GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The North Dakota Fighting Sioux and the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs picked up right where they left off last season with a knockdown, drag-out fight — literally.
But unlike last season when the Sioux went 0-2-1 against the Bulldogs, UND came from behind — scoring two goals in the third period — for a 3-2 victory in the season opener for both teams. Although UND and Duluth play in the WCHA, the annual U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game at Engelstad Arena counts as a nonconference game.
Two freshmen, both former Shattuck-St. Mary’s players, led the way for the Sioux. Seventeen-year-old forward Drew Stafford broke a 2-2 tie at 16:17 of the third period to give UND a lead it would never relinquish.
Freshman goalie Jordan Parise, the older brother of Sioux sophomore center Zach Parise, stopped 20 of the 22 shots he faced and made several key saves for UND, including a 2-on-0 breakaway in the second period.
“He made two (saves) right away at the start of the game,” said UND coach Dean Blais. “That kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win. Jordan was the difference.”
Starting his first game for UND in front of a crowd of more than 10,000, Parise admitted to being distracted.
“I was very overwhelmed with all the people, the lights and everything that was going on in the game,” he said. “Coming from the USHL, we don’t play in front of a crowd this size. This is just a complete change.”
Ironically, he said stopping the Duluth breakaway early in the second period helped him regain his focus.
Duluth got on the board first with a shorthanded goal by sophomore center Tim Stapleton at 4:56 of the first period. When Sioux defenseman Matt Jones fanned on a shot from the point, Stapleton picked up the loose puck, outraced a winded Zach Parise and beat brother Jordan for an unassisted goal that put the Bulldogs up 1-0.
UND tied it 1-1 at 12:41 of the first when center Colby Genoway hit defenseman Nick Fuher with a pass in the slot. Fuher got just enough on his shot to slide the puck past Duluth goalie Isaac Reichmuth.
“Colby made a great pass from behind the net. I just got a little piece of it and tried to put it on net. Fortunately, it went in,” Fuher said.
The second period saw no scoring, but a plethora of penalties handed out to both teams for roughing and fighting.
A melee erupted at the 9:16 mark that sent two players from each team to the penalty box with double minors for roughing. At 13:43, Duluth’s Marco Peluso and UND’s Mike Prpich dropped the gloves and went at it. Both players received fighting majors and game disqualifications.
“It was a tough, physical battle, which I expected,” said Duluth coach Scott Sandelin. “There was a lot of intensity that probably goes back to last year.”
In the third period, the Bulldogs and Sioux got back to the business of playing hockey. Senior right wing Junior Lessard scored on the power play at 4:15 to give Duluth a 2-1 lead. Left alone in the right circle, Lessard one-timed a feed from defenseman Ryan Geris past Parise.
At 6:33, the Sioux tied the game 2-2 when freshman forward Brady Murray, another SSM product, sent center Zach Parise and junior forward Brandon Bochenski in two-on-one. Parise feathered a pass to Bochenski that he tipped into a wide-open net.
Stafford’s game-winner at 16:17 came on a behind-the-net pass from junior forward Quinn Fylling. The freshman buried the opportunity, beating Reichmuth through the five hole.
“I’ve been told that I’m more of a power forward,” said the 6-2, 200-pound Stafford. “I play best below the dots.”
The Bulldogs pulled their goalie for the final 40 seconds, but couldn’t generate a quality scoring opportunity.
“We were in position to win the game, but just got a little bit sloppy defensively,” Sandelin said.
The Sioux outshot the Bulldogs 34-22. Duluth was 1-6 on the power play while UND went 0-7.
If this game is any indication, the four regular season WCHA games between the Sioux and Bulldogs should be dogfights down to the wire. The last four games between the teams ended in ties or were decided by one goal.
“I would assume that it’s going to be that way all year long. Whoever gets the big save or executes best on the power play will win,” Blais said.