GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – One night ago, North Dakota rallied from a 1-0 third-period deficit to defeat Niagara in the NCAA West Region semifinal.
Tonight, in the regional championship game against Yale, the tables were turned.
The fourth-seeded Bulldogs scored four unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes, erasing UND’s 1-0 lead and winning 4-1 to earn a berth in the NCAA Frozen Four.
Yale’s Josh Balch scored just his third goal of the season to get the Bulldogs on the board with 7:35 remaining in regulation, and Jesse Root – who scored the overtime winner against Minnesota in Friday’s other semifinal – notched the eventual winner on the power play with just 4:56 remaining.
"Yale played an outstanding hockey game today," said UND head coach Dave Hakstol. "There were ebbs and flows. They pushed the pace throughout the game. We had a pretty good third period, but got ourselves back on our heels with a couple of penalties.
"They’re a pressure team. I thought the first eight minutes of the second period they did a great job pushing pucks, hemming us in. We were too slow on our opportunities to get the puck out of the zone. The next six minutes I thought we started turning the game, but their puck pressure early on was what pushed us back," said Hakstol.
A goal by Stu Wilson with 2:21 left put Yale up 3-1, and Kenny Agostino rounded out the scoring with an empty netter at the 19:00 mark.
Balch's’s game-tying goal was the first dent in an outstanding performance by UND goalie Clarke Saunders (Brockville, Ontario). Yale’s Anthony Day threw the puck on Saunders from the corner, and Balch's was alone in front to tie the game with a rebound goal. Until that goal, Saunders had been perfect, stopping all 25 shots he faced through two periods.
Root scored the winner less than three minutes later, beating Saunders through the traffic from the left circle.
UND junior defenseman Dillon Simpson (Edmonton, Alberta) said Yale's aggressive forecheck was the difference.
"They did a good job swarming pucks all over the ice. They made it difficult, especially coming out of our zone. It made it really hard for us to settle down and make a play. It seemed like you’d like up and there were a lot of Yale jerseys in your face," said Simpson.
UND opened the scoring 7:22 into the game on senior center Corban Knight’s (High River, Alberta) 16th goal of the season. The Hobey Baker Award finalist beat a Yale defender wide, swooped in on Bulldogs’ goalie Jeff Malcolm and flipped a shot past him on the glove side.
However, that would be the only time UND would beat Malcom as the senior netminder finished with 24 saves. He also received assistance from three goal posts hit by UND.
Saunders was the busier of the two goaltenders, though, finishing with 35 saves agaisnt an aggressive Yale team that outshot UND 39-25, including a 28-17 edge over the final two periods.
"They put lots of pressure on our defense," said freshman forward Colten St. Clair, who ranked second on the team with four shots on goal. "They play a really fast game and they want that transition game. They were able to do that in the third period. We’ve got to give all the credit to Yale – they played their game."
UND also came up empty on the power play, going scoreless on three chances and finishing the season in a 0-for-20 drought.
"We’ve got a great group of guys. We kept believing and kept pushing," said Simpson. "The guys in the locker room care a lot about this program. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the win."
Notes: Knight and fellow seniors Danny Kristo and Andrew MacWilliam were named to the all-tournament team. They were joined by Agostino and Yale defenseman Gus Young, as well as Niagara goalie Carsen Chubak. Root was named tournament MVP … UND blocked 26 shots compared to 10 by Yale. Simpson led all players with six blocks … Kristo had his 6-game point streak snapped. The Eden Prairie, Minn., native finished his career with 161 points, 18th-most in UND history.