GRAND FORKS, N.D. — What a difference a Brady makes.
North Dakota sophomore forward Brady Murray returned to the lineup Friday after being out five weeks with a knee injury, and his presence helped spark the Fighting Sioux to a 4-2 win over Alaska-Anchorage.
UND’s fifth straight WCHA win before 10,284 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena enabled the Sioux (10-5-2 overall, 8-4-1 WCHA) to hold on to first place in the conference. UAA fell to 5-7-1 overall and 3-6-0 in the WCHA.
Murray, last season’s WCHA rookie of the year, played most of the game on UND’s fourth line because coach Dave Hakstol wanted to limit his playing time.
“The knee didn’t bother me at all, so I’m pretty happy about that,” Murray said. “Wearing this brace on my leg, that was bothering me in the first period. Once I adjusted to the speed of the game, I felt pretty good in the second and third.”
Although Murray picked up one assist on the night, UAA coach John Hill had no difficulty recognizing his offensive contributions.
“I certainly noticed him a few times,” he said. “He’s dangling out there, and I’m thinking, ‘Boy, don’t embarrass our guys.’
On a team that’s lacked scoring punch, Murray’s value to the Sioux showed the moment the 5-9, 180-pound forward stepped on the ice.
“The first shift, he steps out and finishes a big check on somebody,” Hakstol said. “And just in the first period, he created two two-on-ones with his speed and creativity. It’s nice to have that back in the lineup.”
After a scoreless first period, UND struck first at 4:09 of the second period. Sophomore forward Drew Stafford, who was questionable after being injured at Michigan Tech last weekend, flipped a backhander past UAA freshman goalie Nathan Lawson.
It took the Seawolves only 33 seconds to tie the game 1-1. UAA center Charlie Kronschnabel split the Sioux defense, fired a shot that goalie Philippe Lamoureux failed to control and stuffed in his own rebound.
Halfway through the period, UND began to dominate, outshooting the Seawolves 17-1 during that stretch. Lawson bailed out UAA with one sensational save after another.
Seconds after being stoned by Lawson on a breakaway, Murray spotted senior defenseman Matt Jones moving in from the blue line. Jones’ backhander from the right circle caught the far left corner to give UND a 2-1 lead at 18:01.
In the third period, senior forward Rory McMahon scored his seventh goal of the season at 14:16 to put the Sioux up 3-1. That lead seemed safe until UND’s Chris Porter was sent to the box for goalie interference with 2:02 left.
With Lawson pulled for an extra attacker, UAA defenseman Brandon Segal fired a shot through traffic from inside the blue line that found the back of the net. The power-play goal at 18:52 gave the Seawolves life.
“I thought when we scored the second goal with a minute left, you never know, maybe we can get a bounce,” Hill said.
But UAA’s chance for a rally was dashed when Sioux junior forward Mike Prpich scored an empty-net goal with 14 seconds remaining to make the final score 4-2.
“Until we can get some experience and start to develop some consistency, it’s going to be a battle,” Hill said. “But the guys didn’t quit.”
UND and UAA meet for the second game of the series at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Engelstad Arena.