CINCINNATI, Ohio – In a game that spanned over 80 minutes, Connor Gaarder had one shot on goal. The junior forward turned that one shot into one of the most memorable goals in University of North Dakota hockey history.
Gaarder tucked a loose puck on top of the crease past Ferris State netminder CJ Motte at 1:28 of the second overtime, giving fourth-seeded North Dakota an incredible, improbable 2-1 win over FSU in the NCAA Midwest Region championship game, the longest NCAA tourney game in UND history.
The goal, Gaarder’s eighth of the season, launched UND into the NCAA Frozen Four for the 20th time in program history, and for the sixth time in 10 years under head coach Dave Hakstol.
Gaarder’s game-winner was set up by a point shot from freshman Paul LaDue. With the puck loose in front of the crease, Gaarder gobbled it up and made a move across the crease. That forced Motte to open his 5-hole just enough for Gaarder slip it through his pads for the tournament winner.
“We were scrumming in the corner and it just came to the point out there. I knew I had to get to the net,” said Gaarder. “The rebound came right to me and I kind of just slid ‘er in there.”
Hakstol said the goal – and the goal-scorer -- typified the type of lunch pail persona his team has forged since falling to 4-7-2 after a Nov. 29 loss at home to St. Lawrence.
“It is fitting for this group. It’s a little bit of an unheralded group. We’ve had different guys stepping forward on a regular basis. Coming into tonight, we said it would probably be someone different than last night,” Hakstol, who is now 14-4 in NCAA regional games.
“Connor Gaarder shows up every night and plays for the jersey. It was nice to see him have that type of reward.”
While Gaarder played the hero, it was the spectacular play of teammate Zane Gothberg that allowed him to do so. The sophomore turned in one of the clutch goaltending performances in recent history, stopping a career-high 44 shots and keeping his team afloat against a relentless FSU attack.
The Bulldogs outshot UND 45-26 in the game, including a 37-14 edge after the first period. In the third period and overtime, FSU dominated much of the play and owned a 27-9 shots advantage. But Gothberg, facing a Hobey Baker Award finalist at the other end of the ice for the second straight night, yielded only a Cory Kane goal 7:31 into the second period that opened the scoring.
Junior forward Stephane Pattyn was able to get UND on equal footing three minutes later while on the power play, deflecting a LaDue point shot past Motte for his seventh of the year.
It was the Gothberg show from that point on, as the Bulldogs threw 94 shots attempts on goal, several of them Grade A scoring opportunities. Numerous times throughout the final 40 minutes of regulation, UND appeared to be reeling and hanging on for dear life. But captain Dillon Simpson said UND was able to survive long enough to find its game in overtime.
“In a game where things weren’t going our way, everyone kept their composure and stayed positive,” said Simpson. “No one stopped believing in that room and that was one key thing to get our push in overtime.”
Hakstol echoed his captain’s analysis.
“It’s a resilient, hard-working team that is very determined,” said Hakstol. “The guys were determined in the locker room and you saw that in the first overtime. It’s a bunch of hard-working guys playing together and that’s a good formula for this time of year.
“We were put back on our heels by (FSU),” Hakstol continued. “We came into this game with a lot of respect for them and we leave with a lot. We were fortunate enough to make a play and get the goal in overtime.
"Beyond that, my biggest thought is how proud I am of these guys and, more importantly, how happy I am for them. They get an opportunity to experience a regional championship and move forward in the tournament.”
UND now gets the chance to chase its eighth national championship – and first since 2000 -- in two weeks at the Frozen Four in Philadelphia. Gothberg, who picked up his 20th win of the season tonight, said the stakes will not change the approach.
“We’re having a lot of fun and that’s key. Our team is competing every night and in the process, we’re having fun and living a little.”
UND Notes: Rocco Grimaldi, who had a hat trick in UND’s 5-2 semifinal win over Wisconsin on Friday, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Gaarder and LaDue. Motte, Kane and FSU defenseman Scott Czarnowczan rounded out the all-tourney squad … Motte finished with 24 saves … Kane led all players tonight with 11 shots on goal, while no UND player had more than four … UND killed all five FSU power plays while going 1-6 with the man advantage … Simpson blocked a game-high six shots and took over the national lead for the season with 107 … Attendance was announced as 5,721.