GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol has been looking for more scoring from Fighting Sioux defensemen and more production on the power play.
Friday night in UND’s 3-2 win over Minnesota State, he got both. Senior defenseman Nick Fuher scored two goals — including the game winner — and all three Sioux scores came on the power play.
“The power play came through in a big way,” Hakstol said. “It’s something that we felt that we’ve been building towards. Tonight, it was obviously the difference.”
Both Maverick goals came on the power play. However, in contrast to Hakstol, MSU coach Troy Jutting was clearly not happy that his team gave UND 10 power plays.
“We did not play very well,” he said. “North Dakota played very good defensively. We took a couple of penalties because we weren’t in position defensively. They just beat us wide.”
It was UND’s first game since Dec. 19 when the Sioux played an exhibition against the U.S. World Junior team. Although the Sioux didn’t score any even-strength goals, Hakstol was satisfied with his team’s play.
“I’m not really concerned about that,” he said. “We had a lot of good opportunities five-on-five tonight. I thought we missed some good opportunities early on, and I thought their goaltender played very well.”
With the Sioux outshooting the Mavericks 35-21, sophomore goalie Chris Clark had to make some big saves to keep MSU in the game. He robbed UND forwards on breakaways and stoned them on several point-blank scoring opportunities.
“They’re a real tough team to play against,” Fuher said. “They do a really good job of boxing out the middle and forcing you to the outside.”
UND held a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period from sophomore forward Rastislav Spirko’s power-play goal at 14:40. He one-timed Rory McMahon’s cross-ice pass from the bottom of the right circle.
The Mavericks responded at 3:43 of the second period with a power-play goal of their own. After Sioux goalie Philippe Lamoureux failed to control the rebound of Ryan Carter’s shot from the slot, there was a mad scramble for the puck. Junior forward Jeff Marler found it just outside the crease and pounded it home.
The Sioux went up 2-1 at 6:55 on Fuher’s first power-play goal. His slapshot from the point beat Clark low on the glove side. But the Mavericks came back to tie the game 2-2 with a power-play goal by defenseman Steven Johns at 13:47.
In the third period, it took the Sioux only eight seconds to capitalize on their 10th power play of the night. Fuher one-timed a pass from sophomore forward Drew Stafford from near the top of the slot to give UND a 3-2 lead at 14:30.
An interference penalty on UND defenseman Matt Smaby with 1:47 left in the game gave the Mavericks one last chance. But with Clark pulled for the last 1:03 to give MSU a six-on-four advantage, the Sioux held on for the win.
“We had our chances on that last power play,” Jutting said. “But their goaltender made a couple of saves and they did a nice job.”
Hakstol said the team wasn’t worried when MSU went on the power play for most of the game’s final two minutes.
“I don’t think our guys get into any sort of panic mode. They’re thinking of the job at hand and getting it done.”
Stafford contributed two assists in his first game back from the World Junior Championships, held in Grand Forks Dec. 25-Jan. 4. He played in six games as a member of the U.S. team and led the team in scoring with five goals and four assists.
Although tired, Stafford wasn’t disappointed with his play against the Mavericks.
“I had a lot of scoring chances,” he said. “It’s one of those things where I’d be a little upset if I wasn’t getting the chances.”
Eighth-ranked UND’s overall record improves to 14-7-2 (10-6-1 WCHA). MSU falls to 7-11-3 overall (4-10-1 WCHA). UND and MSU will meet for the second game of the series Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in Ralph Engelstad Arena.