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TOM MILLER: UND proves margins were thin in college hockey this season

ST. PAUL—The University of North Dakota men's hockey season was put to bed Saturday night, March 17, at about 8:30 p.m., hours after the team beat Minnesota Duluth 4-1 in the NCHC third-place game.

Fighting Hawks fans, who started the day enjoying the pairing of St. Patrick's Day and the final day of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament at the Xcel Energy Center, were left to ponder how the 15-year NCAA tournament streak could end this year.

Many years, UND's resume and play in the conference tournament would have been sufficient for an NCAA tournament berth.

Had a couple of more chips fallen in the right direction, UND fans could have really joined the lucky leprechauns in partaking in the big Irish holiday.

Instead, they were searching for something to blame for UND missing out on the NCAA tournament.

With UND's 15 overtime games this season, the Fighting Hawks could have reversed fortunes with one lucky bounce in the extra session at any point throughout the year.

But in terms of what UND could really control through the course of a game, there's going to be one weekend that could eat at the team this offseason.

UND and its fans will have to recall a Friday night in Oxford, Ohio—the sobering moment of the 2017-18 season. That's what really finished this UND season before scoreboard watching and begging for help took place this weekend.

The game was almost a month ago, but its result loomed large on a night that could have been celebrated for UND's dominant effort against a good Minnesota Duluth team.

On Feb. 23, UND led Miami 3-0 and 3-1 entering the third period at Goggin Ice Arena.

The Redhawks not only completed the comeback in overtime, but to make matters worse, Miami was in last place in the NCHC, hadn't won in five games and hadn't scored in 240 minutes of play.

To put the collapse in perspective, UND hadn't blown a three-goal lead in 14 years.

Had UND held off Miami that weekend, the Fighting Hawks would be sitting at No. 11 in the Pairwise rankings and heading to a home environment in the NCAA tournament in Sioux Falls.

But rather than sitting in a comfortable position late in the season, UND needed help from around the country to further the team's season.

The perfect storm, however, didn't come to fruition for the Fighting Hawks, who are left to ponder what could have been.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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