Last-second heartbreak

North Dakota’s season ends with goal from Minnesota

UND sophomore forward Drake Caggiula skates against Miami earlier this season at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Thanks to a Wisconsin victory over Ohio State, North Dakota advanced to the Midwest Regional and clinched a Frozen Four berth, but lost to Minnesota in the semifinals. 

It lived up to all the hype expected of a rivalry matchup, carrying with it a long history of six-goal rallies to move one step closer to a national championship, and single-goal games that ended in heartbreak — the latter written into UND’s history books last Thursday.

Like many others, it won’t be easily forgotten.

Minnesota’s celebrating skaters on the ice were joined by its bench as Justin Holl’s last-second shot slid past Zane Gothberg. After nearly 50 minutes, a no-goal game turned into a 1-1 battle for a ticket to play for the national championship.

The clock read 0:00. Players and fans anticipated a reaction as the puck might not have beaten the buzzer — but the six tenths of a second left in regulation was all Minnesota needed to end North Dakota’s season.

That was it.

“We left it all out there, and for whatever reason it just wasn’t meant to be,” Mattson said. “So it’s a pretty heartbreaking way to end your year.”

The story of a hockey team that turned around its season in late November to post a 21-7-1 rebound record from a 4-7-2 start followed suit of preceding years. But the depth of this team only strengthened its will to end it differently.

“These are my first words since leaving the ice,” sophomore forward Drake Caggiula said. “Coming from where we did, back in November, we accomplished a lot of goals. Obviously, our goal was to win a national championship. We fell just a little bit short of that. But we have a lot of positives to hold on to for next season, and it’s just really heartbreaking to look back on the year and say we did so much positive stuff and end it the way we did.”

North Dakota controlled the edge in shots with 37 over Minnesota’s 28 in a game that revealed no winner until the final second. Shot attempts soared to 83 for UND as the Gophers tried 52 times to put the puck in the net. The team of four North Dakota seniors set a tone that echoed belief and resilience all season, despite contradicting opinions.

Words after the game were hard to come by, but for a coach that watched a team slowly turn the pages of a once-broken season into a chance at the ultimate prize, it was simple to recognize the efforts of a hard-working and determined group.

“Really proud of the effort of our hockey team today from top to bottom,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “You get into these games — if you walk away from it at the end we’re walking away on — it’s real important to know that you left everything out there, and our guys did that today. Obviously, it’s a bit of a numbing feeling to be walking away at this point in time on a good bounce of the puck that our opponent took advantage of right at the buzzer.

“I really want to commend our group of seniors. They’re a small group, they played varying roles within our team, but they provided great leadership and I think really set a tone throughout our work. Right from back in September, all the way through tonight. So it’s painful to see it end this way for those guys, as well as for this particular group of players, who are just outstanding teammates that has really become an outstanding team.”

Last weekend marked UND’s 20th Frozen Four appearance in program history, but an eighth championship banner remains a prize for a later time. Hakstol also had his sixth appearance in the tournament in his 10 years as North Dakota’s head coach.

While the expectations of remaining one of four teams in the nation didn’t look to be the case, the expectations of each player on North Dakota’s roster were high.

“It’s tough to fall short of expectations,” UND senior Dillon Simpson said. “Coming to UND, the expectation is to win, but I can’t say enough about the guys in our locker room — the way we came together the entire year and fought together. It was a year where we kept proving people wrong. We’re a family in there and I’m really proud of the efforts of all the guys through the entire season.”

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