Brock Nelson scored an empty-net goal in the last series of the regular season, but the North Dakota sophomore wing had gone four games without putting a puck past a goaltender entering the WCHA Final Five.
Thursday night in the quarterfinals against St. Cloud State, Nelson came up with an important goal that put the past few weeks behind him.
With 4:09 left in the second period, Nelson gathered speed through the neutral zone and took a pass from Ben Blood off the boards as Nelson cruised past the red line. He sidestepped Ben Hanowski going into the Huskies’ zone and made a cut across the right circle in front of SCSU defenseman Kevin Gravel.
“Blood made a great play at the red line; Danny [Kristo] drove wide and that forced the defense back,” Nelson said. “I was just fortunate to get a shot on net and luckily it went in.”
Nelson let loose on a quick wrist shot that Huskies goalie Mike Lee couldn’t react in time to stop as it passed his right arm.
“He’s very much a complete two-way hockey player,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said of Nelson. “He’s deceiving and that’s the best way to put it. He gets the puck off his stick quickly and he can do it in traffic. He’s found a lot of different ways to score goals and help our team win.”
With under a minute to go, Nelson’s goal still the difference and Lee pulled from the SCSU goal, UND won the defensive-zone faceoff. Kristo got the puck at the blue line and fed Nelson, who walked in for an easy goal to seal the victory.
Nelson has been UND’s top goal scorer all season and entered the Final Five with 23 goals, which was also tied for fifth in Division I going. He’s now third in the nation in goals with 25.
Nelson tripled his goal output from last season (eight), and plenty of it has to do with him stepping up on UND’s top line, which has carried the load for the Sioux all season. UND’s No. 1 line has scored 41 of the team’s 83 even-strength goals.
“It’s definitely been a pretty big year for me,” Nelson said. “I have a couple of really good linemates with Corban [Knight] and Danny. They make a lot of plays and it’s fun to be a part of that line.”