The Colorado College Tigers appeared to be on their way to unseating North Dakota as the number-one team in the nation when the Sioux abruptly changed their plans.
Trailing 4-2 with under two minutes to play, UND’s Brandon Bochenski scored on the power play at 18:13 to narrow the Tigers’ lead to one goal. North Dakota had pulled goalie Marc Ranfranz four seconds before Bochenski scored.
Then, with 11 seconds remaining and Ranfranz on the bench again for an extra attacker, UND junior defenseman David Hale fired a wrist shot from the point that ricocheted off Tiger players Joe Cullen and Scott Polaski on its way to the back of CC’s net.
“I was just trying to get it on net,” Hale said. “I heard it hit Cullen’s shin pads and my first reaction was, ‘Oh my God! He’s out of the zone and gone on a breakaway.’ Fortunately, it got through and it went in the net.”
Hale, a rugged stay-at-home defenseman not known for his scoring ability, relished the game-tying goal.
“It’s such a great feeling,” the Colorado Springs native said. “It goes in the net … you just lift your arms … the crowd erupts … guys are hugging you … best feeling in the world.”
In the final seconds, UND just missed scoring to win the game. In overtime, CC had better scoring opportunities, but the 5-7 Ranfranz stood tall and stopped all six Tiger shots on goal.
Although the 4-4 tie didn’t resolve which team should be ranked number one in the nation, it felt like a win to the Sioux and a defeat to the Tigers.
“Any time you’re down two goals and you tie it to make it 4-4, it feels like a win, even though it’s only one point,” said Sioux assistant coach Brad Berry.
“It feels like a big-time loss,” said Tigers coach Scott Owens. “We should have won at least one of these games up here. It’s disappointing, but they’re still a good hockey team and they’re very good in this building. They’re tough. They played with basically four defensemen and they were still strong at the end of the game.”
The Tigers got on the board first when senior wing Noah Clarke notched his ninth goal of the season at 3:12 of the opening period. Clarke picked up the loose puck at the top of the right faceoff circle and fired a blistering shot past starting Sioux goalie Josh Siembida.
UND tied the game 1-1 at 3:53 when Bochenski fed junior center David Lundbohm, cruising down the slot. Lundbohm’s wrist shot beat Tiger goalie Curtis McElhinney high on the glove side.
At 17:05 CC senior defenseman Tom Preissing scored his 15th goal of the season, holding the puck and then firing a hard wrist shot from near the left faceoff dot that cleanly beat Siembida high on the glove side.
The Sioux came back to knot the score at 2-2 on senior forward Kevin Spiewak’s unassisted goal. He intercepted a Tiger pass in the neutral zone, skated in one-on-one with a defender and then ripped a slapshot that caught the far corner.
In the second period, the Tigers capitalized on two power plays to take a 4-2 lead. CC forward Peter Sejna got his 22nd goal of the season at 2:16 when he fired from a sharp angle and squeezed the puck between the post and Siembida.
After giving up three goals on 12 shots, UND coach Dean Blais replaced Siembida with Ranfranz.
Asked what Blais told to him before entering the game, Ranfranz replied, “He didn’t really say much. He just said, ‘Marc, get your stuff, you’re going in.’ I just grabbed my stick, threw my helmet on, got in and pumped myself up, which doesn’t take very long when you’re playing against a team like CC.”
The Sioux were unable to take advantage of two consecutive CC penalties. When the Tigers went back on the power play, senior center Joe Cullen tipped in a shot from the point by defenseman James Laux at 15:14, giving CC a 4-2 lead that it held until late.
UND’s last-minute heroics are nothing new to Sioux fans who are accustomed to Blais-coached teams coming back from third-period deficits. Berry said the solid play of Ranfranz, who stopped 17 of 18 shots he faced, was a big part of the Sioux rally.
“We were saying on the bench that we needed a spark and I think he gave us that spark,” Hale said of Ranfranz. “He did an unbelievable job. He’s enthusiastic, he gets the crowd into it and I thought he stepped up to the plate really well.”
For his part, Ranfranz said his goal was to give the Sioux a chance to come back.
“Everybody sticks with it. That’s just our team. I knew that if I could keep stopping the puck, I knew that we’d get a couple of chances,” he said.
With UND possessing a 13-0-3 record at home, the new Ralph Engelstad Arena has become as difficult for opponents to win in as the old Engelstad Arena. Owens said the noise generated by the 11,641 fans after the Sioux pulled within one goal added to UND’s momentum.
“This building can do that,” he noted.
However, a frustrated Clarke said, “When you’re up two goals, I don’t care what building you’re in, you should be able to get the win.”
For now, Preissing said the Tigers aren’t concerned with where they’re rated in the national polls.
“You know, it really doesn’t matter. What’s going to matter is if at the end of the year, we’re where we want to be. We’re not focusing on any other team. We just need to do what we need to do and not worry about other things,” he said.
CC is off next weekend while the Sioux travel to Minnesota for a two-game series with the Gophers.