ST. CLOUD, Minn. – If North Dakota, or St. Cloud State for that matter, wants to hoist the Penrose Cup as NCHC champions, it will have to wait until next weekend.
Cory Thorson's go-ahead goal late in the second period proved to be the difference as the host Huskies skated to a 3-1 win over North Dakota tonight, dashing any hope UND had of clinching at least a share of the Penrose Cup tonight.
By salvaging a series split, the Huskies moved back into a tie with UND atop the league standings heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
In a fast-paced, but tight-checking, battle between the two former WCHA rivals, offense proved hard to come by.
Only two goals were scored through the first 40 minutes, one by each team with both coming a minute-and-a-half apart in the first period.
With UND’s Troy Stecher in the penalty box for interference, Rocco Grimaldi caused a turnover at the UND blueline and went the length of the ice on a breakaway. Grimaldi’s 5-hole attempt was stopped by SCSU goalie Ryan Faragher, but Grimaldi pounced on the rebound for his third shorthanded goal of the season. It was also the team-leading 13th goal of the year for the Rossmoor, Calif., native.
The Huskies responded promptly, however, evening the score four seconds after Stecher stepped out of the penalty box.
Joey Benik one-timed a Kalle Kossila feed from the bottom of the circle for his second goal of the weekend.
That score help up until the final minute of the second period when Thorson put the Huskies on top with a brilliant individual rush.
The SCSU senior gained the UND zone on a one-on-one rush, cut across from the right circle to the slot and wired a shot past the glove of Zane Gothberg for what proved to be the game-winning goal.
UND pressured for the equalizer in the third period, but Faragher slammed the door to hand UND just its third loss in 19 games.
“It was a battle. It was hard-fought for the 60 minutes,” said UND head coach Dave Hakstol, who was bidding for his 10th-straight 20-win season. “The difference in the game, they made one play at the end of the second period that was a turning point in the game. It was the battle that we knew we’d be in for tonight.”
After scoring four of its five goals from on top of the crease in Friday’s win, UND was unable to generate the same pressure in front of Faragher tonight.
“No matter how tough it is, we have to find ways to get there,” said sophomore forward Drake Caggiula. “That’s what’s been successful for us in this streak of wins. Tonight we just couldn’t get there as often as we’d like to.
“I thought the work ethic was there. The guys battled hard. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough left in the tank to get that tying goal. A few power plays for them kind of killed our momentum throughout the game so we’ve got to be a little more disciplined,” continued Caggiula.
UND was assessed five minor penalties to St. Cloud State’s two, but did manage to hold the league’s top power-play scoreless with the man advantage. Gothberg played a big role in the PK success, making seven of his 29 stops while shorthanded.
“We killed five minor penalties which is one or two too many. Your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer and tonight I thought he was.”
Now UND shifts its focus to next weekend, as Western Michigan visits Ralph Engelstad Arena to close out the regular season. UND can still clinch the Penrose Cup and the No. 1 seed in the conference playoffs, while WMU will be looking to secure home ice for the first round of the playoffs.
“I think it’s going to be a barn-burner,” said Grimaldi. “Western’s going to come in there hungry and looking for home ice. Obviously we’ll be hungry to put ourselves into position to win a trophy.”
With a single first-round matchup yet to be decided, Hakstol said it’s no surprise the first-year NCHC remains so wide open.
“It’s probably the way we expected it to be at the start of the year. You expect everything to come down to the final weekend,” said Hakstol. “It sets up to be a great weekend for the league.”
The puck drops next Friday night at 7:37 p.m. Central and at 7:07 p.m. on Saturday, which is also Senior Night.
Notes: Thorson, Benik and Faragher were named the game’s three stars … Gothberg’s personal 14-game unbeaten streak came to an end as he suffered his first loss since mid-November … Grimaldi extended his point streak to five games, while defensemen Nick Mattson and Paul LaDue had their 4-game point streaks snapped … UND has not swept the Huskies in St. Cloud since Nov. 1998 … Junior forwards Michael Parks and Connor Gaarder are both on pace to play in their 100th collegiate game next Saturday.