HOUGHTON, Mich. — Michigan Tech entered Friday night’s game in ninth place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, but just four points behind last year’s national runner-up, North Dakota.
If the Huskies have any hopes of catching the Fighting Sioux, they’ll need a better effort than they gave in the series opener.
UND looked like anything but an eighth-place team, cruising to a convincing 5-1 win before 2,208 at MacInnes Arena. Tim Skarperud had a hat trick and an assist for the Sioux (11-13-2, 6-11-2 WCHA). Freshman Jake Brandt stopped 20 shots.
“I think we’ve had our ups and downs this season, but when we’ve kept our feet going we’ve had some success,” said Skarperud. “We’ve beaten some good teams and we’ve lost some games that we shouldn’t have. This team isn’t an eighth-place team. If we come out skating, we’re a lot better than an eighth-place team and we can do some damage.”
The Fighting Sioux now trail seventh-place Minnesota State-Mankato by only one point. The Mavericks are idle this weekend.
“The challenge is out there in the locker room,” Michigan Tech coach Mike Sertich. “If you don’t compete as an athlete, you’re missing an opportunity that you’re never going to get back. I guess that’s what irritates me is how you can play this game and not compete and battle. They sent us a message and whether or not we heard it is going to be another thing. If they didn’t hear it, they don’t want to hear it and that goes right along with competing.”
The Huskies were outshot by a 40-21 margin, including a 20-6 difference in the opening period.
“Mental, it’s all mental,” said Sertich. “They’re not bigger than us. I don’t believe they’re all faster than us. They executed very well. We didn’t. When you stand and watch in this game, it can look very one-sided.”
UND took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission thanks to Skarperud’s first of the night at 14:36. Shortly after a UND power play had ended, Ryan Bayda picked up a loose puck along the boards and hit Skarperud in the slot. The Great Lakes Invitational MVP beat freshman goaltender Cam Ellsworth high for his 10th goal of the season.
The Sioux made it 2-0 a mere 20 seconds in the second period. And, once again, it was UND’s top line that gave the Huskies problems. Brandon Bochenski cut to the net and received Bayda’s pass from the left corner, took a shot that was blocked by Ellsworth, but stuffed the rebound into the net.
“Bayda and Bochenski are great players,” said Skarperud of his wingers. “They know what to do with the puck when they have it. A lot of your success comes from the hard work of your linemates. All three of us were working hard and things were just clicking for us.”
UND took a commanding 3-0 lead when Skarperud tipped Andy Schneider’s shot from the point past Ellsworth for a power-play goal at the 8:02 mark.
The Huskies finally got on the board when Brett Engelhardt injected some much-needed energy into the lifeless crowd. Engelhardt turned around at the inside edge of the left circle and fired a shot off the inside of the near post and into the net for his fourth goal in the past three games. The WCHA Offensive Player of the Week now has eight points in three games and a team-leading total of 23 points on the season.
But the Sioux took the life out of the Huskies 1:03 into the third period when Kevin Spiewak came out of the penalty box and put a shot through Ellsworth’s five-hole to make it 4-1.
Skarperud completed the hat trick on a breakaway, beating Ellsworth with a shot to the blocker side with 4:51 remaining in the contest.
“The effort was there from a lot of people, but not everyone,” said Sertich. “We’ll change some players and we’ve got to keep working on that power play. We had good movement on it and we got up the ice with speed on it. The only thing we didn’t do well was finish it.”
Although their power play was functional, the Huskies (7-16-2, 3-12-2 WCHA) couldn’t capitalize on any of their six opportunities.
UND improved to 11-13-2 overall and 6-11-2 in the league.
“We’ve climbed the ladder with our performance the last two months,” North Dakota coach Dean Blais. “We’ve lost games, but we’ve gotten to be a pretty good hockey team. We’re getting better in a lot of different areas, especially power play and penalty kill.”
Despite having a comfortable lead, the Sioux showed their hunger by doing the little things all night. David Lundbohm dived across the neutral zone to break up a cross-ice pass and Brandt made two big saves late in the game. He made a diving poke-check after Tech’s Brad Patterson came in alone from the left side and then he scrambled way out from deep in the crease to stop Brad Sullivan’s slap shot.
“He’s got his head up and he knows the position,” said Blais of Brandt. “He plays the position and uses anticipation with it. And that’s something we haven’t seen in awhile. Jon Casey was probably our last goalie that knew the game as well as Jake does.”
Blais also added that newcomer Josh Siembida would get the call on Saturday night, noting that were was “some very healthy competition” between the two fellow freshmen.