, Mark MacMillan was called for running into the goaltender behind the net and the Bulldogs capitalized at the tail end of the power play. Root, a Pittsburgh native who scored the game-winner a night earlier against Minnesota, picked up a loose puck in the left circle and sniped it off the post and in.

Yale added two late ones, including an empty-netter, as UND pushed for the equalizer.

"We've got a great group of guys," UND defenseman Dillon Simpson said. "Everyone stayed positive. We kept believing, we kept pushing. There are a lot of guys who care a lot about this program."

Ultimately, it wasn't to be.

UND looked back at a few lost opportunities to extend the game to 2-0. UND hit three posts in the second and third periods while the game was 1-0 -- one by Danny Kristo, one by Colten St. Clair and one on a deflection in front of the net.

Yale also killed both of UND's power play chances.

"One-goal leads are always scary, especially this time," Knight said. "We came close to increasing it to two a couple of times. We had a couple bad bounces our way and a couple good bounces their way. It would have been nice if one of those would have gone in. I think it would have changed the complex of the game. But we can't really change that now.

"You don't want to look back and have regrets or excuses or anything. There are other things that went on in that game that could have helped us win. It's not just the puck luck and the posts."

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University of North Dakota players
North Dakota teammates react after losing to Yale in their NCAA college hockey regional championship game, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Grand Rapids, Mich. They lost 1-4. (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Latara Appleby) ALL LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL TV INTERNET OUT.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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