GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The marketing slogan of North Dakota’s new Ralph Engelstad Arena is “New ice, same tradition,” but the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves decided to break with tradition this weekend by taking three of four points from North Dakota on the home team’s ice.
After snapping a 16-game, 18-year losing streak in Grand Forks with a 2-1 win Friday night, the Seawolves came from behind in Saturday’s game to earn a 4-4 tie.
Some traditions die hard, and this was one UAA was happy to bury.
“It was huge to come in here and take three out of four points,” said senior center Steve Cygan, who scored two goals a minute and a half apart to give the Seawolves a 2-0 lead with 4:35 gone in the first period. “We came in here expecting to win two games and we’re happy with the three points we got.”
Cygan’s first goal was of the highlight-reel variety. Flying into UND’s zone, he accelerated around the Sioux defense. While cutting toward the net, he used one arm to hold off a UND defenseman and the other arm to maintain control of the puck. When goalie Josh Siembida slid across the crease, Cygan slipped the puck under him.
“It seems like I always play my best hockey here,” Cygan said. “The big reason why is because they have such a good crowd and the crowd gets into it so much.”
Unlike Friday’s 2-1 defensive battle, Saturday’s game was full of early fireworks. Each team scored three goals in the first period and players scuffled after Sioux wing Ryan Bayda knocked down Seawolf goalie Kevin Reiter.
After Cygan’s goals, the Sioux came back to tie the game with power-play goals by freshman defenseman Andy Schneider and senior defenseman Aaron Schneekloth. But less than half a minute later, UAA junior wing Joe Garvin gave the Seawolves a 3-2 lead at the 9:52 mark when he slapped home a long rebound off Siembida.
UAA dug itself a hole by giving the Sioux a 5-on-3 power play that took UND only 12 seconds to cash in. Sioux defensemen Schneekloth and Schneider moved the puck between them while working their way toward the net. Schneekloth spotted forward Tim Skarperud at the side of the goal and put a pass on the tape that he rifled past Reiter.
The Seawolves began the second period on the power play. However, seconds after UND killed the penalty, Skarperud and Bayda broke into the UAA zone on a 2-on-1 rush. They played the give-and-go perfectly with Skarperud tipping in Bayda’s pass to for his second goal of the game. The Sioux went up 4-3 and had the lead for the first time just 1:07 into the second period.
In the third period, the Sioux continued to pressure the Seawolves and generate good scoring opportunities, and the most important save of the game came not from either goalie, but from UAA defenseman Corey Hessler. Sioux forward Jason Notermann fired a hard slapshot from the faceoff dot that trickled through Reiter’s pads. Just as the puck was about to cross the line, Hessler swooped in and skated it out of danger.
Although UND carried the play in the final period, it was the Seawolves who made the most of their opportunities. After Sioux freshman defenseman Matt Jones was called for slashing, Vladimir Novak fed Mike Scott a pass in the slot that he one-timed past Siembida at the 9:08 mark The 4-4 tie lasted through regulation.
In overtime, the best scoring opportunity came when Cygan used his speed to get behind the Sioux defense once again. Schneider hooked Cygan and dragged him down, putting UAA on the power play for the final 10 seconds. But that wasn’t enough time for the Seawolves to score, resulting in a tie.
Sioux coach Dean Blais said that although his team played better and with more intensity in the second game, he wasn’t satisfied with some of the execution and mistakes, particularly Jones’ third-period penalty.
“It was a freshman mistake. If you’re going to take penalties, you have to kill them off,” he said. “Certainly in a one-goal hockey game, you can’t take undisciplined penalties.”
Despite losing three of four points to a team the Sioux have traditionally dominated, Blais believes UND’s season is a long way from over.
“We’re not going to win the WCHA, obviously. We still feel that with 12 games remaining, we can get home ice in the playoffs,” he said “If we make as much improvement in the next month as we did in the month before that, we’re going to really give some teams fits in the playoffs.”