GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Before the season, North Dakota coach Dean Blais said senior forwards Kevin Spiewak and Jason Notermann were expected to score more goals than last year.
Friday night in North Dakota’s home opener against the Niagara Purple Eagles, they didn’t disappoint him.
With the Eagles leading 2-0 early in the second period and on their third consecutive power play, each player scored a shorthanded goal just 14 seconds apart to tie the game, a momentum shift which presaged a 6-4 UND victory.
At 4:17, tenacious forechecking by Notermann enabled him to steal the puck and send Spiewak in alone on Niagara freshman goalie Jeff VanNyatten. He made the first save on a point-blank shot, but couldn’t stop Spiewak from jamming in the rebound. At 4:31, Notermann forced the Eagles to cough up the puck and once again walked in alone on VanNyatten, this time scoring through the five hole.
“That’s the turning point right there,” said Sioux assistant coach Dave Hakstol. “You look to your veterans and those are two of our leaders. They did the talking in the locker room and then they came out and produced on the ice.”
Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder agreed that after his team played well in the first period, the two shorthanded goals were backbreakers.
“That was the difference in the game,” he said.
Early on, Niagara gave the Sioux all they could handle. The Eagles got on the board first when junior wing Chris Welch, left alone near the top of the left circle, one-timed a feed from Joe Tallari past Sioux sophomore goalie Jake Brandt just 2:18 into the game.
Tallari, a junior forward who had two goals and two assists on the night, scored on the power play at 17:55 of the first period. Brandt did the splits and got his pad on Tallari’s five-hole wrist shot from the top of the crease, but the puck had just enough momentum to sneak across the line.
Following North Dakota’s two shorthanders in the second period, Niagara stormed back on the same power play to take a 3-2 lead at 5:12. Brandt deflected Tallari’s blast from outside the left faceoff circle high into the air, then lost track of the puck. Opportunistic Niagara center Barrett Ehgoetz batted the puck down and into the net.
Sioux sophomore forward Brandon Bochenski scored his first goal of the game and third of the season at 15:57 to tie it up 3-3 at the end of the second period. Breaking into the Niagara zone two-on-two, Bochenski and freshman center Zach Parise played a give-and-go that culminated with Bochenski tipping in Parise’s pass.
At 7:34 of the third period, Bochenski put the Sioux ahead 4-3 with a laser blast from near the left faceoff dot that beat VanNyatten short side just under the crossbar.
“That shot was a rocket. Nobody’s going to stop that,” Hakstol said. “We’ve seen that before out of him. Brandon’s a natural goal-scorer.”
Parise nearly became the goat when, near the end of a Sioux power play, he attempted to dangle the puck just inside the Niagara zone. Tallari stripped it from him, went in alone on Brandt and five-holed the North Dakota goalie to tie the game 4-4 with just under 10 minutes left.
The Sioux responded at 12:58 with Spiewak’s game-winning second goal. Niagara couldn’t get a line change as North Dakota kept the Eagles pinned in their own end. Junior forward David Lundbohm’s centering pass found Spiewak alone in front of VanNyatten and he buried the opportunity, putting the Sioux ahead for good 5-4.
Hats littered the ice at 16:34 when Bochenski and Parise teamed up for his third goal of the night. On a two-on-one break, Parise faked the shot, and then feathered a pass across to Bochenski, who put the puck in a wide-open net.
Niagara had just 14 shots on goal to North Dakota’s 32, the third consecutive game in which the Sioux have held an opponent under 20 shots. Also, the Sioux have scored four shorthanded goals in their first three games of the season.
“Last year, when we were down 2-0, we folded the tent,” said Spiewak, a Sioux assistant captain. “This year, we have guys in the locker room who come to play no matter what the score is. We have that confidence that we’re going to come back and win the game.”
Burkholder agreed with Spiewak’s assessment.
“Their best players played very well. When they needed a goal, they executed and scored some big-time goals,” he said. “That must have been pretty to watch as a fan. It certainly wasn’t pretty from my vantage point.”
Despite giving up a two-goal lead, Burkholder found some bright spots, notably in the team’s power play, defensive play and the performances of VanNyatten and Tallari.
“I’m very encouraged by him,” Burkholder said of his freshman goaltender. “He’s going to be a good goalie for a long time.”
Of Tallari, he said, “Every time he’s on the ice, he’s dangerous. He’s turning into the one of the premier players in the country. You give him space down a lane, he’s going to score goals.”
Niagara and North Dakota play the second game of the series at 7:05 p.m. Saturday night in the Engelstad Arena.