MINNEAPOLIS — There’s a reason they play the games.
In a near-complete reversal of Friday night, Minnesota used a resurgent offense and improved defense to storm past visiting North Dakota, 5-1, Saturday at Mariucci Arena.
“I think it starts with number one,” said Gopher head coach Don Lucia, referring to netminder Adam Hauser. Hauser stopped 20 shots to anchor the Gopher win, one night after giving up four goals on 15 shots in a North Dakota victory.
Hauser had plenty of help, though. Winger Aaron Miskovich scored a shorthanded goal, added an assist and played a key role on defense, helping shut down North Dakota’s top line of Jeff Panzer, Ryan Bayda and Bryan Lundbohm.
“I told [Miskovich] at the end of the game that he was our MVP this weekend,” said Lucia.
The weekend split left the Sioux (15-5-4, 11-4-1 WCHA) in second place in the WCHA, one point behind St. Cloud, which swept Michigan Tech. The Gophers (15-6-2, 10-4-2 WCHA) are tied for third with Colorado College, one point behind UND.
“We played with a little more emotion,” said Lucia in the understatement of the evening. “I think the guys were embarrassed by our effort [Friday] night.”
North Dakota head coach Dean Blais concurred. “Minnesota came out more desperate than us,” Blais said.
Showing much more energy than in the series opener, the Gophers kept North Dakota without a shot on goal for the opening 10 minutes. That included a Sioux power play during which the only scoring chances were by Minnesota’s Miskovich and Stuart Senden.
Nevertheless, a repeat of Friday’s Sioux win seemed possible when North Dakota scored the first goal by piling traffic in front of the net. Tim Skarperud snuck past the Gopher defense and redirected Jason Notermann’s pass from behind the net, giving UND the 1-0 lead at 12:31.
That would be all the scoring in the first, as all four of the Sioux’s shots on goal came in a one-minute stretch. But after Minnesota finished killing a UND power play to start the second period, Troy Riddle put on a one-man show to tie the score. The rookie winger intercepted a cross-ice pass at the Gopher blue line and beat two defensemen to the net, deking Karl Goehring (30 saves) for an easy putaway, his 10th goal of the season.
That goal signaled the onset of traditional North Dakota-Minnesota hockey, as both offenses started using open ice to generate quality scoring chances.
That translated into another Gopher goal at 17:36, as Jeff Taffe — like Riddle freshly returned from the World Junior tournament — skated around a defender at the left circle and walked in front of the net, lifting a backhander over a pile of bodies for a 2-1 Minnesota lead.
UND’s Travis Roche took a frustration cross-checking penalty after Taffe’s goal, giving Minnesota its third power play. For the first time all weekend, the Gophers took advantage, using good puck movement to get John Pohl the puck behind the Sioux net. Pohl promptly hit Grant Potulny in front, and the rookie one-timed Pohl’s pass past Goehring to make it 3-1.
“It was huge at the end of the second period,” said Blais. “They score on a delayed penalty, then we take an undisciplined penalty.”
Minnesota never looked back. A stretch of four-on-four hockey produced the fourth Gopher goal; Nick Anthony’s backhander from the right circle rebounded to Miskovich, whose low shot bounced out to Leopold. Leopold made his chance count, roofing the puck far-side at 9:23 of the third.
A scrum in front of Hauser almost got UND back in the game, but Roche’s scoop went over the crossbar. Blais then pulled Goehring during a power play for a six-on-four, but Miskovich foiled that plan by gathering the puck at center ice and sending it into the empty net to make the score 5-1. The goal was Miskovich’s 10th career shorthander, tying him for first place on the Gophers’ all-time list.
Pushing and shoving in the final minute ended up costing both teams, as a sort-of fight between Miskovich and Notermann earned both players game disqualifications. Both will miss their teams’ next game.
“No comment,” Blais said when asked to assess the legitimacy of the DQs. “He [referee Don Adam] made the call and we live with those.”
Minnesota visits Wisconsin for a pair next Friday and Saturday, while North Dakota hosts Minnesota State-Mankato.