GRAND FORKS, N.D. — When the North Dakota Fighting Sioux say they don’t need their top line to score goals to win games, they probably aren’t thinking that defensemen Matt Jones and Matt Greene will pick up the slack.
But in UND’s 5-3 win over Minnesota, the stay-at-home defensive pair combined for three goals to help the Sioux complete the sweep of the Gophers before 11,986 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Greene, a 6-3, 224-pound sophomore defenseman, scored UND’s first goal with 1:03 left in the first period to cut a 2-0 Minnesota lead to one goal.
Jones scored his first goal on the power play at 13:29 of the second period to put the Sioux up 3-2, their first lead of the game. With UND clinging to a 4-3 lead in the third period, Jones’ insurance marker at 17:03 sealed the victory.
Of the 12 goals the Sioux scored against Minnesota in the two-game series, five were by defensemen, with Jones netting three. The junior, who had three goals in his first two seasons, now has four in seven games this season.
That was the one thing that Gopher coach Don Lucia saw from the Sioux that he didn’t expect. “I don’t think we anticipated their defensemen scoring all those goals,” he said.
Sioux assistant coach Brad Berry said UND has been working on having its defensemen put more shots on goal, and it’s paying off.
“A lot of times in the past, we’ve been shooting the puck from the point and it hasn’t been getting through. And now guys are trying to get the puck, get it on their stick and get it to the net a little quicker,” he said.
Stung by a 7-3 loss Friday, the Gophers came out in the first period playing like the defending national champions. They took a 2-0 lead on power-play goals by senior wingers Grant Potulny at 1:12 and Troy Riddle at 12:56. Following Greene’s goal, the Gophers ended the period with a 2-1 lead.
UND junior winger Quinn Fylling tied it 2-2 just 24 seconds into the second. Gopher goalie Justin Johnson stopped Fylling’s first shot, but it was quickly followed by Rory McMahon’s shot off the rebound. Fylling batted in the rebound of McMahon’s shot.
After UND went up 3-2 on Jones’ power-play goal, senior center David Lundbohm scored the game-winner at 15:01. Leading a 2-on-1 rush set up by freshman Drew Stafford, Lundbohm looked to pass, then fired a wrist shot that beat Johnson high glove side.
The momentum appeared to shift at the end of the second period when Minnesota junior center Jake Fleming scored at 18:13. His sharp-angle shot from the left of the net squeezed between the goal post and pads of Sioux freshman goalie Jordan Parise, cutting the Sioux lead to one goal.
Minnesota began the third period with freshman Kellen Briggs in goal. But the Sioux, who have now outscored opponents 22-3 in the third, continued to be a third-period team.
“We didn’t come out with the jump we should have had in the third period,” said Gopher sophomore center Gino Guyer. “That’s two nights in a row in the third period that they’ve beat us pretty well. They clogged up the zones well and we didn’t have much time or space to get anything going.”
Despite being outshot 18-7 by UND in the last period, Briggs kept the Gophers in the game until Jones’ goal at 17:03 gave the Sioux a 5-3 lead and their final margin of victory.
“I was kind of surprised that I had that much time with the puck,” Jones said. “A guy dumped the puck in there and no one went to get it, so I just went and got it. I had more time than I thought so I just fired it and it went in.”
Minnesota played the series without two of its top defensemen, junior Keith Ballard and sophomore Chris Harrington, who are both out with injuries.
“Having those guys in the lineup will be a big-time boost for us because they’re big-time players and they’ll add a little extra to our lineup,” Guyer said.
Lucia said that although he thought his team’s effort was better on Saturday, there’s much room for improvement.
“We have to work to continue to get better. All areas of our game have to get better,” he said.
UND, 6-1-0 overall and 2-0-0 in the WCHA, plays a two-game series at home Nov. 14-15 against conference-leading St. Cloud State. The Gophers fall to 2-6 overall and 1-5 in the WCHA. They travel to Wisconsin for a two-game series Nov. 14-15.