UND's season comes to an end in overtime again
St. Cloud State's Zach Okabe scored at 5:45 of overtime to lift the Huskies to an NCHC semifinal victory over the Fighting Hawks.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — UND's season ended in a familiar way Friday night — in overtime.
St. Cloud State's Zach Okabe scored at 5 minutes, 45 seconds of the extra session to lift the Huskies to a 3-2 win over the Fighting Hawks in a National Collegiate Hockey Conference semifinal game.
The Huskies advance to play No. 7 seed Colorado College at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night for the league's playoff title.
UND's season, which featured a poor start and a strong finish, is now over.
It ended the same way it has every year since the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2020 playoffs.
In 2021, the Fighting Hawks lost to Minnesota Duluth in five overtimes in an NCAA regional final. It was the longest NCAA tournament game ever and it denied UND a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four.
Last season, UND lost to Notre Dame 2-1 in overtime in the NCAA regional in Albany, N.Y.
This time, it was in the NCHC semifinals in front of 10,242 fans in Xcel Energy Center, the vast majority of them wearing green and white.
Forward Jami Krannila had the puck on the right wing and spotted Okabe charging behind UND's Dylan James and Ryan Sidorski. Krannila made a perfect feed and Okabe finished the play on his backhand.
"We took the lead twice in the game," UND coach Brad Berry said. "After we took the lead, there was some urgency with their team. They made a push in the third. I thought we didn't respond by getting pucks deep enough to make them play a 200-foot game. We turned over a couple pucks that gave them opportunities.
"It's one of those things where closing down or locking down games has been a strong suit of ours, especially in the last half of the season. They made a play to tie it and made one more play than us in overtime."
It ended a big night for St. Cloud State's top line.
Veeti Miettinen had a goal and three points. Okabe had a goal and an assist. Krannila had a goal and an assist.
Senior Ethan Frisch and Judd Caulfield scored for the Fighting Hawks, who ended the season 18-15-6.
"Obviously, it's been an up-and-down year," Frisch said. "There's no question about that. There's a lot of speculation on this or that or whatever. The guys in the room know the hard work that's put in — all the blood, sweat and tears. I'm just really proud of the way we battled. It would have been really easy to fold in a couple points in the season.
"Bubs (Berry) made mention to it, too, in the locker room. We resurrected our season in the second half. We trusted what we do. We've done so well the past few years. We did it to a 'T.' We gave ourselves a chance. Unfortunately, we fell one goal short of making it to tomorrow."
UND will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019.
The Fighting Hawks played with the lead most of the game.
They got on the board first at 6:18 of the opening period.
NCHC rookie of the year Jackson Blake held the puck in the right circle and gave it to center Jake Schmaltz along the goal line. Schmaltz made a no-look, between-the-legs feed to opposite circle, where Frisch sent it past Husky goaltender Jaxon Castor (23 saves).
The Huskies (23-12-3) evened it with 2:46 left in the opening period. After gaining the offensive zone, Grant Cruikshank sent a puck back to defenseman Cooper Wylie at the point. Wylie moved it to Miettinen, who was open in the right circle. The Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick one-timed it past UND goalie Drew DeRidder (18 saves).
UND regained the lead at 12:29 of the second period, when Gavin Hain threw a puck from the top of the right circle to the crease, where Caulfield and Mark Senden were hanging out. Caulfield won a battle to get to the puck and knocked it in for his 10th goal of the season.
The Fighting Hawks, who outshot St. Cloud State 11-3 in the second period, took a 2-1 lead into the third.
"That's one thing we always talk about is taking over in the second," Senden said. "I think that's been a strong suit these last 10 games is taking over in the second period, out-changing them and getting them trapped down low in their zone. We were really confident in our second period of play and leading into the third as well. I think our guys did a great job tonight with doing that and trusting our systems. It's just unfortunate there at the end."
The Huskies came out fast in the third period and tied it up.
After two good cycling shifts, St. Cloud State scored off the rush. Miettinen started the play from the left side, finding Okabe open in the high slot. Okabe then fed it over to Krannila in the right circle for a one-timer.
The Huskies had a chance to win it on the power play early in overtime — Hain was called for tripping, though it should have been defenseman Ty Farmer in the box — but UND killed it off.
The winning goal came shortly after, though.
"No one ever questioned the love for the game, the love for the brothers in the room," Frisch said. "Just some unfortunate bounces."
UND brought Senden and Frisch to the press conference with Berry.
"I want to say thank you to these two guys right here," Berry said. "I've been around North Dakota a long time. There have been a lot of great leaders. These guys are right at the top. These guys accomplished something a lot of have never done or will never do — back-to-back-to-back, three consecutive Penrose Cups. These guys laid the foundation of our culture for the rest of the group, the young guys for next year and the incoming freshmen."