MINNEAPOLIS — Dean Blais himself wasn’t quite sure how it happened.
On the road before an announced crowd of 10,214, down 2-0 entering the third period against the nation’s third-ranked team, Blais’ North Dakota squad scored four straight goals to claim a 4-3 win over Minnesota Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.
Ryan Bayda scored the go-ahead goal (his team-best 10th) with less than five minutes left on a scramble alongside the Gopher net, sending the Sioux (10-9-1, 5-7-1 WCHA) to their fifth straight win and the shell-shocked Gophers (14-3-3, 6-3-2 WCHA) to defeat in a game they seemed to have under control. UND won despite being outshot in each period, and 37-22 for the game.
Freshman netminder Josh Siembida was the key for UND, making 34 saves — several of the sterling variety — to keep the Sioux within striking distance despite numerous scoring chances for Minnesota. The win was Siembida’s second in two games as a member of the Sioux, coming after his victory in the Great Lakes Invitational title game against Michigan State a week ago.
“Josh held us in there for the first two periods,” Blais said. “Especially on the power play, he was there. Even when he seemed to be screened, he found a way to make the save.”
Siembida’s performance showed up as a 1-for-6 night for the Gopher power play, which came into the evening converting at a 33 percent clip.
The win was Blais’ 200th as a head coach, and came against his alma mater to boot. The Sioux head man, however, was unfazed by that accomplishment.
“I didn’t even know it was 200, actually,” he said. “I’d have been just as happy for it to be against Michigan or Michigan State [at the GLI].”
The contest itself was a mirror image of the teams’ first meeting of the year, when Minnesota scored four goals in the third to erase a Sioux lead in the Hall of Fame game, the first ever at the new Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. Saturday, though, the freshman-heavy Sioux and their goaltender looked like seasoned veterans after getting down early.
“A two-goal lead is tough to protect,” said Blais. “And it’s not like Minnesota laid back. [Josh] was the story of the game.”
“95 percent of the time we defended very well, and it’s the other five percent that cost us the game,” said Gopher head coach Don Lucia. “Their goaltender gave them the opportunity, and to their credit they made the plays in the third period.”
Early on, though, it looked like Minnesota would kill the momentum North Dakota built over the holidays. Storming out of the locker room, Minnesota buzzed the Sioux net and took the lead before two minutes had elapsed. Defenseman Joey Martin hit Troy Riddle in stride at the blue line, and the sophomore winger beat the Sioux up the middle, then roofed the puck glove-side on Siembida at 1:57.
The first Minnesota power play extended the lead. With UND’s Matt Jones off for tripping, Grant Potulny dug the puck out from behind the net and hit John Pohl, who was standing in the left circle. Pohl’s cross-ice pass found Jeff Taffe alone at the right faceoff dot, and Taffe one-timed the puck home for his team-leading 17th goal of the year at 8:03 to make the score 2-0.
After that, however, Siembida hunkered down to keep UND within two. The freshman from Porcupine, Ont., stopped Jordan Leopold from the point early in the second, then blocked Taffe’s rebound stuff attempt.
Minutes later, the Sioux appeared to blow a golden opportunity when Minnesota killed a five-on-three that was set up by Matt DeMarchi’s hit from behind on Tyler Palmiscno, a penalty which could have been called a five-minute major.
Even so, the Gophers used the successful kill to motivate themselves for the rest of the second, which they dominated on the ice and on the shot chart — but not on the scoreboard, as Siembida stoned Matt Koalska twice late in the frame to keep the period scoreless.
That set up the Sioux for their third-period rally. At 2:19, Brian Canady’s goal off a two-on-one break with Ryan Connelly made it 2-1. The two freshmen played a perfect give-and-get on the play, leaving Canady with the entire net to shoot at.
Siembida came up big once more two minutes later, stoning Riddle on another breakaway attempt. His teammates responded by tying the game on a one-on-one of their own. Tim Skarperud’s outlet pass was the trigger, and James Massen beat the Gopher defense up the center, then deked netminder Adam Hauser and roofed a backhander at 9:27 to make it a new game.
Another Gopher power play passed without incident, despite good-looking chances for Riddle and Barry Tallackson, and UND outhustled Minnesota for the go-ahead goal at 15:44. Amidst a scramble below the goal line, Bayda found the puck loose in the crease and hammered it past Hauser, who was caught looking the other way on the play.
Minnesota pulled Hauser for the extra skater with just over a minute to go, but a turnover in the offensive zone gave the Sioux a three-on-one and Jason Notermann simply dumped the puck into the net from the blue line to make it 4-2.
The Gophers did score once more, as Grant Potulny redirected a Leopold slapshot from the right point on a six-on-five with three seconds left. The goal, which was originally credited to Leopold, would have tied him for the all-time lead among Minnesota defensemen.
It also had the rare effect of making Notermann’s empty-netter the game-winner.
With the win, the current Sioux senior class improved its career record against the Gophers to 9-3-3. North Dakota and Minnesota face off in the series finale Sunday night at Mariucci.