GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Despite what statistics might imply, North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux are anything but average.
“When you look at our goals for and our goals against, it’s almost even,” said UND coach Dean Blais. “It indicates that we should be a .500 team. And yet, our record is pretty amazing.”
After completing a sweep of the St. Cloud State Huskies with a 5-4 victory Saturday at Ralph Engelstad Arena, UND improved to 14-1-1 overall and 8-1-1 in the WCHA. Half of the team’s wins have been by one-goal margins.
After falling behind 2-0 in the first period on goals by SCSU wing Joe Motzko and defenseman T.J. McElroy, UND answered with goals by forwards Brandon Bochenski and Kevin Spiewak.
“Even when we’ve been down by one, two or three goals, it never comes across our mind that we’re going to lose the game,” said Sioux freshman center Zach Parise. “We have a lot of confidence right now.”
Entering the second period tied 2-2, there was a profusion of penalties with eight whistled on the Huskies and six on the Sioux.
“There were six 5-on-3s or 4-on-3s,” said SCSU coach Craig Dahl. After a long pause, he added, “In 23 years, I never saw that.”
Each team came out of the period with a power-play goal. SCSU’s was scored 4-on-3 at the 2:29 mark by Joe Cullen and UND’s was at 17:45 by Bochenski, who netted his 16th goal of the year.
With the game knotted 3-3 at the start of the third period, the Sioux scored twice more on the power play to build a 5-3 lead. Parise gave UND the lead for good at 5:51 when defenseman Andy Schneider’s shot from the blue line went wide and ricocheted off the boards back to him. He backhanded the puck into a wide-open net.
Huskies defenseman Colin Peters’ tripping penalty at 6:12 proved costly to SCSU. With goalie Jake Moreland behind the goal to play the puck, Peters pulled Sioux forward Ryan Connelly’s skates out from under him, sending him crashing into Moreland, who left the game with a knee injury.
Less than two minutes after freshman Jason Montgomery replaced Moreland, Sioux defenseman Nick Fuher lofted a wrist shot on goal from the top of the right faceoff circle that went in. With 12:02 left in the game, North Dakota had its third power-play goal of the night and a two-goal lead.
The Huskies, however, weren’t done. At 11:19, SCSU freshman center Jonathan Lehun scored a power-play goal to make it a 5-4 game. With a minute left, the Huskies went back on the power play. Parise was called for illegal contact with Montgomery, who had come far out of the net to play a puck the Sioux center was chasing down.
Despite SCSU pulling the goalie in the game’s final minute for a 6-on-4 advantage, UND held on for another one-goal win.
“That’s the character on our team. No one panicked,” said Sioux sophomore goalie Josh Siembida. “We regained our composure quickly. I’ve never been on a team like this. Everybody is so relaxed. They know what they have to do and they do it.”
Despite being swept, Dahl said the Huskies made progress.
“What I saw this weekend was a major step forward for our team from what I’ve seen in previous weeks,” he said. “Sometimes close isn’t good enough to win, but it does a lot for you as far as giving your team an idea of how to play the game. And it gives you confidence that you can play with anybody.”
After eight straight home games against WCHA opponents, Blais is pleased with UND’s 7-0-1 record (9-0-1 overall at home).
“We took care of business through this home stand. That’s pretty amazing, considering the teams that we beat we had trouble with last year,” he said. “St. Cloud just whipped up on us down there last year and it was no contest. We got three out of four wins against them.
“There’s no comparison between this year and last year,” Blais added. “Last year, we had 10 freshmen. Now we have 10 sophomores. I think we have a different attitude and a better chemistry. There’s better chemistry in the locker room. You can feel it when you go in there. It’s just a different team with new characters.”
Next weekend, the Sioux are at home for a nonconference series against Canisius. SCSU will play the Denver Pioneers at home.