As the hockey adage goes, in order to win games in the postseason, you need two things to go your way: great special teams and a hot goaltender.
No. 12 North Dakota has both rolling right now, thanks to a power play that went 4-for-9 in the WCHA Final Five and junior goaltender Aaron Dell, who was named the tournament’s MVP.
Sophomore winger Brock Nelson potted four goals in the tournament, including one on the power play a 4-0 victory over Denver in Saturday’s championship game. With that goal, Nelson improved to 10 power-play goals on the season, one better than teammate Carter Rowney for the team lead.
“We have to focus on the little things,” said Nelson, when asked about what is making the power play tick. “Just getting pucks to the net, being in the right spot and making plays. I think that’s the key.”
Capping a four-goal outburst over a five-minute span, junior center Corban Knight netted his third power-play marker of the season during the Sioux’s 6-3 victory over top-seeded Minnesota.
In their quarterfinal game with St. Cloud State, the Sioux went 1-for-3 on the man advantage when junior winger Danny Kristo scored his seventh power-play goal of the season with 27 seconds left in the game.
Eight other Sioux skaters have scored at least one power play goal this season, and that kind of production from so many players allows Sioux coach Dave Hakstol to use several different players in that situation.
The Sioux penalty kill was also solid during the course of the WCHA Final Five as it went 2-for-3 against the Huskies, 2-for-4 against the Gophers and 4-for-4 against the Pioneers. Helping their cause, the Sioux managed to get a short-handed goal against the Pioneers from freshman winger Mark MacMillan.
Dell surrendered only one goal to the Huskies. In the semifinal, he surrendered three goals on 23 shots before shutting down the Gophers over the remainder of the game.
“Aaron carried the team this weekend,” said Hakstol. “I thought, against Minnesota, he was our first star. He kept us in the hockey game when it was 3-0; he kept us in the hockey game when it was 3-1. It gave us the opportunity to get through that game and, obviously, to get into the championship.”
In the championship game, Dell might have been even more impressive, posting a 22-save shutout to help the Fighting Sioux to their 16th WCHA Title.
“We’re playing fantastic,” said Dell. “We came out, we had a plan and we executed.”
The Sioux will carry their 22.6 percent power play into the NCAA tournament next weekend along with their hot goaltending. Should both trends continue, that recipe might be enough to bring the 16-time WCHA champs their eighth NCAA title in Tampa.