Grand Forks, ND – On Saturday night, UND honored four seniors for their commitment to the University of North Dakota Hockey program.
The stage was set. Coming into Saturday’s game, there was a lot on the line. UND had a chance to win the Penrose Trophy for the regular season champion National Collegiate Hockey Conference. All UND had to do was beat the Western Michigan University Broncos to capture at least a tie for the regular-season title.
Sounds simple, right?
That’s no easy task. Standing in their way, the Broncos who are coached by former NHL head coach Andy Murray. The Broncos proved to be a miserable team to play against. They limited UND’s time and space and didn’t give them an opportunity to set up in the offensive zone in the later stages of the game.
WMU also has goaltender Lukas Hafner (7-6-2, .922 SV% and a 2.12 GAA). Tonight, Hafner was very good. The Toledo, Ohio product stopped 28-of-29 shots.
Ironically, standing in the way of UND winning the inaugural Penrose was the last two teams invited to join the NCHC, Western Michigan and Saint Cloud State.
“It sucks,” junior defenseman Nick Mattson said. “You can’t really sugar coat that one. That was an opportunity that we worked our butts off all year, to put ourselves in that spot. Tough to let it slip away.”
With the loss to the Broncos and the Saint Cloud State win, UND (20-11-3, 15-9-0 NCHC) will host seventh place Colorado College (6-22-6, 6-13-5 NCHC) in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. The focus now turns to the ultimate prize, the conference playoffs, a league title and an NCAA title.
“At the end of the day, that one stings,” senior captain Dillon Simpson said. “There was a lot on the line. It being senior night for me and my classmates. That was one we definitely wanted. Like I said in that dressing room, we missed out on a white banner, but our angle is still the same. We have to move forward towards that.”
“I am looking at the big picture, head coach Dave Hakstol said. “How good of a job the guys in that locker room have done, coming together. Pushing hard to be a good team – we are a good team. It stings. At this time of year, you have to have a short memory.”
UND thought they had gotten a break. With the game tied 1-1, Bronco forward Josh Pitt was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for contact to the head at the 05:53 mark of the third period. Western forward Colton Hargrove would score the game winning goal, shorthanded, two minutes later.
“Even after giving up the shorthanded goal, we just couldn’t get enough going in the offensive zone, possession wise or offensively,” Hakstol said.
UND will host the Best-of-three, first-round series at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The series starts Friday March 14, 2014, at 7:38 p.m. Central.
Stats of interest
On November 30, 2013, UND was 4-7-2 UND. Since that time, UND has gone 16-4-1.
Since November 30, 2013, Zane Gothberg is 13-2-1, with a .935 save percentage and a 1.63 goals against average.
UND goalie Zane Gothberg finished first in the NCHC with a 2.02 Goals Against Average. Gothberg was also tied for second with Lukas Hafner with a 2.24 Save Percentage