GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Perhaps it was an omen.
Just before the start of Maine’s 5-1 win over North Dakota, Fighting Sioux head coach Dean Blais was presented with a new fishing boat in appreciation for the two national championships and the four WCHA conference titles that he’s helped the university win.
The Zamboni towing the boat had difficulty getting it off the ice, delaying the game’s start a few minutes. Blais might have wished that the boat stayed on the ice to help cope with the flood of pucks the Black Bears shot past Sioux goalie Andy Kollar. Just over 12 minutes into the first period, Maine lit up Kollar four times on nine shots.
After that, the Black Bears let senior goalie Mike Morrison take over. He stopped 46 of 47 shots as UND outshot Maine 35-5 in the second and third periods. Morrison never lost his composure as the frustrated Sioux shot high, shot low, shot through screens and whacked away at the few rebounds he gave up. He also robbed Sioux forwards Ryan Bayda and Brian Canady on breakaways.
“It was frustrating,” UND forward Kevin Spiewak said of Morrison. “We had some point-blank shots that with any other goalie…probably would have gone in. He was just on his game.”
Maine forward Colin Shields started the scoring three minutes in when he took a feed from Todd Jackson near the faceoff dot and blasted a slapper by Kollar on his stick side. Just 12 seconds later, Martin Kariya won a faceoff in the Sioux zone cleanly and defenseman Prestin Ryan one-timed a laser shot over Kollar’s shoulder.
With the Sioux on the power play and an opportunity to get back into the game, they gave up their third shorthanded goal in five games at 7:17.
Tenacious forechecking forced a turnover in the Sioux zone. From the corner, Prestin Ryan fed a perfect pass to Robert Liscak who tipped it into the open net on Kollar’s right side.
Maine’s fourth and final goal of the period came when forward Niki Dimitrakos spotted defenseman Francis Nault all alone in the slot. Nault’s high wrist shot beat Kollar cleanly. Down 4-0 with less than eight minutes left in the period, Blais pulled Kollar and replaced him with freshman Jake Brandt.
Of Kollar’s performance, Blais later explained, “Andy got hit with a puck today at practice. I thought he was going to be okay but it was a real hard shot. I probably shouldn’t have played him. His performance is probably my fault more than his. Sometimes psychologically and mentally, those things affect you.”
Looking for some of the Engelstad Arena magic they had Friday night, the Fighting Sioux stormed out in the second period and tested Morrison nearly every way possible, outshooting Maine 23-4.
It looked as if the momentum would switch when UND forward Jason Notermann took defenseman Chad Mazurak’s outlet pass and streaked down the wing into the Maine zone. He cruised behind the net, faked a wrap-around, got Morrison down and roofed a wrister over the prone goalie at 7:42.
But it would be the only goal for the Sioux as Morrison continued his outstanding performance. Maine forward Colin Shields crushed any hope of a Sioux rally when he canceled out Notermann’s goal with an unassisted power-play goal 14:32. His slapshot just inside the blue line trickled through Brandt’s pads and across the line.
The third period saw the Sioux continue to apply pressure, but to no avail. Even though UND outshot Maine 12 to 1 in the final period, they couldn’t find a way to beat Morrison.
The Black Bear goalie described the game from his perspective.
“I think that was their game plan, shooting a lot of shots from the point and trying to get traffic in front of me. I had to stand at the top of my crease on as many shots as I could and not get too nervous getting far out of my net. That’s what I tried to do. Some just hit me and some I just made the save on. Definitely, luck was on my side.”
Summarizing the game, Maine coach Tim Whitehead said, “It was a good first period, obviously. We got a little sloppy in the second. In the third, although we didn’t generate many shots, I thought we played well.”
Blais was philosophical about the loss.
“We’re 2-0 in the WCHA,” he said, “and that’s what counts. We’re going to get more out of this 5-1 loss than we’d get out of beating a lesser team 5-1. We want to play tough competition and definitely Maine is always one of the tough teams.”
“The score was a little deceptive,” Whitehead said. “We just feel fortunate to get out of North Dakota with any points because I know that’s rare.”