If it was indeed their last meeting for the foreseeable future, North Dakota and Minnesota certainly left college hockey with another memorable chapter in their storied rivalry.
In a wildly entertaining affair, sixth-ranked North Dakota and the top-ranked Golden Gophers slugged it out for 60 minutes and settled nothing in overtime in a 4-4 Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) tie.
The Gophers stayed atop the WCHA standings, tied with St. Cloud State, while the single point enabled UND to stay within two points of the league's co-leaders heading into next week's series with SCSU.
UND appeared to be headed toward the full two points in this one, holding a 4-2 lead midway through the third period, until Minnesota goals by Nick Bjugstad and Nate Condon six minutes apart sent the game to overtime. UND recovered from the late Gopher rally to generate several scoring chances in the extra period, including goal posts by forwards Danny Kristo (Sr., Eden Prairie, Minn.) and Rocco Grimaldi (Fr., Rossmoor, Calif.), but was unable to produce its first Mariucci Arena win since Feb. 2008.
"This is a high-level series," said UND head coach Dave Hakstol. "This is the type of series that you're going to see in late March and early April, so it tells us we're right there. We're not where we need to be, but it's a good snapshot of what you're going to see two and three months down the road. For me, I liked some of the growth that we saw in our team this weekend."
For the second straight night, UND was able to open the scoring, this time midway through the first period. After Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox stopped a Derek Forbort (Jr., Duluth, Minn.) point shot, Kristo was able to bang home an off-balance backhand for his team-leading 14th goal of the season.
But as they did throughout the series, the Gophers were able to respond quickly. Just 71 seconds after Kristo's goal, Minnesota's Jake Parenteau found himself with the puck at the bottom of the left circle and was able to slide it past UND starter Zane Gothberg (Fr., Thief River Falls, Minn.) to tie the game.
In the second period, it was UND that used a quick-strike offense to shift the momentum once again. First, it was senior Corban Knight (High River, Alberta) scoring a breakaway goal to regain UND's lead at 9:34, then it was Grimaldi converting a 2-on-1 rush three minutes later to make it a 3-1 game.
Knight's goal extended his point streak to 19 games, the fourth-longest in UND history.
Minnesota's Sam Warning cut the deficit to 3-2 with 6:12 left in the third period, but UND freshman Drake Caggiula (Pickering, Ontario) once again made it a 2-goal game when he found the at 7:20 of the third period.
Minnesota, however, rallied to tie the game. Despite the lost point, Grimaldi and teammate Joe Gleason (Sr., Edina, Minn.) said UND demonstrated plenty to build upon.
"Today might sting even worse than yesterday because having a 2-goal lead with 10 minutes left and giving it up," said Grimaldi. "But we're still getting better every day. We'll take this as a learning tool and move on."
"We don't feel very good about one point. We feel good about our overall game," added Gleason. "We did a lot of things well tonight. We definitely could have had a win."
UND was outshot 35-26, although both teams were able to register 13 shots in a third period that featured no shortage of action or scoring chances by either team.
"I thought we came back off of last night and played a more complete and a more solid 60 minutes," said Hakstol. "I wouldn't give us an A by any stretch of the imagination, but we did a good job. We fought hard.
"You're still doing two things at this time of the season: You're fighting hard for points - on that side it's disappointing to get one point out of four - and evaluating performance. I thought overall we took a step forward. I liked a lot of things I saw from a couple of guys that are hopefully good signs of things to come."
One of the players who impressed Hakstol was the freshman Gothberg, who made 31 saves in his first start since Thanksgiving weekend at Notre Dame.
"He looked very sound, very confident, fought to find pucks, and did a good job," said Hakstol.
At the other end, Wilcox stopped 22 of 26 shots.
UND went scoreless on its lone power play and held Minnesota's top-ranked power-play unit off the board on its three tries.
While many observers mourned the impending hiatus of the UND-Minnesota rivalry, Gleason hinted the likeliness of a potential postseason matchup in 2012-13.
Said Gleason, "I don't think this will be the last time these two teams meet."