In a way it's kind of fitting that the final WCHA regular season game between North Dakota and Minnesota ended in a 4-4 tie. With how intense Saturday's game was, both teams are able to take away something in the WCHA race.
Then again, there's a reason a tie is like kissing your sister.
""Obviously neither team is happy with a tie but I guess it's a fitting way and I'm guessing we'll probably see them this year," Minnesota redshirt junior captain Zach Budish (Nashville Predators) said.
Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) and Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche) scored goals in the final 9 minutes of regulation to bring the top-ranked Gophers back from a 4-2 deficit with North Dakota (13-7-4, 8-4-4 WCHA) on Hockey Day Minnesota. Late dramatics from UND resulted in both Rocco Grimaldi (Panthers) and Danny Kristo (Montreal Canadiens) hitting the post, but neither team was able to score in the five-minute overtime.
"Today might sting even worse than yesterday because of having a two-goal lead there with 10 minutes left or whatever it was and giving it up. It stings," Grimaldi said. "Obviously we didn't want a split but that's all we could coming into tonight. We needed to get the split and we didn't get it, but the season is still going on. We're still getting better every day and take this as a learning tool and keep going."
The Gophers got off to a good start and controlled play for the better part of the first. Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals) tested UND freshman goalie Zane Gothberg (Boston Bruins) early on with a wraparound, but the goalie stood tall. Gothberg made 31 saves for his second career 30+ save performance.
It was North Dakota, however, who scored first for the second straight night Despite UMN jumping out to a 4-1 shot advantage, Kristo cleaned up a Derek Forbort (Los Angeles) shot that was tipped to give UND a 1-0 lead 11:39 into the game. 49 seconds later, Jake Parenteau tapped in a rebound of his own. It was the junior's first goal of the season and first in 24 games.
The team-formerly-known-as-the-Fighting-Sioux rebounded. Where last night Minnesota was able to score four consecutive goals, North Dakota scored two on a pair of Gopher miscues. Corban Knight (Panthers) extended his point streak to 19 games when he found himself alone on a breakaway and put the puck past Adam Wilcox. Grimaldi followed up 3 minutes later on an odd-man rush for his 8th goal of the season and all of a sudden North Dakota was up 3-1.
"We made some mistakes tonight," Lucia said. "A couple freshmen looked like freshmen tonight and made some mistakes, but they have to learn from that too."
Although Sam Warning sniped a shot past Gothberg with 6:12 remaining in the second to cut North Dakota's lead to 3-2 after 40 minutes, UND freshman Drake Caggiula matched him 7:20 into the third. Following a long stretch of back and forth hockey, Caggiula's goal was initially waved off. A review showed the puck crossed the line under Wilcox, who made 22 saves Saturday, and the call on the ice was overturned.
The goal gave the North Dakota fans who made the five-hour trip from Grand Forks confidence and dueling "Let's Go Gophers/Sioux" chants were heard among the 10,256 fans at Mariucci Arena. It made for an entertaining atmosphere that got even better as the third period wound down.
"(The atmosphere) was good, it was good all weekend long," said Lucia. "I believe the fans are pumped up for the big games - obviously when BC and ND came there were good atmospheres - and that's why you want to schedule teams like that because our fans want to see good hockey. And they certainly saw it all weekend long."
Nick Bjugstad, whose line with Kyle Rau and Erik Haula (Minnesota Wild) struggled most of Saturday, picked a good time to begin the Gopher comeback. The 6'6" junior tapped in a puck in front of Gothberg with just 8:50 remaining in regulation to bring Minnesota within one.
"No one was giving up, that's one thing," said Condon about what the team was thinking. "The coaches were getting hard on us, telling us that we can fight back. We put up 5 goals last night. We know we can score and just had to get the production. There was no one hanging their heads on the bench."
Then it was Condon, one of two Wisconsinites playing this weekend, who tied the game between Minnesota and North Dakota. Budish got the puck off the faceoff and found his linemate open in front of the net with 2:58 remaining to blow the roof off of Mariucci.
"When we scored our 4th goal it erupted and you don't hear things like that very often," Condon said. "Obviously it was fun playing in front of that and it's too bad we didn't get a win.
Even a tie wasn't guaranteed, though. North Dakota was complacent during the last stretch of the third period but they had two extremely good chances in the extra five minutes.
"I got (the puck) and didn't have much time with it," Rocco Grimaldi said about his overtime shot. "I saw the goal up top and put it there and it happened to hit the post. Nothing else I can do with that."
Grimaldi's shot was followed by Danny Kristo beating Wilcox but not the iron two minutes later. While both fanbases were on their feet in anticipation of the game ending before the final whistle, in the end it was meant to be a tie.
"It was just a hard-fought, physical game," said the Minnesota coach.
And tie or no tie, that's the way you want to see the Minnesota-North Dakota rivalry end for now.
Minnesota next plays Minnesota State in a home-and-home series next Friday and Saturday. The Gophers, who are tied with St. Cloud State for first in the WCHA, host the Mavericks Friday on BTN before driving 75 miles to Mankato Saturday on Fox Sports North. Both games start at 7 p.m. CT.
North Dakota, who is in a three-way tie for 3rd, hosts St. Cloud State next Friday and Saturday. Friday's game is at 7:30 p.m. CT while Saturday's begins at 7:00 p.m. Both games air on Fox College Sports.
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