GRAND FORKS, N.D. — “Deja Sioux: It’s All Over (Again),” read a sign held aloft in the North Dakota student section of Ralph Engelstad Arena.
As if it’s not bad enough for the Michigan Tech Huskies to lose to the Fighting Sioux three straight times, they’ve now played UND five times since Jan. 16 and lost every game by a four-goal margin.
With a goal and three assists, Sioux sophomore Zach Parise led UND to a 6-2 victory over MTU in the first game of the best-of-three WCHA playoff series. The teams will face off on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. for Game 2.
“Zach Parise was certainly the difference in the game,” said UND coach Dean Blais.
MTU coach Jamie Russell didn’t disagree. Unfortunately, the Huskies couldn’t contain the Sioux center.
“I don’t think we’re the only team in the country that hasn’t solved Zach Parise,” he said. “He’s an amazing hockey player.”
After losing two 5-1 games to UND last weekend, helping the Sioux to claim the WCHA regular-season championship, the Huskies elected to spend the entire week in Grand Forks rather than returning to Houghton. It didn’t help.
“It’s kind of rough,” said MTU sophomore wing Chris Conner. “A few letdowns and they pull away from us.
“They’re really good at capitalizing on our mistakes, so we’ve got to limit our mistakes and just keep working hard,” he said.
Parise played on a line with freshman wings Brady Murray and Drew Stafford. All three are products of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s hockey program. They were also teammates on the USA World Junior team that won the gold medal in Finland earlier this year.
“Drew, Brady and I always play well together. You can throw us together any time and we find each other and we click,” Parise said.
When the first period ended 1-1, the Huskies had every reason to be thinking upset. Parise got the Sioux on the scoreboard first at 3:27. He knocked a centering pass from Stafford past MTU junior goalie Cam Ellsworth.
MTU responded at the 8:39 mark when defenseman Clay Wilson intercepted a clearing pass, skated into the left circle and fired a wrister that beat junior goalie Jake Brandt.
In the second period, UND began to dominate, outshooting MTU 15-4 and taking 3-1 lead. With the Sioux on the power play, junior wing Brandon Bochenski hit Murray with a back-door pass that he buried at 1:28.
At the 16:41 mark, Parise spotted Sioux defenseman Nick Fuher coming down the slot and passed to him. Fuher fired the puck past Ellsworth for the game-winning goal.
“Zach made a tremendous play there,” Fuher said. “I gave him a yell for it, but I think he saw me before I even yelled for it. He’s got tremendous vision and he just made a great pass right on the tape.”
The Sioux took total control in the third period, outscoring the Huskies 3-1. Just 26 seconds in, Parise and Stafford broke into MTU’s zone 2-on-1. Stafford knocked Parise’s saucer pass out of the air and into the net to give UND a commanding 4-1 lead.
“That was an impressive goal,” Parise said. “When I threw that pass, I was just like, ‘Oh, what a bad pass!’ And then he picks it out of the air. That was a great play. That was a highlight-reel play.”
“I thought the real key was coming out in the third period and scoring right away,” Blais said. “It goes 4-1 and right back to them losing belief that they can win.”
Sioux junior forward Quinn Fylling got his 12th goal of the season at 1:44 when his sharp-angled shot somehow trickled through Ellsworth’s pads and across the goal line. Freshman Bryce Luker then replaced Ellsworth in goal.
MTU got some life when senior defenseman Justin Brown scored an unassisted goal at 5:14 to make it 5-2. However, Sioux junior forward Colby Genoway restored UND’s four-goal margin at 7:25 when he pounded in the rebound of his own shot to make it 6-2.
The Sioux outshot the Huskies 33-15. Brandt had 13 saves for UND while for MTU, Ellsworth had 20 and Luker seven. The Huskies went 0-4 on the power play and the Sioux were 1-3. UND is 27-6-3 overall and MTU is 8-28-1.
If the Huskies don’t find a way to slow down the Sioux, their season could be over Saturday night.
“We need our better players to be the top players on the ice. I don’t think we have that,” Russell said. “Our go-to guys like Chris Conner worked hard, battled hard and created opportunities. But we need more and bigger contributions from our top-end guys.”