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North Dakota rallies for win over Niagara

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sports Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – North Dakota players sat in their small locker room late Friday afternoon, 20 minutes from a season-ending loss.

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“We looked at each other and said, ‘If we come up short, we’re at least going to make sure we left everything on the ice and did our job,’” Kristo said. “When we do that, we usually come up with some success.”

They did, indeed.

Captain Andrew MacWilliam scored a game-tying goal early in the third period, Kristo scored the eventual winner 57 seconds later and UND earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Niagara in a first-round NCAA tournament game in Van Andel Arena.

UND will play Yale at 3 p.m. today in the West Regional championship. The winner will head to the NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.

It’s familiar territory for both UND and Yale – it will be the third trip to the regional championship for each program’s senior class. UND has now reached the regional final seven times in nine years under coach Dave Hakstol and it will be looking for its sixth Frozen Four trip during that span.

Niagara, the Atlantic Hockey regular season champion, was a handful for UND in the opening game of the tournament.

“We had a real hard-fought game and I think the word of the day is resiliency,” Hakstol said. “You have to look across on the other bench and give Niagara University and (coach) Dave Burkholder and their whole crew a lot of credit. They played the way we felt they would coming in. We knew they were a hard-nosed hockey team. We feel good about being able to come back in the third period and move on to the next round of this tournament.”

The Purple Eagles (23-10-5) used a strong goaltending performance by Hobey Baker Award finalist Carsen Chubak, a tough-to-crack forecheck and a second-period goal by defenseman Jason Beattie to take a 1-0 lead into the third period.

But MacWilliam’s blast from the point went through a maze of bodies in front and past Chubak at 1:56 to tie the game. Just 57 seconds later, Kristo put UND ahead for good.

Kristo, also a Hobey Baker Award finalist, skated from the slot area to the right side of the crease and snapped a shot on Chubak. The goalie made the save, but Kristo picked up the rebound, circled behind the net and scored on the wrap-around.

UND dominated the rest of the third period, outshooting Niagara 20-7. UND didn’t let the Purple Eagles get any Grade A looks on freshman goaltender Zane Gothberg (28 saves) the rest of the way.

“Niagara was everything we thought they were going to be,” UND defenseman Joe Gleason said. “They’re extremely hard working and they probably had one of the best neutral zone forechecks and offensive zone forechecks we’ve played against all year.

“Any win at this time of year is a good one. We need to carry that third period into tomorrow’s game from the drop of the puck.”

Burkholder thought the key to the game was not extended the lead past 1-0. Top-line forward Ryan Murphy had a breakaway late in the second, but was denied by Gothberg. Burkholder said Murphy has scored five goals on that move this season.

“We kept a really good team, a very good offensive team, in the game,” said Burkholder, whose team also lost to UND in a regional game in 2000.

UND coach Dave Hakstol credited his fourth line of Stephane Pattyn, Colten St. Clair and Connor Gaarder with a good shift at the end of the second period that helped turn the momentum.

“(Niagara) had a real good push throughout the second,” Hakstol said. “That shift really snapped us back into what we do. We survived their push. Obviously, with the tying goal, that really energized the team.”

And UND’s Hobey Baker Award finalist, Kristo, came up with another big play. The senior now has scored in four of UND’s five playoff games this season.

“One of their best players made a play,” Burkholder said. “It was a heck of a season for our team and a heck of a season for our program.”

Brad Elliott Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald.

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