GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Will the real Fighting Sioux please show up?
With a 2-0 win over the Wisconsin Badgers at Engelstad Arena, North Dakota proved that it doesn’t need center Zach Parise to do much scoring to win. A single goal from the freshman phenom was all it took as netminder Jake Brandt shut out the Badgers by stopping 22 shots. It was his second consecutive shutout performance and third this year.
Parise’s game-winning goal came at the 10:27 mark of the second period. Defenseman Andy Schneider’s low wrist shot from near the blue line pin-balled it’s way through players before Parise deflected it between Badger goalie Bernd Bruckler’s legs.
“It changed direction a couple of times,” said Bruckler, who got the loss despite stopping 30 of 31 shots. “I can pick up one deflection, as I did a couple of other times, but if it bounces a couple of times right in front of me, that’s tough.”
The Sioux iced the win after Bruckler was pulled in the final minute of play. Sophomore forward James Massen caught up in the Badger zone with center David Lundbohm’s long pass from the Sioux blue line. He calmly shoved the puck in the empty Badger net with seven seconds left in the game.
Early in the season, North Dakota averaged five goals a game as Parise accumulated points at an astounding rate. The Sioux offense has slowed down since the team began its WCHA schedule, but the defense and Brandt have stepped have stepped up their play
In their last four games, the Sioux (10-1-0, 4-1-0 WCHA) have scored just 10 goals, but have given up an average of only one goal per game.
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said UND’s team defense was difficult for the Badgers to solve.
“North Dakota did a good job of getting in the shooting lanes,” he said. “They blocked a lot of passes. We tried to hammer it through them and they blocked a lot of shots. They’re really strong on their skates.”
Brandt credits the Sioux defensive corps for much of his recent success.
“We have exceptional defensemen. We knew that coming in,” he said. “They’re holding the blue line extremely well. They’re not letting anyone come in easily.”
The Badgers (5-6-0, 1-4-0 WCHA) feature five freshman forwards and face scoring problems of their own.
“We didn’t take what was given,” Eaves said. “We didn’t have enough poise and confidence to — once they (defenders) went down — fake the shot and dish it off to someone else who was in a better position.”
Brandt opened the season with a shutout against Canisius. That was followed by shaky performances against St. Cloud and Niagara that got him benched. But after posting back-to-back shutouts against Alaska-Anchorage and Wisconsin, UND coach Dean Blais is pleased with Brandt’s progress.
“He’s seeing the puck so well. Mainly, he’s concentrating and focusing. Even when there’s a guy in front of him, he’s moving so he can see the puck all the way,” Blais said.
For his part, Parise says he’s not worried about the Sioux scoring slump.
“Eventually, they’re going to start going in,” he says. “We’re not getting frustrated with anything. There’s going to be a game where all our posts go in and our pucks land flat. That’s going to be a fun night.
“I’m still just going along, having fun. No pressure at all,” Parise said. “We’re still winning. We’re still getting the two points and that’s what we’re most concerned with.”
North Dakota and Wisconsin play the second game of their series at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Engelstad Arena.