Mission, it would appear, accomplished.
Sophomore forward Brock Nelson (Warroad, Minn.) scored twice, his league-leading 24th and 25th of the season, to lift the 12th-ranked Fighting Sioux to a 4-1 win over the Huskies. The win not only landed UND a berth in Friday's semifinal against Minnesota, but moved the Sioux into ninth in the PairWise Rankings, which mimic the NCAA postseason selection process.
According to online PairWise analysts, UND mathematically secured a 10th straight NCAA berth with tonight's win.
"I think tonight goes a long way to solidifying the opportunity to play next week. But never say ‘never.' Until we hear our name called on the selection show on Sunday, you never take anything for granted," said UND head coach Dave Hakstol.
"What I think it does is completely clear our minds and allows us to focus on doing what we can do to advance in this tournament.
While tonight's outcome was a 3-goal victory for the Sioux, it certainly didn't play out like a 4-1 game.
UND's Corban Knight (Jr., High River, Alberta) and SCSU's Ben Hanowski traded first-period goals in an often-sloppy, sluggish opening 20 minutes. In fact, Knight's goal was a centering pass to Dan Senkbeil (Fr., Fremont, Calif.) that ricocheted off of the skate of a Husky defenseman and past goaltender Mike Lee.
With open ice a premium in a tight-checking contest, Nelson turned in the game's pivotal play late in the second period.
After taking a pass from defenseman Ben Blood (Sr., Plymouth, Minn.), Nelson powered through Hanowski inside the St. Cloud zone, cut across on a defenseman and beat Lee high to the blocker side to put UND on top with 4:09 left in the second period.
The Huskies applied heavy pressure throughout the third period in search of the equalizer, and matched UND's 14 shots in the final third period. But Sioux netminder Aaron Dell (Jr., Airdrie, Alberta) was rock steady throughout the night in earning his third straight win. Dell stopped 29 of 30 shots, nearly half of them coming in the third period.
Nelson sealed the win with an empty netter with one minute remaining, and linemate Danny Kristo (Jr., Eden Prairie, Minn.) added one for good measure 33 seconds later.
The late empty net goals and the resulting 4-1 score belied the nature of the game, but the end result for the Sioux was a likely national tournament berth and a date with storied rival Minnesota on Friday night.
"We have an opportunity to play a rival tomorrow night. If you love competition, you love the game tomorrow."
The Sioux and Gophers face off at 7:07 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center. Denver and Minnesota Duluth will meet in the 2:07 semifinal.
Notes: UND has now won six straight WCHA Final Five games, 11 straight WCHA playoff games and 13 straight March games ... he Sioux are 19-5-2 since Thanksgiving weekend ... Freshman Mark MacMillan (Penticton, British Columbia) assisted on Knight's goal, extending his point streak to four games. He has two goals and four assists during that stretch ... Dell won his 46th career game, tying him with Darren Jensen (1979-83) for ninth all-time at UND. He has won all six of his WCHA playoff starts.