GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Denver solidified its status as one of the top teams in the nation and moved into second place in the WCHA with a road sweep of North Dakota.
In downing the Fighting Sioux, 4-2, Saturday before 11,228 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Pioneers swept UND at home for the first time since December 1989.
“That tells you a little about how great North Dakota’s program has been over the years and how difficult it is to play here,” said DU coach George Gwozdecky. “It’s a good accomplishment.”
Wisconsin’s loss to Minnesota enabled the Pioneers to move one point ahead of the Badgers. DU (20-6-1 overall, 15-4-1 WCHA) is three points behind league-leading Colorado College, but has played two less conference games.
DU senior forward Luke Fulghum led the Pioneers offensively with two power-play goals and an assist. Freshman goalie Peter Mannino was solid in net, picking up his 11th win of the season against two losses.
The Pioneers opened the scoring at 8:03 of the first period when defenseman Jussi Halme tipped in a shot by Matt Carle. UND knotted it 1-1 with a power-play goal by freshman forward Rastislav Spirko at 17:43.
Then Fulghum took over. His goal at 19:20 of the first period broke the tie and his goal at 6:15 of the second period put the Pioneers up 3-1. It stood as the game winner.
With 15 goals and 11 assists, Gwozdecky said Fulghum is having an strong senior season for the Pioneers.
“He plays with two outstanding freshmen (Paul Stastny and Ryan Dingle) and has shown great leadership,” he said of Fulghum. “It’s great to see a player develop the poise and confidence that experience can give.”
UND sophomore forward Drew Stafford scored a power-play goal at 16:38 of the second period to cut DU’s lead to one goal. But the Pioneers once again responded with a goal of their own at 17:31 by senior forward Jeff Drummond.
“That says something about our players and how they respond,” Gwozdecky said. “There’s a sense of maturity about this team. They don’t get rattled.”
With DU leading 4-2 at the start of the third period, Sioux coach Dave Hakstol tried to give his team “a little spark” by replacing sophomore goalie Jordan Parise with freshman Phillippe Lamoureux. Parise had given up four goals on 19 shots.
Although Lamoureux stopped all four shots he faced in the period, UND couldn’t convert on its scoring chances. Mannino stopped 24 of 26 for DU.
For the Sioux, not only was the 4-2 score of Saturday’s loss identical to Friday’s, but so, too, were the reasons for the loss. Missed scoring opportunities, untimely penalties and momentum-killing defensive breakdowns were the story once again.
UND senior forward Colby Genoway — one of three Sioux players to hit pipes — said the team “keeps shooting itself in the foot.”
“We’d score a goal, make a mental mistake and give up a goal,” he said. “That happened four times this weekend, and it just killed us.”
For the second straight night, Spirko, who had a three-goal weekend, expressed frustration.
“It seems like there is some magic power that’s down on us to stop us from scoring,” he said.
Saturday’s loss put the Sioux below .500 in the WCHA with 10-11-1 record (15-12-3 overall). They remain tied for fifth place with Minnesota-Duluth, but have two games in hand on the Bulldogs.
UND has next weekend off and returns to action in the WCHA with a two-game series at Alaska-Anchorage Feb. 18-19. The Pioneers are at home against Wisconsin for a two-game series Feb. 11-12.