CINCINNATI — The realignment of college hockey conferences put a hold on one of the best rivalries in the sport. The NCAA tournament revived it Friday night.Unfortunately for Wisconsin that meant a quick end to their season.
Mark MacMillan’s redirection of a shot by Brendan O’Donnell with 1:44 left in the third period broke a 2-all tie and Rocco Grimaldi put away a pair of empty-net goals in the final minute of play to give him a hat trick and North Dakota a 5-2 win over the Badgers in the semifinals of the NCAA Midwest regional at US Bank Arena.
O’Donnell took a drop pass from Michael Park along the boards above the faceoff circle to the left of Wisconsin goalie Joel Rumpel. His slap shot caromed off of MacMillan’s body and past Rumpel for the go-ahead score. Officials reviewed the play on TV replays to see if MacMillan may have interfered Rumpel or hit the puck with a high stick but confirmed that it was a good goal.
"It just went off my side and happened to bounce into the net," said MacMillan. "A bit of a lucky one but obviously one we’ll take."
Wisconsin (24-11-2) was the top seed in the region and the No. 4 seed nationally but never had the lead against its former WCHA rivals. Fourth-seeded North Dakota (24-13-3) advances to Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. (CST) regional championship game against No. 2 Ferris State (29-10-3).
"It’s a 2-2 game with a minute, 44 (seconds) to go and at that point you’re just getting pucks and bodies to the net. North Dakota did exactly that and they got the puck to go in," said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. "Your last game of the year is always a tough game, especially for our group of guys. We’ve got nine seniors that gave us great leadership this year. But, as we said, they left nothing inside of them; it was all on the ice. For that reason alone, they can walk out of this building with their heads held high tonight."
The teams had played 163 previous times but the creation of the Big Ten hockey league helped lead to the formation of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference of which North Dakota is a founding member. The two programs didn’t play each other in the regular season but they quickly got reacquainted in this game.
Parks gave North Dakota a 1-0 lead 5:06 into the first period with his 12th goal of the season, muscling the puck past Rumpel as they battled near the crease. The Badgers tied it up 1-all on a power-play goal by Jedd Soleway at the 11:41 mark. Grimaldi scored his first goal of the game 6:45 into the second period to regain the lead for North Dakota.
North Dakota forward Michael Parks (15) scores a goal past Wisconsin goalie Joel Rumpel in the first period of a regional semifinal of the NCAA college hockey tournament, Friday in Cincinnati.
Tyler Barnes tied it for the Badgers with 10:28 left in the third period, beating North Dakota goalie Zane Gothberg cleanly with a wrist shot from the right circle area.
Wisconsin wasn’t able to duplicate the magic it showed in last week’s Big Ten championship game against Ohio State. The Badgers rallied from a 4-2 deficit in the third period to force overtime and eventually beat the Buckeyes, 5-4, in extra time. It was just the second time all season Wisconsin had won a game when trailing after three periods.
It was that win, coincidentally, that enabled North Dakota to reach the NCAA tournament for the 12th straight season, the longest current streak in the nation. North Dakota was the final at-large team in the 16-team field. Had Ohio State won and earned the Big Ten’s automatic berth, Wisconsin would have been an at-large team and denied North Dakota’s berth.
The Badgers seniors leave the program having won consecutive conference tournament titles. Last year, Wisconsin won the WCHA tournament title.
"At the beginning of the year we set out to win a national championship," said senior forward Jefferson Dahl. "We obviously came up short today. The group of 26 guys have gone through a lot this year; a lot of ups and downs, especially the senior class. Thinking about all of these memories we’ve had and the good times is something we’ll take away from this year. Hopefully, the other guys will learn from this and come back stronger next year."