To borrow a memorable line from legendary baseball announcer Vin Scully, in a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.
North Dakota, once buried in 11th place in the WCHA standings and an afterthought in the national postseason picture, staged one of the most memorable rallies in program history tonight to advance to the WCHA Final Five championship game and put itself into position to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Trailing 3-0 midway through the second period and being overwhelmingly outplayed by top-seeded Minnesota, the Fighting Sioux scored six unanswered goals in a rousing 6-3 semifinal win over the Golden Gophers. The victory earned two-time defending Broadmoor Trophy champion UND a date with Denver in Saturday's championship game, and moved the Sioux into fourth in the PairWise Rankings.
Goals by Minnesota's Kyle Rau, Jake Hansen and Zach Budish in the game's first 30 minutes had the Gophers thoroughly in control. UM had dominated every facet of the game to that point, outshooting the Sioux 12-2 in the first period and 17-2 at one point in the second period.
But the game turned on an (at the time) innocuous icing play. With tired legs on the ice, UND head coach Dave Hakstol elected to use his timeout at 14:07 of the second period. Forty-four seconds later, defenseman Derek Forbort (Duluth, Minn.) got the Sioux on the board with a point shot through traffic.
"(The timeout) was simply to do everything that we could to earn our next shift and have a good shift," said Hakstol. "There was nothing special said at all. You have to do everything in your power to help them get back into it, and that's all that it was."
From that point on, UND blitzed the Gophers. The Sioux recorded 19 of the game's final 21 shots, including an 11-minute span in the third period in which they erupted for five goals.
"Once we got that first one, we got a little confidence in ourselves," said Lamoureux. "Once that happened, the game became more fun. Once you're out there having fun and making things happen, it's a pretty easy game."
Freshman Michael Parks (St. Louis, Mo.) opened the third-period barrage at 5:31. With Parks driving to the net, linemate Carter Rowney (Jr., Sexsmith, Alberta) attempted a wraparound that deflected in off of Parks' skate. Thirty seconds later, WCHA scoring leader Brock Nelson (So., Warroad, Minn.) scored his 26th of the season, beating UM goalie Kent Patterson with a wrist shot from the circle. Just like that, the game was tied 3-3.
"I think that's kind of the story of our season," said Lamoureux. "Early on we weren't playing well and a lot of people were counting us out. We're a team that's not going to give up."
Senior captain Mario Lamoureux (Grand Forks, N.D.) put the Sioux ahead to stay, crashing the net and banging home a Stephane Pattyn (Ste. Anne, Manitoba) centering pass at 9:42. It was Lamoureux's second goal of the year and first since Nov. 19.
Junior Corban Knight (High River, Alberta) deflected a point shot on the power play at 10:19, converting on UND's only chance with the man advantage. Six minutes later, Lamoureux scored his second of the game to cap the stunning rally.
"I've never been a part of a game where we struggled so much in the first 30 minutes. Regardless of the outcome of the score, to be able to turn the energy around, I think, is the big credit to our players," said Hakstol.
UND goalie Aaron Dell (Airdrie, Alberta) earned the win with 22 saves, providing particularly strong goaltending in the first 30 minutes with his teammates on their heels. Patterson also had 22 saves.
The Sioux now turn their focus to Denver and the chance to become the first team in league history to win three straight WCHA Final Five titles.
"It would be special. We'll prepare as hard as we can and try to go out tomorrow night and win a championship."