Fri. Final: North Dakota 2, UW Hockey 1
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- There's something about North Dakota and coming from behind this season.
Chris Vande Velde's third-period, power-play goal lifted the sixth-ranked Fighting Sioux to a 2-1 victory over No. 19 Wisconsin on Friday and clinched the outright Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular season championship.
North Dakota rallied from a 1-0 deficit to push its unbeaten streak to eight games, and it used a strong second half to rally from the depths of the WCHA standings and emerge on top.
"We were sitting in ninth place and fighting for our season" in December, Sioux captain Ryan Duncan said. "To come back and win the regular season title, it's huge."
Vande Velde clinched it with his 14th goal of the season, a snap shot past Wisconsin goaltender Shane Connelly with 5:59 remaining in the third period. Matt Watkins' shorthanded goal late in the second erased the Badgers' lead.
North Dakota (22-11-4, 17-6-4 WCHA) was 6-5-1 in the WCHA at the holiday break. It has gone 11-1-3 in league play since, with Saturday's rematch with Wisconsin the only game left on the regular season schedule.
"It's a good accomplishment for the guys in that locker room," said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol, who won his first regular season title in five seasons leading the Sioux. "It speaks to a good level of character."
North Dakota earned its 14th WCHA regular season title and first since 2004. The Sioux will be presented with the MacNaughton Cup next weekend.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is limping toward the postseason, with four losses and a tie in its last five games.
Despite the loss, the Badgers (16-15-4, 13-11-3) clinched home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs thanks to losses Friday by Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State.
"I definitely think it gives us an extra little kick that we need at this point," said forward Ben Grotting, who scored Wisconsin's only goal.
Still, the Badgers are 2-7 at the Kohl Center since Jan. 1.
Watkins tied the game at 1-1 with 3:04 remaining in the second when he collected a turnover by Wisconsin's Jamie McBain and turned it into a breakaway.
"It's just one of those bounces you'd like to have back," McBain said.
Brad Eidsness stopped 22 of the 23 shots he faced for North Dakota, which will host last-place Michigan Tech in the first round of the league playoffs next weekend.
Shane Connelly made 21 saves for the Badgers, who can finish third, fourth or fifth in the league standings.
Grotting, who played right wing on two lines because the Badgers dressed an extra defenseman, scored as part of the fourth line in the first period to put Wisconsin ahead.
Matt Thurber tried to find Patrick Johnson with a pass from behind the net, but the puck instead went to Grotting, who fired a shot past Eidsness.
Wisconsin played without captain Blake Geoffrion, who was injured at Minnesota State last Saturday.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)