NCHC Penrose Cup within reach

UND men’s hockey splits with St. Cloud, remains tied atop conference

One more victory was all it needed to claim the Penrose Cup — but that’s not the way it happened.

Tied at the top of National Collegiate Hockey Conference Standings with St. Cloud State, the UND men’s hockey team took on the Huskies this past weekend in hopes of breaking the tie and sitting alone atop the league.

After Friday’s game, it looked as if that might have been the case. North Dakota exploded for a 5-2 victory but fell 3-1 Saturday to put the teams back in the position they started.

“I thought the work ethic was there,” sophomore forward Drake Caggiula said. “The guys battled hard. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough left in the tank to get that tying goal. A few power plays for them kind of killed our momentum throughout the game, so we’ve got to be a little more disciplined.”

With the score at 1-1 through nearly two periods, St. Cloud made its move to the top at 18:55 of the second with a goal from Cory Thorson. The Huskies added another from Kevin Gravel in the final minute of the game to secure the victory.

“It was a battle,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “It was hard-fought for the 60 minutes. The difference in the game, they made one play at the end of the second period that was a turning point in the game. It was the battle that we knew we’d be in for tonight.”

The war continues into this weekend when North Dakota will take on Western Michigan in its last regular season series.

With 34 points, Western Michigan also sits tied in league standings with Minnesota-Duluth — both teams with a .500 record to put themselves in the middle of the race to claim home ice for playoffs.

“I think it’s going to be a barn-burner,” sophomore Rocco Grimaldi said. “Western (Michigan) is going to come in there hungry and looking for home ice. Obviously we’ll be hungry to put ourselves into position to win a trophy. We’re not going to be paying attention to anything else but our series.”

North Dakota is certainly attentive of its chances of clinching the league championship and a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament with two victories this weekend.

Though the inaugural year of the NCHC still yields undetermined playoff matchups with one weekend remaining in the regular season, the uncertainty isn’t startling.

“It’s probably the way we expected it to be at the start of the year,” Hakstol said. “You expect everything to come down to the final weekend. It sets up to be a great weekend for the league. The Penrose Cup, home ice advantage — that’s still to be decided, as far as I know, with other scores around the league, and that’s the way you would expect it. It sets up to be a great weekend for the league.”

Elizabeth Erickson is the sports editor for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].