Commentary

Gerbe lifts Eagles past North Dakota, into title game for third straight year

Originally Published: April 10, 2008
By David Albright | ESPN.com

DENVER -- The third time wasn't a charm.

Not for North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. Or for the Fighting Sioux players. Or for the thousands of green-clad NoDak Nation fans who invaded the Pepsi Center on Thursday afternoon.

For the third year in a row, North Dakota's season ended in a national semifinal game at the hands of Boston College.

And this one was ugly. Try 6-1 ugly.

It wasn't building-friendly. It wasn't TV-friendly. But it certainly was BC-friendly.

The Eagles jumped out to a commanding 4-0 first-period lead and never looked back, which shouldn't have been a surprise.

Since a 6-4 loss in Grand Forks back on Oct. 17, 2003, Boston College is now 89-0-1 when scoring at least four goals -- including 23-0 this season.

But the early barrage was a surprise to the Sioux, who had allowed one goal or less in 16 of their last 23 games. And it was a surprise because North Dakota came into the game leading the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 1.76 goals per game.

"I thought we were fine," Hakstol said about his team's play through most of the first period. "I liked the energy that we had played with. The turning point, if you want to call it that, was the fourth goal. That made it a pretty tough hill to climb for us."

The last score of the opening period came with just 19 seconds left to play, when Dan Bertram took a pass from Pat Gannon and snapped a wrister that beat Jean-Philippe Lamoureux under his right arm.

[+] EnlargeNathan Gerbe
AP Photo/Evan SemonNathan Gerbe tallied just his second hat trick of the season in the 6-1 semifinal win.

The Eagles opened the scoring when UND defenseman Chay Genoway fanned on a one-timer from the right point and BC's Kyle Kucharski picked up the present and skated down the left side with Joe Finley in pursuit. Kucharski waited for the right moment and then passed the puck across the slot to a waiting Andrew Orpik, who beat Lamoureux for the 1-0 lead.

It was a sign of things to come.

There were a lot of odd-man rushes for the transition-happy Eagles, and they made the Sioux pay.

Nathan Gerbe, in particular, made NoDak pay … and pay … and pay.

The junior left wing and Hobey Baker finalist registered his second hat trick of the season. And just to make it interesting, he mixed up the results by tallying a shorthanded, an even-strength and a power-play goal.

And for good measure, Gerbe recorded an assist on Ben Smith's second-period goal that made it 6-0.

For the season, Gerbe now has 33 goals and 31 assists, and in four career games vs. North Dakota, Gerbe owns six goals and three assists.

"I thought we did just a lot of meat and potatoes hockey tonight," BC coach Jerry York said. "Finishing checks, moving pucks … we certainly aren't trying to re-invent the wheel here at BC. There's no trickery with our club.

"You win with great players and we have a whole bunch of them at BC. But it was fun to watch Nathan work a little magic tonight."

Gerbe's most magical goal produced the hat trick and a 5-0 lead. He carried the puck behind the North Dakota net from one end to the other, and when no one picked him up he circled back and roofed a shot over a fallen Lamoureux.

With the game well in hand at that point, the Eagles continued to play their game and were clearly the more physical team for most of the night.

"A lot was made of that they were bigger than us, that they were stronger than us," BC captain Mike Brennan said. "Guys don't read into that at all. It doesn't matter how big you are, it's how hungry you want to be. That's the staple of our team right now, it's hard work."

[+] EnlargeRobbie Bina and Rylan Kaip
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiRobbie Bina and the Sioux are sent home a game too early for the third straight year.

Simply put, BC out-Siouxed the Sioux. The boys from Grand Forks looked tentative a lot of the night and had trouble controlling the puck and doing the things that got them to a fourth straight Frozen Four.

It didn't help that North Dakota also went 0-for-8 on the power play.

Before the game got out of hand, the Sioux almost tied the game at 1-1 midway through the first period. Genoway fired a wrister from the right point that rattled off the post and many of the 18,543 in attendance thought it was a goal.

Three minutes later Gerbe scored the shorty to make it 2-0 and the Eagles were on their way.

"That shot that hit the post on the power play … who knows if that goes in," North Dakota's Ryan Duncan said. "But it's neither here nor there because there was a lot of game after that, but it didn't turn out the way we wanted."

Believe it or not, that was the story Gerbe's season down the stretch.

In an eight-game span from Feb. 11 to March 7, Gerbe scored one goal and had two assists and BC went 2-5-1. In his last eight games, the Buffalo Sabres draft pick has 10 goals and eight assists and the Eagles are riding an eight-game win streak.

"I went through a tough stretch and that's when you have to look in the mirror and see if you're being an honest player," Gerbe said. "The coaches did a great job of keeping me in check and trying not to cheat the game and play hard and play smart and it would come to you. And I think that's what's happening now."

The win moves BC (24-11-8) into Saturday night's national title game (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) for the third consecutive season. The last two years the Eagles have come out on the short end against Wisconsin and Michigan State, respectively.

Now the question is whether the third time will be a charm for BC.

David Albright is the senior deputy editor for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.

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