MINNEAPOLIS — If it was the Battle of the Rookie Phenoms, Zach Parise took a substantial edge in Round One.
North Dakota’s freshman sensation scored a goal and added two assists, fellow rookie Mike Prpich tallied two goals and the Sioux — who went down twice early on — shut down Thomas Vanek and the rest of Minnesota’s offense, scoring three unanswered goals on the way to a 4-2 victory Friday.
The victory extended North Dakota’s unbeaten streak to a school-record 16 games. The Sioux’s last loss came on Nov. 8 against St. Cloud State.
“We’ve found a lot of ways to win,” said UND head coach Dean Blais. “This team’s got a lot of character.”
“It was a tough game played in both ends,” said Parise.
As it has been most of the season, North Dakota (19-1-3, 9-1-3 WCHA) was very solid, though not spectacular, at both ends of the ice. The Sioux shut off Minnesota’s passing lanes while applying pressure toward the Gopher net, and took territorial control early in the second period. The result on the scoresheet was familiar to UND fans as the Sioux outshot Minnesota 38-26.
North Dakota also blocked an armload of Gopher shot attempts as Minnesota’s forwards were for the most part unable to get around the Sioux defensemen, attempting instead to make the more difficult pass or the risky move to get clear.
“They played tight gaps, and their defensemen are big and strong,” said Gopher head coach Don Lucia. “They do a good job blocking shots, and I thought at times we were a little too cute.”
The Gophers (11-6-5, 6-4-3 WCHA) started out on the right foot. Three minutes in, Barry Tallackson put a slapshot on North Dakota netminder Jake Brandt from the right point that Brandt lost in his skates, clearing it just before Gino Guyer — like Tallackson and Parise, freshly returned from the World Junior Championships — could close the gap.
An interference call against North Dakota’s Matt Greene put Minnesota on its first power play, and it took the Gophers just 20 seconds to convert. Paul Martin got the puck to Tyler Hirsch — newly promoted to the first line and the first power-play unit — down low, and the freshman winger faked a pass, then wristed it five-hole on a surprised Brandt at 4:46.
The Sioux returned the favor moments later after a crosschecking call on Paul Martin. On the power play, James Massen, left alone in front, tipped David Lundbohm’s centering pass at Travis Weber. Weber made the initial save, but Parise put back the rebound from the edge of the crease at 8:10 for his 14th goal of the season.
The Mariucci crowd’s displeasure with the native of Faribault, Minn., was immediate, as boos rang down from all sides, except, of course, for the sizable Sioux contingent.
“I didn’t notice [the boos], and I don’t think he did either,” Blais deadpanned. “I cheered him.”
“They cheered when I got a penalty,” Parise observed with good humor.
Parise nearly untied it at the 11-minute mark, one-timing a shot into Weber’s chest. Next, a scrum between Minnesota’s Joey Martin and Parise turned into a Gopher power play when Greene got whistled for coming in late to give Martin a whack. UND killed that penalty handily, but Blais was unhappy regardless.
“I talked to [Greene],” Blais said. “He was trying to protect Parise, but Zach was fine, and there was nothing going on there.”
After the Gophers failed to convert another power play immediately after the Green penalty expired, Keith Ballard’s slapshot from the point missed the net completely, but bounced straight off the back boards to Chris Harrington. The freshman defenseman easily tapped in his fourth goal of the year at 1:20.
But for Minnesota, that was just about it for the offense.
UND’s Jason Notermann and Brandon Bochenski teamed up for a two-on-one minutes after Harrington’s goal, but Bochenski’s wrister went wide of the net. Then, on the power play midway through the period, Kevin Spiewak’s wrister was too high with Weber down in front.
At 13:24, UND tied it up again. Carrying the puck in, Rory McMahon gained the zone up the middle. His pass attempt bounced off a skate and rolled free to Prpich at the right faceoff dot. Prpich wheeled and fired a shot that got over Weber’s inside shoulder to make the score 2-2.
“Luckily, I beat him up high,” said Prpich.
Another odd bounce helped account for the Sioux’s third goal. A home-run pass by Parise found Bochenski at the blue line. The nation’s leading goal-scorer was harried by Ballard, but dropped the puck for Spiewak, whose backhander hit a kneeling Weber, bounced high, landed behind the netminder and rolled across the goal line.
Spiewak’s goal finished off a period in which North Dakota outshot Minnesota by a margin of 14-3, including no fewer than five grade-A scoring chances for the Sioux.
UND carried that pressure into the third period, but the Gophers turned up the heat midway through the frame, spending substantial time in front of Brandt, though to no avail.
The Gophers’ best scoring chances came with just over two minutes left in the third, but Brandt came up with the stops. First it was a Ballard slapshot that Brandt knocked aside, and then a rebound attempt off the stick of Jerrid Reinholz hit Brandt in the mask.
The Sioux put on the finishing touches in the final minute. After a misplay behind the net by Weber, Parise centered the puck to Prpich, who scored his second goal of the game to secure the win.
“Last year, we would have lost this game,” said Blais, whose team has matured dramatically after a difficult 2001-02 season. “And many more.”
North Dakota and Minnesota face off in the series finale Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.