GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The Denver Pioneers scored two goals 33 seconds apart in the third period to take a 4-1 victory from North Dakota in the first game of the WCHA best-of-three series.
“A lot of things went well for us tonight,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. “We got the first goal on a very fortunate bounce. We were able to build on a lead. We got excellent goaltending from Adam Berkhoel. And that was probably the best third period we’ve played in quite a while.”
Goaltending problems continued to plague the Sioux as starting goalie Marc Ranfranz gave up two goals on five shots and Jake Brandt, who replaced him at 13:28 of the first period, surrendered two goals on 10 shots.
Anemic offense didn’t help UND’s cause. The Pioneers smothered North Dakota’s top line, featuring the high-scoring duo of Zach Parise and Brandon Bochenski, who have combined for 57 goals and 114 points. However, for the third time this season, Denver held the line without a goal.
The Pioneers scored first with a power play goal at 3:22 of the opening period. Freshman defenseman Brent Skinner’s backhand from the point eluded Ranfranz and found its way into the net.
“I kind of got walled off,” Skinner said. “I had the puck on my backhand and fired it on net. You just hope for the best when that happens.”
Then at 13:28 of the first, Skinner passed back against the grain to sophomore forward Luke Fulghum, who fired a quick wrist shot over Ranfranz’s shoulder from the top of the right circle.
“With two bad goals in playoff hockey, you’re usually not going to win,” said UND coach Dean Blais. “It puts more pressure on everyone. You’re not relaxed to make plays.”
In the second period, the Sioux closed the gap to 2-1 with junior center David Lundbohm’s 14th goal of the season. Kevin Spiewak’s centering pass from behind the net found Lundbohm alone in the slot and he buried his shot.
Although UND outshot Denver, 7-4, in the second period and had better scoring opportunities, the Sioux couldn’t beat Berkhoel, a trend that continued for the remainder of the game.
The third period began with both teams knowing that the next goal might determine the game’s outcome. In a three-on-two rush, the Sioux lost the puck in a tangle of skates and sticks in front of UND’s goal. Pioneer junior wing Lukas Dora found it and slammed it past Brandt to put Denver up 3-1 at 14:08.
Just 33 seconds later, Kevin Doell, Denver’s leading scorer, split the Sioux defense and roofed a shot over Brandt. His unassisted goal gave the Pioneers an insurmountable 4-1 lead.
UND’s frustration boiled over at game’s end when Sioux freshman forward Mike Prpich was given a five-minute major and game disqualification for cross-checking a Pioneer player.
“Like coach said after the game, we didn’t play real smart,” said Sioux captain Ryan Hale. “We worked hard, but we just didn’t make plays.”
The Pioneers were more than satisfied with the victory in Grand Forks.
“It was a good win for us,” Gwozdecky said. “I expect an even harder battle tomorrow night out of both teams.”
Hale expects that, too.
“Everybody knows in the back of their minds that if we lose, the season’s over. We have to look at it that way,” he said.
The Pioneers and the Sioux meet at 7:05 p.m. Saturday night at Engelstad Arena for the second game of the series.