Junior goalie Aaron Dell made 24 saves and three different players scored as UND defeated Western Michigan 3-1 today in the NCAA West Region semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center.
The victory was the eighth in a row for UND, which is seeking its second straight berth in the NCAA Frozen Four and sixth in eight years under head coach Dave Hakstol. UND is now 14-2-1 in its last 17 games and will face the winner of the Boston University-Minnesota semifinal in Sunday's regional championship.
"I think it was a very hard-fought game, as everybody expected today coming into this one," Hakstol said. "We had a great degree of respect for Western Michigan coming into this game, and probably added some respect coming out."
Goals by freshman Michael Parks (St. Louis, Mo.) early in the first period and junior Corban Knight (High River, Alberta) early in the second staked UND to a 2-0 lead. Parks found the net for the third straight game when he beat a WMU defenseman wide, circled the net and put a wraparound through the legs of Broncos' netminder Frank Slubowski. Knight took advantage of a fortunate bounce when a Brock Nelson (So., Warroad, Minn.) shot attempt ricocheted across the slot to Knight, who had a wide open net awaiting.
"I would like to say that I had deked the goalie and put it top corner," Knight said, "but it really was just one of those goals where you put it in and go celebrate with your linemates because those guys did most of the work on that goal."
UND maintained control of the momentum past the midway point of the second period, but the Broncos finally lit the lamp when Kyle O'Kane beat Dell on a breakaway at the 12:57 mark. Although it was the Broncos' only goal of the period, it punctuated a period in which WMU gained energy and out-chanced UND.
UND, however, was able to survive the period with a 2-1 lead intact.
"I'm proud of our team and the way we handled the ups and downs of this hockey game," said Hakstol, who improved to 11-2 in regional play.
Key in UND's victory, according to Hakstol, was a penalty kill that went 3-for-3.
"Penalty killing really comes down to having a good plan and, most importantly, everybody buying into that plan and working together. The guys did a good job tonight. We had some good saves on the penalty kill when we needed them, and just got some good, hard-nosed play."
After playing an efficient, poised third period, UND was able to seal the win with an empty net goal by Nelson with 25 seconds remaining. It was his WCHA-leading 28th goal of the season and enabled UND to turn the page to Sunday's regional championship.
"It doesn't really matter who we play tomorrow," Parks said. "We are just thinking about preparing for our next game."
The puck drops on Sunday at 4:34 p.m. Central.
Notes: Aaron Dell improved to 11-1 in his playoff career with a 1.13 goals against average and a .953 save percentage. He also improved to 12-0 all-time in the month of March ... Freshman forward Mark MacMillan (Penticton, British Columbia) assisted on the Parks goal, extending his point streak to seven games. He has three goals and seven assists during that streak, the longest by a UND player this season ... UND went 34-22 on faceoffs, including a 15-5 advantage in the first period.