The ticket prices were absurd. The seats—though they mostly filled up eventually—were more empty than they should have been. One of the teams had some sort of bird as their mascot. No points were at stake in the game save a few thousandths of a decimal point on some supercomputer. But for one night, it felt like everything that had been lost in college hockey since the Big Ten sent the sport spiraling backwards was back.
Minnesota and North Dakota held their first regular season meeting since the two teams left the WCHA in 2014, and those in attendance were treated to everything but a victor in a wild, back-and-forth 5-5 tie that added another chapter to their rivalry.
In case anyone had forgotten the history in the intervening years since the teams last met as conference rivals, fans were treated to a special pre-game video featuring the diving overtime goals, the last-second heartbreaks, the pushing, shoving, jersey-pulling, occasional suplexing and other miscellaneous hatred that makes this rivalry so intense.
The fans—of which there seemed to be equal numbers on both sides throughout the night—were ready, and as the puck dropped, it became clear that nothing had changed. The first roughing-after-the-whistle penalty came in front of the North Dakota goal at 2:18 of the first period. At 6:17, a hard, finished check in the neutral zone devolved into a helmets-off, punches-thrown fight between North Dakota’s Gage Ausmus and Minnesota’s Ryan Lindgren. More roughing-after-the-whistle penalties were issued at 10:01 of the first period. Every inch of ice mattered, and both teams refused to back down in a way that just doesn’t seem to happen when this is on the line.
But more thrilling than the literal punches thrown on the ice were the offensive haymakers lobbed back and forth all evening. North Dakota struck early with a pair of seeing-eye goals through traffic to take an early lead, but Minnesota’s power play answered back with a pair of their own later in the period.
A silent second period set the stage for the final frame. Three times in the third period, North Dakota took the lead, including with 1:59 remaining in regulation, with what looked to be the game-winning goal by Tucker Poolman. But Minnesota had one last answer when Tommy Novak’s extra attacker goal sent the game to overtime.
Neither team could score in the extra frame, though each had some decent chances. The end result almost—almost—felt secondary though. Entering the fourth season of just-not-the-same, tonight was another classic Minnesota-North Dakota match-up that felt like it could have been any year prior to the big split.
Notes and Thoughts:
-Boy, was North Dakota living right to leave the ice tied 2-2 after the first period. Jack Sadek hit the post for Minnesota in the games first minute and one shift later, Hayden sneaks a puck through to make it 1-0 UND. Five minutes later, Leon Bristedt gets a semi-breakaway shorthanded and just misses wide. North Dakota gets a deflection goal on that same power play to go up 2-0 on their first three shots.
That was North Dakota’s last shot of the first period too, while Minnesota compiled 15 in the first period. The Gophers scored twice, but it could have been more as Cam Johnson made a number of really big saves to hold his team in the game. The advanced stats were even uglier for the Fighting Hawks. Only five shot attempts, none anywhere near the prime scoring area. Minnesota had an 80-20 possession advantage. It’s hard to get more outplayed than that, and 2-2 was the most generous possible result.
-Part of North Dakota’s struggles in the first period was the scrap between Ausmus and Lindgren that took both players off the ice for 14 minutes. That trade-off was a huge edge for Minnesota. Ausmus is a quieter player so his presence isn’t always felt, but it was sorely missed by UND over that stretch. The Hawks defense really struggled with an aggressive Minnesota forecheck that made it a point to finish checks and force turnovers, and they struggled defending on the wide ice surface of Mariucci.
-The Hawks mostly settled down after that rough first period, save for some sloppy bench work in the second period, when they took a pair of too many men penalties and had a disastrous line change that gave Minnesota a 3-on-1. Blowing three third period leads isn’t likely to sit well either. They’ve got some work to do, but they hung tough against a very talented team.
-Minnesota cancelled out some bad luck five-on-five with an excellent power play. Their puck movement was really crisp and they forced UND to spend a lot of time defending. When they really needed a goal in the third period, Tyler Sheehy got a lucky bounce off Mike Szmatula’s backside, but that lucky bounce felt like an inevitable result after so many other quality chances had just missed for the Gophers.
-I thought he was kind of quiet in the first two periods, but North Dakota’s Tyson Jost had a big league third period. He had a hand in all three of North Dakota’s goals, including this beautiful move out of the corner for the fourth goal. He’s a big-time player.
-Man, that was a fun game.
Shots on goal: UM: 15-6-12-4-37 UND: 3-7-9-22
Even strength shot attempts: UM: 16-9-14-3-42-56.8% UND: 4-11-14-3-32-43.2%
Prime scoring area opportunities UM: 11-2-8-2-23 UND: 0-3-6-2-11
What do the numbers tell us?
North Dakota got destroyed in terms of possession in the first period, but after that, the game was remarkably equal.
1:35 Hayden Shaw from Christian Wolanin and Joel Janatuinen 1-0 North Dakota
Wolanin passed the puck D-to-D from the right point to the left point. Shaw fired a low wrist shot as traffic moved in front of Schierhorn that found the net for the goal.
7:56 Austin Poganski from Christian Wolanin and Shane Gersich (power play) 2-0 North Dakota
Wolanin took an ankle-high wrist shot from the right point that may have deflected off a Minnesota defender and into the net.
11:12 Vinni Lettieri from Connor Reilly and Steve Johnson (power play) 2-1 North Dakota
Reilly’s shot from the slot was knocked down in front of the net, but the rebound popped out to Lettieri at the bottom of the left circle, and his rebound attempt popped over a prone Johnson for the goal.
17:56 Tommy Novak from Jake Bischoff and Tyler Sheehy (power play) 2-2 tie
Bischoff fed the puck across the UND box to Novak at the bottom of the right circle. Novak one-timed a shot high that hit the cross bar and just barely cross the goal line to tie the game.
0:44 Brock Boeser from Tyson Jost 3-2 North Dakota
Jost won the puck behind the Minnesota net and fed it out to Boeser in the low slot. Boeser slapped the puck into the lower left corner to beat Schierhorn
7:45 Tyler Sheehy from Mike Szmatula and Tommy Novak (power play) 3-3 tie
Novak’s shot on the power play hit Szmatula in front of the net and Sheehy was in the slot to collect the ricochet and backhand it into the net.
11:17 Tyson Jost from Shane Gersich and Hayden Shaw 4-3 North Dakota
Jost collected the puck in the right corner and made a quick spin move to beat his defender, then cut to the front of the net and deked around Schierhorn for the goal.
14:45 Brent Gates from Vinni Lettieri and Rem Pitlick 4-4 tie
Lettieri threw a backhand spin pass into the slot. The puck hit Pitlick’s skate and allowed Gates to swoop in and fire a wrist shot that beat Johnson to the blocker side.
18:01 Tucker Poolman from Tyson Jost 5-4 North Dakota
Jost fed the puck to Poolman at the left point. Poolman deked around a Minnesota shot blocker and walked in to about the circle and forced a high wrist shot off Schierhorn’s shoulder and into the goal.
18:43 Tommy Novak from Justin Kloos and Mike Szmatula (extra attacker) 5-5 tie
Kloos passed the puck from the right circle to Novak in the high slot, and Novak took a one-time half slapper that beat Johnson to tie the game.