Minnesota Duluth ends North Dakota's season in fifth overtime of Midwest Regional championship
The hearts of North Dakota players, coaches, and fans broke twice over the course of their six hour, eight period game against Minnesota Duluth in the NCAA Midwest Region Championship.
The first came halfway through the first overtime. Bulldogs senior forward Kobe Roth would streak in over the blue line and snap a shot past North Dakota junior goaltender Adam Scheel, to send the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four. Or at least that's what he thought.
As North Dakota senior goaltender Peter Thome came off the bench to comfort a visibly distraught Scheel, the officials gathered to review the goal. Only a few minutes later would the officials emerge, with the lead official crossing both arms and pulling them to opposite sides with intensity. No goal.
The dream was still alive for the Fighting Hawks. They had a spark and it lasted them four more overtimes. The periods, shots, saves, even goaltenders, came and went. Eventually marking Saturday night/Sunday morning's game as the longest game in NCAA Tournament history.
Back in the locker room, intermission after intermission, UND was doing as much as it could to stay fresh.
"The last intermission, a couple of us had IV's going," senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi said. "We were drinking Cokes to get sugar in our system and some energy. Anything that makes you feel that much better, we were doing."
Something had to give. It had to. And it did in the form of UMD freshman forward Luke Mylymok. It was a game time decision and was playing only his 11th game as a Bulldog. With a sea of green ahead of him, Mylymok would snap a shot, right in the area where the offsides goal four overtimes ago was scored, that would blast through the five-hole of Scheel. This time, the heartbreak was real.
In a marathon game, seeing North Dakota score two goals to tie the game in the final minute and a half of regulation, a disallowed goal in overtime and a goalie change for Minnesota Duluth would eventually end in the Bulldogs player, seeing the freshman from Saskatchewan send UMD to its fourth straight Frozen Four, defeating North Dakota 3-2.
There wasn't any effort loss on North Dakota's bench according to Fighting Hawks head coach Brad Berry. The Hawks went up and down their bench, using everyone that was available and could give them solid minutes. North Dakota paced the Bulldogs through eight periods, knocking on the door of ending the game, but not being able to kick it down.
"It's one of those things where you have to keep the game simple and in front of you. I thought our guys did that," Berry said. "We used everybody. It's unfortunate If you look at how many posts we hit and how many scoring opportunities we had at the end of the day, we had enough to win. We didn't close in on it and didn't get it done that way. Still really, really proud of our guys, they left their hearts out on the ice."
Throughout the game, it was rolling off of quick bursts of momentum that allowed either team to go ahead, specifically in regulation. Minnesota Duluth would break the ice in the third period, scoring two goals 40 seconds apart to jump on a 2-0 lead out of the second intermission. It took a while for North Dakota to find the offense they needed, eventually pulling Scheel for an extra attacker, but they would find it.
Senior forward Collin Adams, from behind the net, would shoot the puck off the back of freshman goaltender Zach Stejskal, barely crossing the line to give the Hawks life. Only 1:16 later, a shot from sophomore forward Shane Pinto would ricochet off a UMD player and straight to Kawaguchi, standing in front of a wide-open net. He would bury it to tie the game and ignite the North Dakota faithful inside Scheels Arena.
"It's one of those things where you play with urgency in the last part of the game," Berry said. "You try to do everything you can in pinching your D, but it's one of those things where we made a couple of plays at the end to tie it up. It's unfortunate that we throw that all in and not have the result we wanted. That goes to show you that down two goals late, that our guys never thought they were out of the game. There was a pushback to tie it up and they did. That shows the character of the locker room right there."
The Fighting Hawks' effort to push went the distance, not just on the clock, but emotionally as well. In less than two periods of play, North Dakota's bench experienced desperation, hope, disappointment, and hope once again. Less than 15 minutes after sending the game to overtime, North Dakota thought their season was over and they a few minutes later realized it wasn't. Emotions were high on both benches and played a major factor on the ice.
"There was a full gamut of emotions throughout the entire game," Berry said. "Tying it up with two extra attackers goals, they score one and it's like our season ended. Then they go to video review and then we have another life. Then you have to compose yourself again, coaches and players. I thought we feed off of that and it was another thing that we really unfortunate because we had enough chances to win on pipes or opportunities on rushes. We just didn't capitalize on it and its kudos to Duluth."
Posts, sitting pucks, and shots going wide of the net were constant for North Dakota in extra time. Berry said it felt like the "Gods of Hockey" were trying to down on them. They were one step behind, even though the effort was there. It came down to a freshman, who had the energy, and a shot that had enough power. It's not the way the Fighting Hawks wanted to go out, but they know that their blood, sweat and tears were left on the ice.
Minnesota Duluth 3, North Dakota 2
Minnesota Duluth - 0, 0, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1 - 3
North Dakota - 0, 0, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0 - 2
3P 03:21 1-0 UMD Cates, Jackson (11)Lellig, Hunter (4) ; Bender, Koby (13)
3P 4:41 2-0 UMD Koepke, Cole (14)
3P 18:19 2-1 UMD Adams, Collin (14)Weatherby, Jasper (10) ; Pinto, Shane (16)
3P 19:03 2-2 Kawaguchi, Jordan (10)Pinto, Shane (17) ; Kiersted, Matt (19)
8P 2:13 3-2 UMD Mylymok, Luke (2)
*W Fanti 0-6 1.000 17:36
Stejskal 2-57 .966 124:37
*L Scheel 3-51. 9440 140:59
"It's one of those things where we needed one more bounce or one more play to score and we didn't get it," Berry said. "I can't blame any one of our players for the loss tonight. They gave it their all. It's everything we had asked the whole year from them and they did it tonight again."
North Dakota finishes the season at 22-6-1, picking up the Penrose Cup, NCHC Championship, and their first win in the NCAA Tournament since 2016. They graduate nine seniors heading out of this season, with three drafted by NHL teams. In addition to the three seniors drafted by NHL squads, eight underclassmen have the opportunity to move on the professional level as well.
It's unknown what's in store for next season, but reflecting back on this year, the Fighting Hawks see it as one of their most successful seasonss in the program, despite the season-ending short of their goal for a national championship. Berry said Kawaguchi is one of the best leaders to come through this program and the group helped lift North Dakota back into national prominence.
As the clock neared 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, seeing the Bulldogs celebrate while the Hawks skated off the ice, Kawaguchi stood by the door as each of his teammates left the ice. The captain didn't say much, but what he said meant so much more.
"Those are my brothers in there," Kawaguchi said. "They're my family. That's pretty much all I said."