GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- When there's a league championship riding on the outcome and plans are set to honor four seniors on their last regular-season home hockey game of the season, anything less than a happy ending isn't good.
It wasn't good for UND tonight. Western Michigan played the spoiler, scoring a shorthanded goal to break a 1-1 tie and beat UND 2-1.
The loss prevented UND from sharing the Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference co-champions with St. Cloud State. UND's loss and St. Cloud's 4-1 win at Colorado College gave the Huskies sole possession of the Penrose Cup and relegated UND to a second-place finish on Senior Night in front of a sellout of 11,937 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Colton Hargove, a former Fargo Force player in the United States Hockey League, scored both Bronco goals, including a shorthanded breakaway at 7:56 of the third period with UND working on a 5-minute major power play.
UND junior Stephane Pattyn's power-play rebound at 8:55 of the second period tied the game at 1-1 to match Hargrove's power play tally at 7:22 of the first period.
So the loss carried plenty of sting to it for everyone on UND's side of the game.
"Sucks,'' said UND junior defenseman Nick Mattson, who hit a goal post in the second period, one of two hit by UND shooters. "Can't really sugarcoat that one. It was an opportunity that we worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in that spot.''
To see the title vanish on the final night of regular-season play and on Senior Night was doubly disappointing for UND.
"We care so much about each other,'' Mattson said. "Especially on Senior Night, you just want to win it for them.''
Gritty Western Michigan rode the scoring of Hargrove and a sharp 28-save performance from goalie Lukas Hafner to its first win ever over UND in nine meetings.
UND (20-11-3) will host seventh-place Colorado College in a best-of-3 first-round NCHC quarterfinal series next weekend, beginning on Friday. With that in mind, Mattson hoped to put Friday's loss behind quickly.
"It's something that could really throw you off your season, throw your confidence away, if you really let it get to us,'' Mattson said. "It's tough. It's awful. But we've got to move on. We have the potential to do some big things.''
"It's a tough one to take,'' said Simpson, the senior captain. "They (Western Michigan) did a good job of building momentum and especially at the start of the third period, keeping us on our heels.''
And it wasn't how Simpson wanted to celebrate Senior Night, either.
"At the end of the day, that one stings,'' he said. "There's a lot on the line. And being Senior Night for me and my classmates, that's one we definitely wanted.''
That UND, which had been 16-3-1 in its last 20 games, fell short in a big home finale and it hurt. "It's tough for those guys, you obviously want to have a different ending for them,'' UND coach Dave Hakstol said of his four seniors. "At the same time, you have to look at the big picture, how good of a job the guys in the lockerroom have done, coming together, pushing hard, to become a real good team -- and we are a good team.''
The game appeared to swing UND's way when WMU sophomore Josh Pitt drew a 5-minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head at 5:53 of the third period. It was the third major he's received this season, meaning he'll have to sit out the next Bronco game, in the playoffs next weekend.
But two minutes into the UND power play, Hargrove came in on a breakaway on UND goalie Zane Gothberg (22 saves) and slipped his shot just past Gothberg's left leg pad. On the play, UND defenseman Paul LaDue was penalized for holding Hargove, effectively killing off the rest of UND's power play.
UND mustered just five shots on goal in the final period after outshooting the Broncos 15-7 in the second period.
"Tonight stings, and it's going to sting,'' Hakstol said. "At this time of the year, you have to have a very short memory.''
And with NCHC playoffs coming next weekend, there's a message in those words from Hakstol to his team.
Game notes: Gothberg won the NCHC goaltending title with a 2.26 goals against average during conference play, edging UNO's Ryan Massa (2.27) ... Simpson and Colorado College's Jacob Slavin led NCHC defensemen in scoring with 19 points in league play ... WMU blocked 15 UND shot attempts to 8 blocks for UND ... Defenseman Kenny Morrison had 7 shots on net and Hargrove 6 to lead the Broncos ... Luke Johnson's 4 shots paced UND followed by Derek Rodwell, Connor Gaarder and Drake Caggiula with 3 each ... UND was 1-7 on the power play with 10 shots, WMU 1-4 with 4 shots ... UND is 1-9-2 this season when held under three goals ... Hargrove, Hafner and Pattyn were named the game's three stars, in that order.
Virg Foss covered UND hockey for 35 seasons for the Grand Forks Herald until his retirement in 2005. He now reports on UND home games exclusively for UNDsports.com.