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North Dakota wins WCHA Final Five title

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- North Dakota has earned a reputation for starting slowly and finishing strong, and that formula earned the team a championship Saturday.

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Trailing 2-0 just 55 seconds into the WCHA Final Five championship game, the Fighting Sioux rallied with three power-play goals, beating St. Cloud State 5-3 to win the title. Players said the key was not panicking when things went badly early.

"I took a look at our bench, and I saw kind of a steely calm," said North Dakota goalie Brad Eidsness, who finished with 29 saves and was named to the all-tournament team.

The Fighting Sioux got first-period goals by Corban Knight and Brad Malone to tie the game. Danny Kristo and Chris VandeVelde scored in the second to give the Sioux (25-12-5) the lead.

"We just wanted to start playing our game," North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. "We got caught on our heels two shifts in a row. They made a couple of good plays, and it was 2-0. But you look up at the clock and the majority of the game remains."

The Huskies (23-13-5) got goals from Garrett Raboin and David Eddy in the opening minute, and Eddy scored again later to make it interesting at 4-3, but they fell victim to one of the hottest teams in college hockey. North Dakota will enter the NCAA playoffs having won 12 of its last 13 games.

"Our power play didn't answer back, but our kids competed," said Bob Motzko, St. Cloud State's coach. "We showed great heart and character to battle back, we just ended up one shot short."

Matt Frattin scored an empty-net goal in the final minute for North Dakota, which won the WCHA's playoff title for the first time since 2006. North Dakota forward Evan Trupp, who had three goals and three assists in the tournament, was named the most valuable player.

The North Dakota power play was especially troubling for the Huskies who were without leading scorer Garrett Roe. Injured when he slid head-first into the boards on Friday in a 2-0 win over Wisconsin, Roe was unavailable on Saturday. Motzko said he expects Roe back next weekend for the NCAA playoffs.

"We knew we had to have a great start, especially with Garrett not there," Eddy said.

The game was the last in the current format for this tournament, with five teams playing five games. Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha join the WCHA and make it a 12-team league next year, prompting league officials to announce a new format on Saturday.

The 2011 tournament -- still called the Final Five -- will feature six teams, with the top two getting a bye in the first round. There will be two games on Thursday, two semifinals on Friday and the championship game on Saturday. The league's third place game has been dropped.

Badgers rout Denver

6-3 for 3rd place

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Wisconsin played like its season was on the line Saturday, boldly claiming the WCHA Final Five's consolation game against Denver.

The Badgers blasted past the top-ranked Pioneers, 6-3, in the third-place tournament game. Blake Geoffrion scored twice for Wisconsin.

"They've had our number in the past," said Geoffrion, recalling five losses to the Pioneers last season. "So there was a little grudge, which makes this sweeter."

Ben Street, Derek Stepan, Sean Dolan and Michael Davies also scored as the Badgers (25-10-4) put themselves in better position to garner a No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament's 16-team field is announced on Sunday.

With a No. 1 seed already locked up, Denver (27-9-4) looked disinterested for long stretches, and trailed 5-1 before showing signs of life late. Rhett Rakhshani and Jesse Martin scored power play goals, and Nate Dewhurst scored his first goal of the season. But starting Pioneers goaltender Marc Cheverie was lifted halfway through the first period after Wisconsin took a 3-0 lead.

"If you take away those three goals in the first period, it was a 3-3 game, so that good start we had was critical," Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said.

Both teams were shorthanded on Saturday. Denver forward Anthony Maiani missed the game after injuring his hand while blocking a shot during the Pioneers' 4-3 semifinal loss to North Dakota on Friday. Wisconsin defenseman Cody Goloubef sat out after the league issued him a one-game suspension for a hit to the head of St. Cloud State's Nick Oslund in the Badgers' 2-0 loss in the semifinals.

Maiani, who was second on the Pioneers with 26 assists this season, was listed as doubtful for next weekend's NCAA tournament.

"I'm very disappointed with the start we had," Rakhshani said. "In the first period, we didn't give our goalies much help."

Cheverie finished with eight saves before giving way to Adam Murray, who had 34 saves in taking the loss for Denver. Wisconsin goaltender Scott Gudmandson got his 17th win of the season with 33 saves.

"It was more to keep (Cheverie) from getting shelled," Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky said of the goalie change. "We have to have him ready for next week."

Cheverie and Rakhshani are both finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, as are Geoffrion and Brendan Smith from Wisconsin.

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Pioneer staff reports
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