WCHA tournament comes to fitting end at Civic Center

Michael Rand

In the week preceding the WCHA Final Five, league coaches seemed to be on a crusade to get this point across: The winner of the tournament would need to get some fortunate bounces along the way because of the strength of all the teams.
As the cliches bounced from tongue to tongue, it was easy to grow weary of the projections and dismiss them as nothing more than coach-speak. Still, their logic was clear. Because all five teams had legitimate NCAA tournament aspirations, it wasn’t likely any school would back down.
Saturday night at the St. Paul Civic Center made the coaches look smart, but it also turned two of them into nervous wrecks.
Minnesota coach Doug Woog and North Dakota coach Dean Blais watched their teams skate to a 3-3 tie at the end of regulation in the playoff title game.
Sioux forward Dave Hoogsteen said he knew going into overtime that it would take a special or unusual play to produce a winner.
“You could just tell with the emotion of the two teams that it wasn’t going to end easy,” Hoogsteen said. “I was sitting in the locker room between the third period and overtime, thinking, ‘This is fitting. Two great teams coming down to one goal.'”
A little more than two minutes into overtime, Hoogsteen skated down the left boards into Minnesota’s zone and fired a slap shot. Instead of sailing towards Gophers goalie Steve DeBus for a fairly routine save, the puck deflected off of Minnesota defenseman Brett Abrahamson’s stick and landed in the slot on the stick of UND freshman Peter Armbrust.
DeBus, who had come out of the net to cut down Hoogsteen’s shooting angle, could only flail helplessly as Armbrust fired a shot into the vacated net.
End of game, end of WCHA season. The win helped North Dakota earn the No. 2 seed in the NCAA West Regional next weekend in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Gophers, meanwhile, received a No. 4 seed in the west and will face Michigan State on Saturday in the first round.
The teams’ seedings likely would have been reversed if the Gophers had won on Saturday. Because the top two teams in west and east regionals get first-round byes, the outcome of the game was not only crucial for WCHA bragging rights, but also for potential NCAA tournament success.
Shortly after the tournament brackets were announced, Gophers sophomore Mike Anderson put the loss against North Dakota into perspective.
“A lot of times, things are over when they’re over,” Anderson said. “But this makes (Saturday) night a little different.”
The quest for a playoff title and an NCAA bye — combined with North Dakota’s sweep of Minnesota six weeks ago — made the outcome of the game more frustrating for Gophers players.
But the fortuitous deflection that ended the year-long power struggle between the teams and negated the Gophers comeback from a 3-1, third-period deficit didn’t faze the team.
“I was happy with the way we came back,” Gophers goalie Steve DeBus said. “It was overtime, and anything can happen in overtime. The puck took a goofy bounce, and they got lucky.”
The Gophers cut the deficit to 3-2 just 58 seconds into the third period when Dave Spehar beat UND goalie Aaron Schweitzer with a wrist shot from the slot. Nick Checco’s goal 12 minutes later from almost the same spot tied the game and gave the Gophers momentum going into overtime.
The situation was similar to Minnesota’s game against St. Cloud State on Friday, when the Gophers rallied from a 4-2 deficit to win 5-4 in overtime. One night later, however, the story had a different ending.
“We needed fortune, and we didn’t get much,” Woog said.
Blais, on the other hand, had a much different look about him and a far more pleasant outlook on the merit of luck.
“We got outplayed in spurts of this game, but we didn’t fold,” Blais said. “Fortunately, (Armbrust) popped in the winner. We got a break.”

St. Cloud 1 3 0 0 — 4
Gophers 1 2 1 1 — 5

First Period: Minn — LaFleur 11 (unassisted) PPG, 11:19. SCSU — Noga 6 (unassisted), 17:53.
Second Period: Minn — Kraft 25 (unassisted), :26. SCSU — Molin 18 (Paradise, McLaughlin), 1:54. SCSU — Goulet 14 (unassisted) SHG, 6:30. SCSU — Cullen 15 (Parrish) SHG, 6:56. Minn — LaFleur 12 (Rasmussen), 18:52.
Third Period: Minn — Hankinson 14 (Berg, LaFleur), 3:13.
Overtime: Minn — Crowley 8 (Kraft, Rasmussen), 9:37.

Gophers 1 0 2 0 — 3
UND 2 1 0 1 — 4

First Period: UND — Panzer 15 (Pivetz, Blake), 1:32. Minn. — Hendrickson 4 (N. Miller), 11:30. UND — K. Hoogsteen 16 (Williamson, Murphy) PPG, 18:57.
Second Period: UND — D. Hoogsteen 24 (Henderson) SHG, 1:26.
Third Period: Min — Spehar 18 (unassisted), :58. Min — Checco 5 (Hendrickson, Abrahamson), 12:35.
Overtime: UND — Armbrust 10 (D. Hoogsteen, Blake), 2:17.