GRAND FORKS, N.D. — In North Dakota’s 4-2 loss to Denver Friday, it wasn’t as if the Sioux lacked for scoring opportunites. But failing to convert on those chances has fans, coaches and players scratching their heads.
What do the Sioux have to do to put the puck in the net?
“We haven’t had a whole lot of luck,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol. “You have to make your own luck. I thought we played extremely hard tonight. We just need to be a little bit better.”
In a game that was closer than the score indicates, Pioneers goalie Glenn Fisher was a little bit better — and maybe just a little bit luckier.
Early in the second period with the Pioneers leading 2-0, a turnover deep in DU’s zone created a 2-on-0 chance for UND forwards Quinn Fylling and Mike Prpich. It looked as if Prpich had the puck ticketed for the back of the net off Fylling’s cross-ice pass. He raised his arms in celebration, but there was no goal.
Somehow, some way, Fisher made the save.
“He made the pass, and I just came across,” Fisher said. “The momentum of my leg, I guess, it hit the puck. It was carried up and hit the crossbar. Then I came around and kicked it with my pad again. I didn’t see it too much after I made the initial save.”
Later in the game, Fisher robbed Prpich an a breakaway. On another play, a shot from the slot by UND defenseman Matt Jones bounced high and over Fisher, but landed on top of rather than in the net.
“I thought Glenn Fisher was terrific in goal for us,” said DU coach George Gwozdecky. “He was a big, big difference. And to get production on the power play was the other key.”
“We had a good effort,” Hakstol said. “We need to get a little bit more. That’s what the bottom line is in a close, tight hockey game down the stretch. You have to be poised in all situations. There were a couple of situations tonight that we made poor decisions.”
DU got on the board first with a power-play goal at 5:31 of the first period. Pioneers defenseman Brett Skinner passed to freshman center Paul Stastny, who was left alone in the right circle. His wrist shot beat Sioux goalie Philippe Lamoureux high glove side.
In the second period, the Pioneers went up 2-0 on a goal by freshman center Geoff Paukovich at 10:41. After Lamoureux failed to control the rebound of Adrian Veideman’s shot from the point, Paukovich pounded the puck in.
The Sioux cut the Pioneers’ lead to one goal game at the 17:53 mark. UND freshman wing Rastislav Spirko shot a backhander through traffic that beat Fisher through the five-hole.
A mere 38 seconds later, the Pioneers got their two-goal lead back. Center Gabe Gauthier hit defenseman Nick Larson in the slot and his wrister beat Lamoureux high stick side. The senior defenseman’s first goal in 53 career games for Denver was the game winner.
Spirko struck again at 3:23 of the third period, and his power-play goal made it a 3-2 game. Forward Drew Stafford’s shot from the point hit the crossbar and bounced into the crease behind Fisher, where Spirko got his stick on the puck and knocked it in.
DU came back just over three minutes later with a second goal by Paukovich, this one on the power play. As the 6-4 center came across UND’s blue line and split the defense, the Sioux let up.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Paukovich said. “At first, right when I got over the line, I thought it was offsides. Everyone stopped and stood up. I didn’t hear a whistle, so I just shot it and it went in.
“Afterwards, I didn’t know what was going on. Everyone was standing around. It just happened to count,” he said.
The goal that gave the Pioneers their final 4-2 margin of victory didn’t sit well with the Sioux players, who protested to referee Derek Shepherd to no avail.
Hakstol said he, too, thought the Pioneers should have been penalized for interference on the play.
“That’s what it looked like,” he said. “I don’t want to comment on it. I made my comments on the ice.”
Spirko expressed frustration about UND’s inability to close the gap in a close game, a problem that’s plagued the team all season long.
“It seemed like after each goal, we got satisfied and then we lost concentration or took stupid penalties,” said the Slovakian forward. “They scored right away. You have to be aware in those situations”
Denver improves to 18-6-1 overall and 13-4-1 in the WCHA. The Sioux are 18-7-1 overall and 10-10-1 in the WCHA.
North Dakota and Denver will meet at 7:05 p.m. Saturday for the second game of the series at Engelstad Arena.