March 8, 2009

Courtesy of North Dakota

MADISON, Wis.--University of North Dakota junior forward Chris VandeVelde has scored several key goals for the Fighting Sioux during the stretch run this season. None have been bigger than the one he scored tonight.

VandeVelde scored a power-play goal with 5:59 remaining in the third period that not only gave No. 6 UND a 2-1 victory over the 19th-ranked Badgers, but also secured the program’s 14th MacNaughton Cup as Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) regular season champions.

 

It is UND’s first MacNaughton Cup since the 2003-04 season.

 

The Moorhead, Minn., native gathered a loose puck at the half boards and made his way to the high slot, looking to pass all the way, before rifling a wrist shot that beat UW goalie Shane Connelly low to the blocker side. It was VandeVelde’s 14th goal of the season.

 

“He’s (VandeVelde) finding ways to make plays at critical times and he did that again tonight,” said UND head coach Dave Hakstol after clinching his first league title in five years as Sioux bench boss. “Over the past couple of months he’s been a dominant player for us.”

 

VandeVelde’s goal completed another Sioux comeback, one that turned in UND’s favor in a matter of seconds late in the second period.

 

With the Sioux trailing 1-0, Wisconsin’s Matt Hurber was sprung on a clear breakaway, but his deke attempt was stopped by UND freshman goalie Brad Eidsness (Chestermere, Alberta). UND senior forward Andrew Kozek (Sicamous, British Columbia) was whistled for tripping on the play, however, putting the Badgers on the power-play.

 

But just 15 seconds into the man advantage, UW defenseman Jamie McBain misplayed the puck at the Sioux blueline and UND forward Matt Watkins (Sr., Aylesbury, Saskatchewan) jumped on the puck and streaked up the far boards on a breakaway. Watkins got to the bottom of the right faceoff circle and snapped a wrist shot that beat Connelly to the short side, pulling the Sioux even with 3:04 remaining in the period.

 

Eidsness did the rest from there. His biggest stop in the third period was a point-blank Michael Davies shot from the slot, one of 22 saves Eidsness made on the night in earning his WCHA-leading 22nd victory.

 

Senior captain Ryan Duncan (Calgary, Alberta), who assisted on VandeVelde’s winner, compared the Cup-clinching win to the entire season for the Sioux, who were mired as low as ninth place in the WCHA standings at one point.

 

“I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet,” said Duncan. “We didn’t play our best game but we scratched and clawed our way back into it. That’s kind of the way our season has gone.”

 

The Sioux, 22-11-4 overall and 17-6-4 in conference play, locked up the top seed in the WCHA playoffs with the win and will wrap up the regular season tomorrow night against the Badgers.

 

“It’s a good accomplishment for the guys in that locker room,” said Hakstol of winning the MacNaughton Cup. “I’m proud of them.

“I want them to take a couple of hours and enjoy it.

 

“But in the morning we have to stay on track and come back to work.”

 

Notes: Hakstol has progressively led the Sioux to a higher finish in each of his five years behind the bench, beginning with a fifth-place finish in his first year and culminating with a league title in year five ... Waktins’ goal was the first shorthanded tally of his career ... Eidsness’ 22 wins tie Karl Goehring (1998-99) for sixth-most in UND single-season history. Eidsness also made his 34th straight appearance, extending his own school record for freshmen. It was his 28th straight start.