FARGO – There would be no upset of the top-seeded team this time in Scheels Arena.
A four-goal first period had the North Dakota Fighting Hawks off and running, and they overwhelmed the American International College Yellow Jackets 5-1 on Friday night, advancing to their first regional championship game in five years.
“That’s a very good team over there,” North Dakota head coach Brad Berry said of AIC. “I have the utmost respect for [AIC coach Eric Lang] and his program.”
Knowing full well what happened last time AIC played in Fargo, Berry knew what his team had to do.
“We just had to play our game,” he said. “I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job of managing the 60 minutes through the leadership of our team.”
Jasper Weatherby and Collin Adams each scored twice for North Dakota, who won their first game in the NCAA tournament since their 5-1 victory over Quinnipiac in the 2016 national championship game. It was their first game in the tournament overall since the 2017 West Regional semifinal, a 4-3 overtime loss to Boston University.
Adam Scheel made 24 saves to earn his 20th victory of the season.
Despite the loss, Eric Lang couldn’t have been prouder of his team’s effort.
“There was absolutely no backing down from our program tonight against a team that probably isn’t going to lose another game this year,” Lang said.
The Yellow Jackets, who upset #1 overall seed St. Cloud State in the 2019 NCAA tournament but couldn’t repeat the feat this season, played tight defense to begin the game and got a few shots on Scheel early. But then Parker Revering sat for interference, and right after he came back into the game Weatherby scored on a rebound. Just like that, North Dakota was up 1-0 despite even play early.
“We focused on the start. Huge for our team,” Weatherby said. “I thought we started really well.”
A fierce Fighting Hawks forecheck took control from there. Weatherby scored again on a 2-on-1 break less than three minutes after his first goal to make it 2-0. AIC simply had no answer on either end of the rink in the period, and UND kept pouring it on to put the game out of reach before the first intermission.
Grant Mismash joined the fun by firing from the right circle past Stefano Durante as Shane Pinto screened the goaltender beautifully, and Adams made it a four-goal lead with a top-shelf wrister.
“I thought the first period we did a pretty good job of playing the game we wanted,” Berry said.
It was a period that ended up setting the tone for the game. Despite three second-period power plays, the Yellow Jackets were unable to muster anything until late in the game until Tobias Fladeby scored on a power play with just over two minutes remaining. But up until that point, AIC was running out of gas and starting to show frustration.
Adams finally finished things off with his second goal of the game just 22 seconds after the Fladeby goal, restoring the four-goal lead and eventually sending UND to the regional final.
“That’s as good a team on film I’ve seen in the last 10 years,” Lang said.
Up next for the Fighting Hawks will be NCHC rival Minnesota Duluth, who they went 1-0-1 against this season. It will be their first NCAA tournament meeting since March 22, 1984 in the Frozen Four in Lake Placid (a 2-1 UMD overtime victory).
“Very good team. We haven’t seen them since the pod,” Berry said. “We’re excited about the opportunity.”
The puck drop for the Midwest Regional championship game is scheduled for 6:30 pm CT on Saturday night.
While North Dakota will roll into the championship game, Duluth got there via the no-contest rule as Michigan was forced to withdraw from the regional earlier Friday due to positive Covid tests. But it’s still the sixth straight time the two-time defending national champion Bulldogs will play in a regional championship in as many seasons, and Weatherby is aware of how good their opponent is.
“We know they’re a great team, and we’ll have to up our game,” Weatherby said.
Durante made nine saves on 13 attempts for the Yellow Jackets before giving way to Jake Kucharski after the first period. Kucharski stopped 19 of 20 shots over the final 40 minutes.
UND goal at 8:58: Jasper Weatherby (13). Assisted by Jacob Bernard-Docker (15) and Jake Sanderson (13).
UND goal at 11:54: Weatherby (14). Unassisted.
UND goal at 14:16: Grant Mismash (10). Assisted by Tyler Kleven (2) and Judd Cualfield (7).
UND goal at 16:22: Collin Adams (12). Assisted by Riese Gaber (10) and Gabe Bast (3).
AIC power-play goal at 17:46: Tobias Fladeby (10). Assisted by Chris Theodore (15) and Brett Callahan (5).
UND goal at 18:08: Collin Adams (13). Assisted by Jordan Kawaguchi (26).
Power plays: AIC 1-5, UND 0-4.
Shots on goal: AIC 25, UND 33.