GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Going into the second game of their series with the Wisconsin Badgers, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux had more monkeys on their backs than a mother chimp.
Why wasn’t the power play clicking? Why had the top line of Ryan Bayda, David Lundbohm and Brandon Bochenski suddenly stopped scoring? Why were the Sioux losing so many crucial faceoffs? And what the heck was the deal with giving up all those shorthanded goals?
Saturday, North Dakota went 2-5 on the power play with freshman forward Bochenski netting both goals. Bayda chipped in two goals, including a key shorthander, and Lundbohm picked up three assists. While Sioux coach Dean Blais felt his players had improved greatly by winning about 60 percent of their faceoffs against Wisconsin, he was disappointed that they gave up their fourth short-handed goal in seven games.
To paraphrase singer Meat Loaf, Blais shouldn’t be sad, because three out of four ain’t bad.
There were some key personnel changes on both teams for the second game of the series. Despite an outstanding performance Friday night by junior goalie Scott Kabotoff, UW coach Jeff Sauer elected to go with freshman goalie Bernd Bruckler, who posted a shutout against Wayne State the previous weekend in his first start.
For the Sioux, after saying Friday night that he wouldn’t play against Wisconsin because of a hand injury, senior defenseman and assistant captain Aaron Schneekloth returned to the lineup, replacing junior defenseman Chris Leinweber.
“It was a huge factor,” Blais said after the game. “Aaron is go good defensively and he adds a spark offensively by moving the puck in the defensive zone. We miss him when he’s not in there.”
Although the Sioux split with Wisconsin after losing the first game of the series 3-2, the second game was far closer than the 6-4 score indicates. Only when junior forward Kevin Spiewak scored an empty-net goal with 41 seconds left in the game could Sioux fans breathe a sigh of relief.
UND jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Tim Skarperud and Bayda. Wisconsin went on the power play early in the second period, but Bayda scored his second goal of the game shorthanded at 5:50 on a breakaway to put UND up 3-0. At the 8:46 mark of the second period, Badger forward Rene Bourque kept the Badgers within two when he pounded in a rebound past Sioux goalie Andy Kollar off Kent Davyduke’s point-blank shot.
The Sioux took a three-goal lead once again on Bochenski’s first power-play goal at 13:32, with Lundbohm and Bayda picking up assists. UND was playing 5-on-3 after Matt Murray was called for roughing while a delayed call on Eric Jensen for interference was in effect.
Badger senior forward Matt Doman said that last season’s Wisconsin team might have folded at that point, but this team is different because of its veteran players and senior leadership.
“Nobody starts pointing fingers when things go wrong,” Doman said.
With about 40 seconds left in the second Wisconsin penalty, UND defenseman Andy Schneider lost the puck in the Sioux zone. Davyduke walked in all alone on Kollar and got a shot past the Sioux goalie that appeared to hit just inside the crossbar and bounce out. Fortunately for Wisconsin, Badger captain Andy Wheeler made sure it counted by stuffing in the rebound.
Just 36 seconds later, the 4-2 Sioux lead was cut to one goal when Brad Winchester blasted a slapshot from the faceoff dot through Kollar’s pads. UND regained it’s two-goal lead with 3:20 left in the second period on Bochenski’s second power-play goal.
After Badger defenseman Brian Fahey was called for playing without a helmet, Lundbohm spotted Bochenski at the side of the net. Although his shot was from a bad angle, it deflected off Bruckler’s pads and into the net.
The Sioux nursed their two-goal lead through most of the third period. Badger forward Erik Jensen put a shot on goal that Kollar stopped. Doman fired another shot at point-blank range that Kollar also stopped. Although it appeared that Kollar had frozen the puck between the pipe and his glove, Badger forward Matt Murray jammed it over the line. Suddenly, it was a 5-4 game and Wisconsin had the momentum.
But it was the last goal Kollar would give up and Bochenski’s second power-play goal would stand as the game winner.
With a faceoff deep in the Sioux zone, Sauer pulled Bruckler for an extra attacker with 1:10 left in the period. Wisconsin won the draw cleanly, but rather than shooting through traffic, Badger defenseman Dan Boeser fired his shot directly into Kollar, who saw it all the way.
After that scare, Blais put his top defensive line of Spiewak, Ryan Hale and Jason Notermann on the ice. There were two more faceoffs in the Sioux zone, but Hale and Notermann controlled them and made sure Wisconsin got no more good scoring opportunities. Spiewak put the final nail in the Badger coffin with his empty-net goal with 21 seconds left.
Blais was delighted that his top line returned to form and ended its scoring drought.
“Those are our go-to guys and they have to carry the brunt of the scoring until our freshmen get more comfortable in the league,” he said.
Of the Badgers, Blais said, “We didn’t make a lot of mistakes, but they sure capitalized when we did make one. They’re very opportunistic.”