Friday’s game between two top WCHA teams ranked first and third in the nation was everything it promised to be — exciting, high-scoring and close.
Unfortunately, after skating to a 4-4 tie at Engelstad Arena, North Dakota and Colorado College will have to wait until Saturday’s rematch to see if one team can claim bragging rights as the best in the nation.
“It wasn’t a very crisp hockey game for the number-one and -three teams in the country,” said Colorado College coach Scott Owens. “But I’m proud of the point we earned. We earned a point on the road against a very, very good hockey team and we had to come from behind in the third period. It wasn’t a real, real pretty game, but it was an entertaining hockey game.”
The Tigers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period with goals by senior center Joe Cullen and senior wing Noah Clarke. Cullen got his team on the board just 1:15 into the game when he beat Sioux goalie Jake Brandt, stuffing in a rebound off Joey Crabb’s backhand shot.
Clarke scored his unassisted goal at 9:35. A clearing attempt out of the Sioux zone took a high, crazy, cross-ice bounce. Everyone but Clarke appeared to lose track of the puck. When it came down, he rifled a wrist shot past a surprised Brandt from near the left faceoff circle.
“We were happy with the start with the two goals in the beginning,” Cullen said. “We knew they were a very good offensive power. We didn’t think we had the game wrapped up at all.”
Just when it appeared the Tigers might have their way with the Sioux, senior wing Jason Notermann blasted defenseman Nick Fuher’s drop pass past Colorado sophomore goalie Curtis McElhinney at 10:45. Notermann’s shot bounced off a defenseman and went in five-hole.
“Down 2-0, I thought Colorado definitely had the jump in the first 10 to 12 minutes,” said North Dakota coach Dean Blais. “We got a lucky bounce on our first goal and from that point on, I thought it was an even game.”
McElhinney agreed that Notermann’s goal changed the game’s momentum, saying, “Their first goal, they got a lucky bounce off that and that kind of got them on a roll.”
Beginning the second period trailing 2-1, the Sioux held the lead for all of two minutes following power-play goals by freshman forward Mike Prpich and sophomore forward James Massen.
UND tied it up 50 seconds into the period when Brandon Bochenski found Prpich alone in front of McElhinney. He made no mistake in pounding the shot under the CC goalie’s pads.
With North Dakota on the power play again, Massen scored his 11th goal of the season at 11:04 when he redirected David Lundbohm’s shot fake from the point past McElhinney. The Tigers tied it again at 13:13 when sophomore wing Scott Polaski deflected defenseman Jason Jozsa’s slapshot from the blue line past Brandt.
Playing in the third period with a 3-3 tie, both teams traded scoring opportunities until the 11:57 mark, when Notermann scored his second goal of the game to put UND up 4-3.
“What a goal,” Blais said. “That was a highlight-reel goal. It was a terrific move.”
Describing the play, Notermann said, “It just turned into a one-on-one. I drove wide and had a little more patience with the puck than I’ve had in the past. I just waited on the goalie and put it upstairs.”
The Tigers answered with Cullen’s second goal at 14:51, when he punched in a rebound off defenseman Tom Preissing’s shot.
In overtime, the Sioux put two shots on goal to one for the Tigers. Lundbohm had the best opportunity to win it for the Sioux when Bochenski’s pass sent him in on McElhinney, only to have his shot go wide.
“I was waiting to see some net before I shot and the defenseman just came out of nowhere and hit my stick,” Lundbohm said. “I should have shot it right away, I guess.”
“You would have liked to won the game because we were up 4-3, but good players are going to find a way to get goals,” Blais said. “I was happy with it. I was happy with the point. I thought it was a good game, a hard-fought game. It’s not always going to be a pretty game. You’re not going to have a lot of nice plays when two teams are fairly even.”
UND, the most-penalized team in the nation coming into the series, was whistled for only two penalties while Colorado College received six. The Sioux went 2-6 on the power play and the Tigers’ previously-hot power play was 0-2.
“I expected a lot of goals. I didn’t expect such a discrepancy in the power-play opportunities,” said Owens. “It just seemed like we came up on the short end of some calls tonight.”
Both teams had players at the World Junior Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia. UND was without center Zach Parise and defensemen Matt Jones and Matt Greene. The Tigers were missing wing Brett Sterling and defenseman Mark Stuart.
The tie keeps the Sioux in second place in the WCHA, three points behind the Tigers, who have played two more league games. UND remains unbeaten at Engelstad Arena on the season with an overall record of 18-1-2 (8-1-2 WCHA). Colorado College is now 16-2-3 on the season (9-1-3 WCHA).
“It was a huge point for them as well as us,” Blais said. “It could be the point at the end of the year that will maybe mean first or second place.”
The second game of the series will be played at 8:05 p.m. Saturday at Engelstad Arena.