Exciting hockey season ends after trip to Frozen Four


Jayson Hajdu

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Exciting hockey season ends after trip to Frozen Four

By Jayson Hajdu, UND Athletic Media Relations

Despite a frantic, late third-period rally, the wait for championship number eight will continue for the University of North Dakota.

Led by freshman sensation Jack Eichel, Boston University staked a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes and survived a pair of late North Dakota goals in a 5-3 Terriers' win in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal.

BU will face Hockey East rival Providence in Saturday night's national championship game, while top-ranked UND's season ? and its bid for the eighth national championship in program history ? comes to an end at 29-10-3.

"I want to congratulate our team ? University of North Dakota Men's Hockey Coach Dave Hakstol, all of the coaching staff, and the players ? on a very successful season that saw them advance to the Frozen Four. It has been a pleasure to watch this team in action all year, and we are proud of the hard work and spirit that the players exhibited on the ice ? and off the ice," said UND President Robert Kelley.

UND trailed 2-0 after the first period and 4-1 after two periods, but nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages with a pair of goals four minutes apart in the second half of the third period.

With UND short-handed and trailing 4-1, sophomore defenseman Troy Stecher gave his team life when he skated the length of the ice to pressure BU goalie Matt O'Connor, who was playing a cleared puck behind his net. The puck caromed off the end boards and through his legs to Stecher, who was waiting at the top of the crease for any easy tap-in with 8:50 remaining.

The goal was Stecher's third of the season and UND's NCAA-leading 12th short-handed tally.

Just four minutes later, senior Connor Gaarder brought UND to within a goal, burying his 10th of the season while on the power play.

UND pressured for the equalizer and pulled goalie Zane McIntyre for an extra attacker with 1:14 remaining, but Eichel stifled the comeback with an empty-net goal at 19:41.

It was Eichel's second goal of the game (26th of the year) and third point of the night.

"There was no question what our third period would be like," said UND head coach Dave Hakstol, coaching in his seventh Frozen Four in 11 years. "I mean, that's a deep hole to come out of, let's be honest. But I don't think anybody I don't think there was any second thought about it. Put the next shift together. And our guys have been resilient and done that all year long. I had no question in my mind that we would tie this game up as we got into that last minute, minute and a half."

The tying goal never came, although UND had remained resolute after trailing by three goals in a game in which it carried play and possession for much of the time. UND threw 16 shots at O'Connor in the second period and out-shot the Terriers 30-19 over the final two periods.

"We knew we were doing the things the right way and that we needed to continue to our strengths and good things were going to happen," said Stecher.

"I liked 50 minutes of our game," said Hakstol. "Believe me, they played a good game. They made plays. I want to make sure I give them a lot of credit. They're an outstanding team. But I always kind of look from within. And I thought we didn't manage the puck real well in the first few minutes of the game. We ended a few of our own cycles rather than grinding and making them defend."

While UND struggled to find its game to start the first period, BU registered seven of the game's first nine shots on goal, including Eichel's power-play tally just 4:59 into the first period.

UND started to string together strong shifts in succession midway through the first period and appeared to be taking over the game in the latter half of the frame. But BU defenseman Brandon Hickey beat McIntyre with a point shot while on the power-play in the final minute to extend the lead to 2-0.

Desperate for the game's next goal, UND received a much-needed power-play snipe from Luke Johnson 44 seconds into the second period. The Grand Forks native roofed a shot from along the goal line that beat O'Connor clean to cut the lead in half.

"I thought it was a step forward for us, obviously, with a slow start we had, it was a step in the right direction," said Johnson. "I thought we played to our strengths in that period."

UND had several opportunities to tie the game after Johnson's goal ? including hit goal posts by Bryn Chyzyk and Tucker Poolman ? but BU's A.J. Greer restored the 2-goal lead when he one-timed an Eichel feed from above the circle that just snuck by McIntyre's out-stretched leg pad. It was Greer's first goal since late January.

BU made it a 4-1 game less than two minutes later when Doyle Somerby flung a shot through traffic from the half wall for his first goal of the year.

UND pushed hard in the final 20 minutes, but the hole proved too deep.

"If I could change one thing, it would be some of our execution in the first few minutes of the game," said Hakstol. "Beyond that, I'm not sure there's a whole lot more that we can ask out of our players tonight. They stuck together, went out and tried to do the best job they could, and we came up short."

Notes: Announced attendance at TD Garden ? home of the Boston Bruins ? was 18,022 ... Both teams finished 2-4 on the power play and UND claimed a 28-23 edge on faceoffs ... Seniors Gaarder, Stephane Pattyn, Michael Parks, Brendan O'Donnell and Nick Mattson played in their final collegiate games. Fellow seniors Mark MacMillan (injured) and Andrew Panzarella did not play ... Pattyn's game was the 167th of his career, tying him for sixth all-time at UND ... McIntyre made his 42nd appearance of the season, tying the UND single-season record held by Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (2007-08). McIntyre's 29 wins ended up one shy of Aaron Dell's school record of 30 in 2010-11.

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