GRAND FORKS, N.D. — A team that needs offense can’t be picky about where it comes from.
North Dakota’s defensive corps chipped in three goals as the Fighting Sioux downed Wisconsin 4-2 before a sellout crowd of 11,483 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Two Sioux players – defenseman Matt Greene and forward Erik Fabian – scored their first goals of the season to give UND an important WCHA victory.
“That’s the way we’ve been successful, by those guys chipping in on the offensive side and everyone else playing solid,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol.
With Minnesota-Duluth playing a non-conference series against Bemidji State, UND’s quest for a fifth-place WCHA finish and home ice in the playoffs remained alive. The win moved the Sioux two points ahead of the Bulldogs in league standings.
On the other side of the ledger, the Badgers missed an opportunity to make up ground on second-place Denver following the Pioneers’ Friday loss to Minnesota State. Wisconsin fell five points behind Denver pending the outcome of Sunday’s game.
The teams are playing an unusual Saturday-Sunday afternoon series because the North Dakota state high school hockey tournament is also being held at Engelstad Arena this weekend.
At 6:12 of the first period, senior defenseman Nick Fuher gave UND a 1-0 lead when he beat Badger goalie Bernd Bruckler five-hole off a feed from forward Drew Stafford. It was the first time in an 11-game stretch dating back to Jan. 8 that the Sioux scored first.
Wisconsin answered at 8:25 when junior defenseman Tom Gilbert sniped Sioux goalie Jordan Parise with a wrist shot from the left circle. Sophomore wing Ross Carlson gave Wisconsin a 2-1 lead at 14:22 with an unassisted goal off a Sioux turnover behind the net. But Fabian, a Sioux fourth-liner, knotted the game 2-2 at 15:52.
“I just kept going to the net,” said Fabian, who got around one Badger defender and cut to the goal. “The other defenseman slid over to take me, too. Bruckler was standing up nice and straight, and the only place I could go was far side post. I think he was screened by the defenseman when I shot it.”
Greene, the Sioux captain, said Fabian’s goal provided a big boost for the team’s morale.
“That’ what’s been missing from our team the entire year, a third- or fourth-line guy getting a huge goal for us. It’s so uplifting for our team, you can’t even put it into words,” he said.
UND senior defenseman Matt Jones netted the game-winner with a power play goal at 10:55 of the second period. Bruckler couldn’t control Sioux forward Chris Porter’s shot, enabling Jones to jam in the rebound.
“We didn’t come ready to play in the first two periods,” said Badger sophomore center Andrew Joudrey. “They stepped up the physical (play) and we backed down. You can’t do that in this league and especially against this team. And because of that, it’s the reason we lost.”
In the third period, the Sioux seemed content to sit on their one-goal lead, a strategy that might have backfired without some clutch saves by Parise. UND also killed two Wisconsin power plays during a period in which they were outshot 9-5.
“In the third period, we let them take it to us,” said Parise, who stopped 26 of 28 shots he faced. “You can’t do that against a good team like Wisconsin.”
Hakstol agreed, saying, “For sure, in the last five or six minutes of the game, we got back on our heels a little bit more than we would want to. The end result is that it’s a real good win for our team.”
Badger coach Mike Eaves pulled Bruckler for an extra attacker with about a minute left in the game. Although the Badgers had opportunities on mad scrambles in front the net, Parise and the Sioux defense withstood the intense pressure.
“Our guys did an excellent job of boxing out,” Parise said. “They never really did get a quality shot off.”
Greene’s empty-net goal with 29 seconds remaining iced the victory for the Sioux. After Travis Zajac won a faceoff just outside UND’s zone, the Sioux captain took control of the puck and fired a wrist shot from along the boards just outside his team’s blue line.
Greene admitted that taking a shot from behind the red line was risky because he could have iced the puck and brought the faceoff back in the Sioux zone. But gamble paid off and UND held on for a 4-2 win.
“I just tried to take a chip at it. I wasn’t trying to do anything other than that,” he said. “I’m not going to say that I was sniping the net or that it was in the bag the whole time. I was lucky it went in.”
UND had won just two of its last eight WCHA games coming into the series with Wisconsin game. Asked what the win means to the Sioux, Parise responded, “Nothing right now. If we get the win tomorrow, then we can start thinking about the future. As of right now, that win’s just a stepping stone to get to the NCAAs.”
For the fourth-ranked Badgers, who are 2-4-1 in their last seven WCHA games, the struggles continue.
“As a team, I don’t think we’ve been very consistent,” Bruckler said. “We look passive out there. We look like we’re waiting for things to happen for us, and it just didn’t.”
The win put the Sioux .500 in the WCHA with 12-12-1 record (17-13-3 overall). The Badgers fall to 16-8-1 in the WCHA and 21-10-2 overall. The two teams meet 3:35 p.m. Sunday for the second game of the series at Engelstad Arena.