GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The North Dakota Fighting Sioux turned in their best performance of the season, crushing the visiting Michigan Tech Huskies 12-2. Ironically, it was before the smallest crowd yet (10,115) to see the Sioux in action at the new Engelstad Arena.
Perhaps it was a case of North Dakota’s season of frustration finally boiling over. Consider this:
Combine all that with two heartbreaking losses to Minnesota at home the previous weekend, and something had to give. Unfortunately, for the Huskies, they were on the receiving end of an offensive explosion that saw nine different Sioux players score goals and 14 players pick up points. North Dakota’s freshmen scored five goals and had four assists.
“It was a good effort by everyone, not only by the guys who scored,” Blais said. “There was a lot of good movement. When the defenseman got the puck, the forwards got open. Finally the fans were treated to us coming out on top — for once.”
The star of the game was freshman James Massen, a 6-2, 218-pound forward from Bismarck, N.D., who grew up watching the Fighting Sioux. He scored three goals — including the game winner — and had an assist. Against the Huskies, he looked like the power forward he was expected to be at the season’s start.
“I’m not going to be one of the guys blazing down the wing and getting around the defense that way,” Massen said. “I have to use my size. I have to use body position and my power to wear them down.”
Massen scored his first goal at 15:12 in the first period while crashing the net with a Husky defenseman hanging on him. On his second goal — the game winner scored at 15:27 in the second period — he took junior forward Jason Notermann’s centering pass in the slot with a defender draped on him and somehow, while falling backward, got the puck under goalie Brian Rogers.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t even know how exactly it got in,” he said.
Even Massen’s assist was an impressive display of strength and determination. With 2:46 left in the second period, he drove hard to the net through a Michigan Tech defender and put a centering pass on the stick of sophomore forward Tyler Palmiscno, who slammed the puck home.
Massen got the hat trick and his fifth goal of the season on the power play with 17 seconds left in the game. When the rebound from a shot by senior defenseman Aaron Schneekloth came directly to him, he stuffed it into the wide-open net, triggering a shower of hats onto the ice.
“I’m kind of in shock right now,” Massen said. “To get a hat trick in our own building while wearing the Sioux jersey is an honor and a dream come true.”
It was a night when everything went right for the Sioux. North Dakota junior forward Tim Skarperud got the Sioux on the board first with a power-play goal at 5:03 of the opening period. The Huskies tied the game 1-1 when freshman defenseman Clay Wilson blasted a shot from the point past Kollar during a 5-on-3 power play.
But from then on, it was all North Dakota. The Sioux scored five unanswered goals in the first period, including a power-play goal by sophomore forward Ryan Hale that just beat the buzzer. Other goals in the period were scored by Massen, freshman forward Brandon Bochenski, junior forward Kevin Spiewak, and a second goal by Skarperud.
After giving up six goals on 13 shots in the first period, starting Michigan Tech goalie Cam Ellsworth was replaced by Rogers. Despite the change, North Dakota started the second period the same way it ended the first. Just 26 seconds in, Sioux junior forward Ryan Bayda roofed a shot over Rogers to give UND a 7-1 lead. The Sioux increased their lead in the second period 11-1 with goals by senior defenseman Aaron Schneekloth, Massen, freshman forward Chris Fournier and Palmiscno.
Michigan Tech scored its second goal at 13:51 of the third period. Sophomore forward Jon Pittis picked off a Sioux outlet pass, walked in on Kollar and fired a wrist shot that just caught the corner on the goalie’s glove side.
Kollar stopped 28 of Michigan Tech’s 30 shots on goal. Although most of those shots came late in the game after the Sioux had built a commanding lead, Kollar made some key saves. He credited his defense with quickly clearing his rebounds.
“The guys were probably scared to see me in net because I haven’t been in there for so long,” Kollar said with a smile. “They tightened up their game a little bit and played a solid game. It was fun to see. It felt like a big family out there. Everyone was doing their job and everyone was having fun. It was just a good game to play in.”