That's the basic mantra this time of year. It isn't always going to be pretty, a team isn't always going to have its A-level stuff. But the team that is able to survive and advance won't care it didn't have its A-level stuff.
Such was the case Friday night in Fargo. On an incredible night at the NCAA West Regional, UMD took the best punch Ohio State could possibly offer, survived thanks to an incredible performance from freshman goalie Hunter Miska, and got the last shot. Senior defenseman Willie Raskob's one-time blast from the right circle eluded OSU goalie Matt Tomkins and gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 overtime win over the Buckeyes.
This wasn't the best night UMD could have envisioned. Up 2-0 heading into the third, the Bulldogs squandered a power play and almost immediately started playing the game on their heels.
"I don’t know if anything really changed with us, I want to give them credit," UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said. "They came out and I thought they were making a pretty strong push even in the second period. They have a good team."
"We gave the momentum away there," Raskob said. "I think the talk was more making sure we have the coverage coming back, obviously, those two goals was just guys finding slots in open areas, we’ve got to get better at that tomorrow."
The Buckeyes have some strong forwards up front, led by Mason Jobst and David Gust, who can play for anyone, quite frankly. Gust was especially difficult to handle, especially at even-strength, for UMD in this game. He forced Miska to make a handful of spectacular saves, including a how-the-hell-did-he-do-that number with the paddle of his stick in overtime.
"I felt really good tonight," Miska said. "My team played really good in front of me allowing me to see the first puck and make the save and make my rebounds in the corners so they didn’t get another opportunity."
I'm not sure I'd concur that Miska's team played "really good", but I do see his point. The Bulldogs and Miska were victimized a few times this year by shots from distance that no one blocked and Miska couldn't see to stop. That didn't happen on Friday.
Sandelin: "I didn’t think our coverage was very good. Certainly, that was evident by some of the saves our goaltender had to make but I think you have to give credit where credit is due. They came hard and I think once they got the first one they took another step up and kept coming and we were kind of on our heels. But, that’s why you have great goaltending. It was kind of one of those games where we were just kind of really grinding out, nothing was really clicking. We had very few spurts here and there and they were making a very strong push but Hunter was the difference, no question."
That's on point.
To think, one week ago, there were legitimate questions about how Miska would play when the lights got brighter, both in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and here at the regional. He's emphatically answered those questions with two of his best games of the season.
"We were just trying to have net-front presence and try to get pucks to the net and as you can see from some of those replay, you can't ask for better chances than what we had," Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said. "He (Miska) just flat out made some unbelievable saves."
UMD has some things to clean up, as Sandelin mentioned. They had some garish turnovers in the defensive zone, especially in the third period as Ohio State started feeling it, so to speak. I almost didn't recognize the team that finished the third period and started overtime. It was as if "weather the storm" became the game plan.
But the Bulldogs started to piece some better shifts together close to the midway mark of overtime. Specifically, Adam Johnson walked a couple Buckeye defenders for a scoring chance that Tomkins had to make a good save on. Then came the one-minute break so the ice crew could come out and scrape the playing surface. After another quality save by Miska on Gust, Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik requested a review to assure the puck didn't cross the goal line (it didn't). That short delay allowed UMD to come back with its top line for a defensive zone faceoff. As rough a night as it was for UMD on faceoffs, Dominic Toninato won the draw, and the once the puck got back in the OSU zone, it never left.
Nick Wolff created a high to low scoring chance for Joey Anderson that rang the iron. After that. Alex Iafallo circled around the back of the goal and found Raskob in the right circle for a one-timer that Tomkins didn't have a chance on. I'm not sure -- and this isn't a rip -- that I've seen Raskob shoot a puck that hard in four years. That thing was labeled.
When everything looked bleak, UMD found a way. That's what great teams do.
We'd all prefer a 4-1 win. They can't all be like that.
The win moves UMD into the regional final Saturday at 5pm against Boston University. The Terriers got by host North Dakota 4-3 on a Charlie McAvoy goal in the second overtime. At first glance, BU's young top-end talent -- highlighted by McAvoy and Clayton Keller -- really flashes. Those are difference-maker players, and David Quinn has done a great job coaching those types of players in his short career at Boston (see: "Eichel, Jack").
Gotta get packed for checkout at the hotel, so just a reminder. 4:30pm pregame on 92.1 The Fan. Listen live online here. Should be a great game, hopefully UMD ends a two-year run of losing in regional finals. Enjoy what should be a great day of college hockey around the country.