GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Even a tie game can be cause for celebration when the tie comes against the reigning national champions.
Michigan State certainly celebrated a 2-2 non-conference tie with North Dakota Saturday night.
The Spartan players were singing their school song, banging on the lockers and trading yells after coupling the tie tonight with Friday's 4-3 victory over 2016 national champion UND.
In the second of two overtimes to follow regulation play, freshman defenseman Bob Rosburg scored 58 seconds into a 3-on-3 session, his third goal of the weekend. That certainly sparked the celebration, though the goal didn't change the final score, decide a winner, or award any league points.
A lengthy meeting of players only in the locker room after the game led to some soul searching as UND slipped to 2-5-3 in its last 10 games and to 7-5-3 overall.
It was a frustrating weekend for UND, following a big league road sweep at St. Cloud State the previous week.
"We saw how well we played in St. Cloud, we saw how well we can dominate,'' sophomore defenseman Christian Wolanin said. "But what does it mean if we don't do it every night? Anybody can be good on certain occasions, but to put it together for a full season? We saw what we did last year.''
Therein lies the frustration for this team, which has lacked consistency in many facets of the game this season. UND outshot the Spartans 34-19, but gave up its fourth shorthanded goal of the season and saw a turnover in the attacking zone lead to MSU's tying goal from Patrick Khodorenko in the second period.
Playing with All-America forward Brock Boeser sidelined for the second straight game with an upper body injury, a juggled UND lineup struggled to finish plays.
The first UND goal came from freshman Zach Yon (his second) on a wrist shot 39 seconds after Thomas Ebbing had given MSU a 1-0 lead with a shorthanded goal in the first period. The other UND goal came from defenseman Tucker Poolman on a power-play howitzer from the right point at 12:25 of the opeing period, his fourth goal of the season.
That was it for UND's offense. The Fighting Hawks generated 11 shots a period for each of the first three periods, but MSU goalie Ed Minney was stout with 32 saves.
The players expect more from themselves, Wolanin said.
"We're the University of North Dakota. That's what's expected, excellence or nothing. We've got ourselves to believe in.''
The loss on Friday and tie tonight dropped North Dakota from fifth going into the weekend in the Pairwise ratings used to determine the NCAA's 16-tournament field in March, to 14th now.
"That's (Pairwise rankings) something we watch closely,'' UND coach Brad Berry said. "But it's something that's a body of work over the course of the year. Early in the year, we were pretty high in it. Now we've dropped a little bit. The body of work is a total year. We've got to make sure we know that. We have a few games left in non-conference and we've got to make sure we remember that what we want is a 60-minute effort.''
UND's play in the 15th annual Subway Holiday Classic was better than on Friday, but not good enough to get a win in front of a crowd of 10,867.
"There was a mentality there, a push-back there tonight,'' Berry said. "If you get that most nights, most nights you will be successful.''
UND lost sophomore defenseman Hayden Shaw to injury during the game.
"Upper body, day-to-day, he'll be evaluated tonight and tomorrow,'' Berry said. "He's a competitor, and I'm sure he will be back soon.''
Wolanin said there was a meeting with coaches present earlier in the morning on Saturday, as well as a prolonged meeting of players only after the game.
"That's all we talked about, putting it all together. It's unbelievable how well we play when we're on, when we're firing on all cylinders, forwards, defense, goalies, all going. Then we turn it off for a period, turn it off for 5 minutes and there's a momentum swing.''
Changing that around into a consistent performance is the goal now.
"It's a mindset,'' Wolanin said. "It's got to come from within. We've got to have some fire in our belly. We're in a deep, deep hole right now. But we've got no one but ourselves, coaches and Sioux faithful to believe in us.''
Game notes: Poolman was voted the game's No. 1 star by the media, followed by Minney at No. 2 and Yon as No. 3 ... Wolanin, Yon, Shane Gersich and Mike Gornall all had 4 shots on goal to pace UND . . . Mason Appleton led the Spartans with 4 ... UND was 1-3 on power play with 1 shot on net (a goal) while MSU was 0-3 with just 1 shot as well ... UND controlled faceoffs, winning 40 of 65, led by Jost (18 of 30), Rhett Gardner (10 of 15) and Dixon Bowen (6 of 8) ... Long-time Michigan sportswriter Neil Koepke said this was the first time the Spartans have ever been involved in a 3-on-3 overtime session. It's not used in the Big 10 Conference, where the Spartans play.
Virg Foss covered UND for the Grand Forks Herald for 35 seasons and 5 NCAA championships until his retirement in 2005. He's in his 12th year of reporting on UND home games exclusively for UNDsports.com.