GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Sometimes the hockey gods giveth, and sometimes they taketh away.
On Friday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the unpredictable forces that decide which team gets puck luck and which doesn’t were clearly on the side of North Dakota.
The Fighting Sioux scored four unanswered goals to erase a 2-0 deficit, claiming a hard-fought 4-2 victory over archrival Minnesota in their home opener before 11,203 fans.
“If you look at the stats and power plays and everything like that, maybe we shouldn’t have won this game,” said Sioux goalie Jordan Parise, who stopped 38 of 40 shots.
It wasn’t as if Minnesota didn’t have the opportunities. The Gophers scored on two of their 13 power plays and had three 5-on-3 chances. They also outshot the Sioux 40-24.
But what they couldn’t do was capitalize on excellent scoring opportunities. If Sioux sophomore goalie Jordan Parise wasn’t making big saves, he was getting help from the pipes and his defensemen.
“Our guys battled unbelievably hard tonight,” Parise said. “We were down, but never quit.”
Ryan Potulny, Minnesota’s leading scorer, said he didn’t see UND’s win as a matter of luck.
“They did what they had to do to win,” he said of the Sioux. “Bottom line, we didn’t do what we had to do.”
The Gophers opened the scoring at 12:16 of the first period with a power-play goal, on sophomore Potulny’s wrist shot from the slot. Just 1:59 into the second period, sophomore Danny Irmen gave the Gophers a 2-0 lead with a 5-on-3 power-play goal.
The Sioux answered with two power-play goals of their own, both by freshman forward Travis Zajac at the 7:35 and 16:05 marks.
UND took the lead for good 5:30 into the third period. Freshman forward Rastislav Spirko got his stick on a one-time blast from the point by defenseman Matt Smaby, deflecting the puck past Briggs as he was falling to the ice.
“He has that kind of ability,” Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said of the Slovakian, who leads UND in scoring. “Players with that natural ability for goal-scoring have that kind of puck luck.”
Twice in the third period, Minnesota’s Potulny and Irmen each fired a shot from point-bank range. And twice their shots were rejected by the posts.
Potulny’s shot with 12 minutes left had two opportunities to go in. After hitting the far post to Parise’s right, it bounced crazily over the goalie and back to the left. The puck hit the ice with enough backspin to send it sliding back toward a wide-open net.
“I had no idea where the puck went after it hit the post,” Parise said. “I looked back. I see it just crossing the line and thought ‘Oh, crap!’”
But sophomore defenseman Matt Smaby got his stick on the puck just as it was crossing the line and cleared it to safety.
“He saved me there,” Parise said. “I owe him one.”
UND forward Colby Genoway scored at 12:08 to put the game out of reach. Breaking into the Gopher zone 2-on-1 with Spirko, Genoway looked to pass, caught Briggs leaning and fired a wrist shot short side that eluded the goalie’s glove. The Sioux senior finished the game with a career-high four points (one goal, three assists).
Less than a minute later, Irmen missed an opportunity to cut UND’s lead when his shot from Parise’s right bounced off the outside left corner of the crossbar. Minnesota finished the game with three shots off the pipes to one for UND.
“That’s the way it goes,” Irmen said. “Sometimes you get the bounces and sometimes you don’t. You can’t worry about that. You just have to go out the next shift and hopefully get another shot at it.”
Although Sioux coach Dave Hakstol was pleased with his team’s comeback, he wasn’t happy with UND’s continued penchant for taking penalties, especially when they give the opposition a two-man advantage.
“It’s playing with fire and it’s not something you can continue to get away with,” he said. “You correct it in the locker room, and that’s something we’ll immediately address tomorrow morning.”
Potulny said it was a frustrating game for the Gophers, but dwelling on bad luck wouldn’t change the outcome.
“We can’t sit and think about ‘what if?’ or get frustrated because that’s when things will go really bad,” he said.
The Gophers were 2-13 on the power play while the Sioux were 2-8. Briggs stopped 20 of the 24 shots he faced.
The teams play the second game of the series Saturday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena.