An 8-7 overtime upset of Minnesota’s men’s hockey team Friday night left St. Cloud State one win away from its first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2002-2003 season.
All that stood in the Huskies way was North Dakota.
But, in the end, that proved to be too much to handle.
The Sioux, powered by five unanswered goals, downed the Huskies 5-3 in Saturday night’s championship game of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s Final Five tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
St. Cloud State (22-16-4 final record), which did not get into the field of 16 for the NCAAs, needed to win the tournament to get the automatic bid because it didn’t have a good enough record to get in as an at-large bid.
“This one hurts,” said first-year St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, a former Gophers assistant. “We came ready to play.”
They certainly did as the Huskies, playing their sixth game in nine nights, went up 1-0 3:50 into the game on a goal by forward Konrad Reeder.
But North Dakota (27-15-1), which advanced to the final with a 4-3 win over Wisconsin in the semifinals Friday, charged right back to tie the score just 10 seconds later on a goal from forward Rastislav Spirko.
It took all of 15 seconds more for the Sioux to claim the lead for good as forward Jonathan Toews banked his own rebound past St. Cloud State goalie Bobby Goepfert.
Forward T.J. Oshie scored before the end of the first and a pair of goals from forward Ryan Duncan in the second closed out the Sioux scoring.
Four of the five North Dakota goals came courtesy of freshmen.
“Their freshmen are carrying them,” Motzko said. “That’s what’s scary right now.”
The Huskies did not wilt down by four, though. They kept coming at the Sioux and got a late second period goal from forward Brock Hooton and an early third-period tally from forward Billy Hengen to cut the lead to two at 5-3.
That would be as close as they would get as the Sioux, namely goalie Jordan Parise, named Final Five MVP, closed the door from there.
“We executed,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “We made some great plays and when you combine that with some great saves; that was the difference.”
And while the effort from his team was not quite enough to get the job done Saturday, or enough to get them into the NCAAs, Motzko would not at all call the season a failure.
“We had a lot of success,” he said.
“If we can use this as a stepping stone for our program, then it was an unbelievable season.”