North Dakota junior forward Connor Gaarder scored twice in the first period, which was more than enough offense for North Dakota against a Western Michigan team with little but pride to play for in Saturday afternoon's NCHC Frozen Face-off third place game. North Dakota defeated Western Michigan by a final score of 5-0 to take third place in the tournament.
The win was an absolute necessity for North Dakota if they had any designs of extending their season to the NCAA tournament. As it stands, it may only stay their execution for a few hours. North Dakota likely needs wins by both Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game and UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East championship game to claim an at-large bid, but at least put themselves in position to have a chance with the win today.
One night after firing numerous shots from the perimeter, but not winning many battles in front of the net to take advantage, Gaarder got North Dakota on the board early when he deflected in a slap pass by defenseman Keaton Thompson on the back door to give North Dakota a lead just 1:42 into the game. Gaarder gave North Dakota some breathing room at 10:27 of the second period when he jammed home a rebound past Western Michigan goalie Frank Slubowski.
Western Michigan gave an honest effort in light of the circumstances. While they had a few opportunities, Western Michigan could never really amount much sustained pressure on North Dakota and were unable to sneak a puck past North Dakota goalie Zane Gothberg. Gothberg finished the game with a 25-save shutout.
A Jordan Schmaltz wrist 11 minutes into the third period took away any hopes of a Western Michigan comeback and North Dakota would add two more power play goals to bring the game to its' final margin. The loss ends Western Michigan's season with a final record of 19-16-5. North Dakota's record moves to 23-13-3. Now, North Dakota must wait and see if that record is good enough to earn them an invitation to the NCAA tournament.