UND Beats St. Cloud State 4-1 in Final Five QuarterfinalsST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Brock Nelson scored twice as North Dakota beat St. Cloud State 4-1 in the quarterfinals of the WCHA Final Five.
By: Jess Myers, Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — As a freshman on a rock-solid North Dakota team last season, Brock Nelson had what many considered a down year with just eight goals in his first 42 collegiate games. Not so as a sophomore, as the New York Islanders draft pick has emerged from the shadows.
On Thursday Nelson scored his team-leading 24th and 25th goals of the season as North Dakota beat St. Cloud State 4-1 in the quarterfinals of the WCHA Final Five.
Nelson got off a wrist shot from 15 feet out that fooled Huskies goalie Mike Lee, breaking a 1-1 tie in the second period and added an empty-net goal as the Fighting Sioux got one step closer to a three-peat in the WCHA's post-season tournament.
"I was just lucky to get a shot on net and luckily it went in," said Nelson, whose grandfather, Bill Christian, was a 1960 Olympic gold medalist, and uncle Dave Christian was on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team.
Corban Knight got the game's first goal, and Danny Kristo had another empty-netter as North Dakota (23-12-3) virtually guaranteed itself an invite to the NCAA tournament's 16-team field that will be announced on Sunday.
"Coming into today, you're fully aware of where you're at in the national scene, and I think tonight goes a long way to solidifying the opportunity to play next week," said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol, who has led the Sioux to the NCAA Frozen Four in five of his first seven seasons. "Until we hear our name called in the selection show on Sunday you never take anything for granted. But what this does is completely clear our minds."
Ben Hanowski's power play goal was the only marker for St. Cloud State (17-17-5), which got 24 saves from Lee in its final game of the season.
"It was tough and it was grinding, but it was a great game down on the bench," said Huskies coach Bob Motzko. "We made the one mistake on their second goal, but it kind of seemed that if we got a break it could've gone our way the rest of the way."
The game was typical of the defensive style North Dakota has adopted in a season where injuries have decimated their normally fast-skating, high-scoring offense. St. Cloud State's trap frustrated the Sioux early, but they were able to adjust, going to shorter passes with less risk of being turned over, while playing a puck-possession game that limited the Huskies' number of quality shots at Sioux goalie Aaron Dell.
"In the first 20 minutes we were looking for a lot of 50- or 60-foot passes," Hakstol said. "We weren't able to get up ice with any kind of speed, and that killed a lot of plays. St. Cloud is a heck of a good transition team and they used that to their advantage, but I thought we got back to basics."
Those basics included setting up Nelson, who has wowed the league with his scoring ability this season.
"I think that's the guy in our league that we're going to be watching in the NHL for a long time," Motzko said.
Dell finished with 29 saves for North Dakota, which will face WCHA regular season champion Minnesota on Friday night at 7 p.m. in the semifinals.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.