MINNEAPOLIS — Turnabout, it would seem, is fair play after all.
One night after North Dakota used a four-goal third period to stun Minnesota at Mariucci Arena, the Gophers returned the favor, erasing a 1-0 Sioux lead with two goals in the last eight minutes of regulation for a 2-1 win and a split of the weekend series.
Both Gopher tallies were scored by Jordan Leopold, who broke the school record for career goals by a defenseman with his second, at 18:26 of the third period. That goal, a one-timer from the high slot that beat UND goaltender Josh Siembida cleanly through the five-hole, sent the crowd and the homestanding Gophers into a frenzy.
“I just planted my feet,” said Leopold, who appeared to tie the Gopher record Saturday before a late scoring change gave the tally to Grant Potulny instead. “I didn’t think I’d score because I shot low and [Siembida] was covering that well all night.”
“What’s nice is that he broke the record on the game-winning goal with a minute and a half left,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “I don’t think you could have written it any better.”
The loss was hardly the fault of Siembida, who was sterling with 36 saves, and looked to again be the story of the game until Leopold’s late heroics stole the spotlight.
“Josh held us in it again,” said UND coach Dean Blais, whose team has searched all season for consistency in net.
“I think it’s safe to say they’ve found their starting goaltender, for the next three and a half years, probably,” Lucia agreed in evaluating the Sioux’s rookie netminder.
The Sioux started fast, perhaps carrying momentum from Saturday’s win. Tim Skarperud tested freshman netminder Travis Weber early and was turned away, but recovered to feed Brian Canady alongside the net. Canady, in turn, hit blueliner Nick Fuher in front for Fuher’s first collegiate goal at 4:35 of the first period.
That would do it for scoring in an evenly-played opening frame despite several good chances on both sides, including Keith Ballard’s redirection attempt for Minnesota that rattled around in the crease before Siembida gloved it six inches in front of the goal line.
The second was almost all Minnesota, which outshot North Dakota 20-9 for the period. The dominance started with a pair of power plays in the first several minutes, but the Gophers were unable to convert en route to an 0-for-5 night with the extra skater. For the weekend, Minnesota’s vaunted power play went 1-for-11, while UND fared even worse at 0-for-8.
Siembida made two spectacular saves midway through the second to keep Minnesota off the board, first diving across the ice to make a stick save on what looked like a sure goal by Troy Riddle, and then making a backhanded glove save on Paul Martin’s wrister on a rebound in front. A disbelieving Martin banged his stick on the ice in frustration as the score remained 1-0 UND eight minutes in.
It nearly became 2-0 moments later, as Rory McMahon — jumping right into the play as he left the penalty box — broke in one-on-one on Weber and rapped a wrister off the post. Weber then proved he could do it himself as well, denying Kevin Spiewak on a point-blank wrister in the final minute of the period.
The one-goal UND lead then turned out to be manageable for Minnesota.
“We told our guys after the second period just to stay with it,” said Lucia.
Early in the third, a turnover at neutral ice gave Spiewak another chance, but he also clanged his shot off the pipe and out at the 4:30 mark.
That set up Leopold for his first goal. Skating four-on-four, Riddle worked the puck to Leopold at the left point, and the All-American banged a slapshot off two UND defenders — one stick and one body — to beat Siembida high at 12:17.
Leopold’s goal energized Minnesota, which battled for chances for the next few minutes. That was until Potulny, skating behind the left side of the net, flipped a backhand pass to Leopold, who was cheating in from his defensive position.
Leopold blasted a slapshot from 20 feet through the legs of Siembida to break the record and put Minnesota up for the first time all evening.
“It took a while, three weeks or so,” said Leopold of a mild scoring drought he suffered after getting within one of the all-time mark. “So it’s kind of a monkey off my back.”
UND pulled Siembida at 19:04 for a six-on-five, but was unable to get a shot on goal as Minnesota denied entry to the offensive zone, then pushed play behind the net in the closing seconds.
Weber made 21 saves in the victory. For the contest, the Gophers outshot the Sioux 38-22.
Next week, both clubs continue WCHA play as Minnesota visits Wisconsin and North Dakota hosts Alaska-Anchorage for a pair. Both teams took positives out of this weekend’s series, with Lucia citing the importance of Sunday’s win and Blais praising his team’s performance in defeat.
“I’m not disappointed at all,” Blais said, before amending his sentiment. “Well, you’re always disappointed when you lose.”