GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota’s 1-1 tie with visiting Wisconsin moved the Sioux tantalizingly close to securing fifth place in the WCHA and home ice for the playoffs.
By taking three of four points from the Badgers this weekend, the Sioux moved three points ahead of sixth-place Minnesota-Duluth with two regular-season games remaining. Next weekend, UND needs either a tie at St. Cloud State or a Wisconsin win or tie at Duluth to wrap up fifth place.
That two teams struggling to score goals would play to a 1-1 tie wasn’t surprising to Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves.
“If you were a betting man, you would have put odds on the fact that it would have been another low-scoring game,” he said.
However, after losing 4-2 to UND on Saturday, Eaves thought his team played well enough to win the second game.
“I think we had some really quality chances. We deserved better. We worked hard,” he said. “But when you’re in a funk like we are, that’s sometimes part of the process. In trying to get back into the offensive flow, you go through this thing.”
The things that vexed Eaves and the Badgers on Sunday were a waved-off goal in the first period and a shot from the slot by defenseman Tom Gilbert in overtime that hit the crossbar and deflected straight down. As the puck lay on the goal line, Sioux goalie Jordan Parise dove back to cover it and preserve the tie.
Eschewing the goalie rotation UND has used most of the season with Parise playing the first game and freshman Philippe Lamoureux the second, Sioux coach Dave Hakstol gave Parise the start. The move paid off as the sophomore turned in solid back-to-back performances.
“That’s why we went back with him tonight,” Hakstol said. “Last night, he was reading plays, he had great position and he was the same tonight. He was sharp. We needed that performance.”
While Eaves bemoaned Wisconsin’s bad luck, UND had its share of bad luck and bad breaks, too.
Already playing without injured forwards Brady Murray and Rylan Kaip, UND lost a key player just four minutes into the game. Senior forward Colby Genoway went out with a back injury and didn’t return. He leads the Sioux in scoring (six goals, 26 assists) and also quarterbacks UND’s power play.
Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said that although losing Genoway hurt, the team responded well.
“We’ve lost guys before early in games, and that’s thrown us off our game,” he said. “Tonight we changed up a couple of the lines, put people in a little different position, and they responded and did the job very well.”
The Sioux also just missed on potential game-winning goals. Forward Drew Stafford rang a shot off the post on a Sioux power play. In overtime, Chris Porter’s shot off a rebound hit the outside of a wide-open net.
After playing a scoreless first period, freshman Travis Zajac scored his 14th goal of the season to put UND up 1-0. An outlet pass from defenseman Matt Greene sent Zajac and Rastislav Spirko in 2-on-1 against Badger goalie Bernd Bruckler. Zajac fired a wrist shot from the right circle that beat Bruckler short side.
“Travis isn’t playing like a freshman,” Hakstol said. “This was a big series with two good hockey teams. Travis was as good of a two-way player as there was on the ice.”
The Badgers tied it at 9:16 of the second on Gilbert’s second goal of the weekend. Wisconsin sophomore forward Andy Brandt came from behind the net and attempted jam in a wraparound. Parise blocked the shot, but the rebound went to Gilbert in the slot, and he buried the puck under the crossbar.
In overtime, each team had quality scoring chances, but both goalies continued to stonewall opposing shooters. Parise’s save late in overtime off Gilbert’s shot from the slot was the biggest of the game.
“I didn’t know where it went,” Parise said after the puck hit the crossbar. “I turned around and it was spinning on the goal line for what seemed like an eternity. I just reached back and grabbed it before anyone could do any damage.”
Eaves was critical of his team after Saturday’s 4-2 loss, but saw reason for optimism following the 1-1 tie.
“What we did tonight that we didn’t do last night to a high level was compete,” he said. “We were a different team out there tonight.”
Hakstol said the Sioux turned in one of their best performances of the season.
“We were very consistent throughout the weekend,” he said. “I thought our effort was very consistent. I thought our level of mental toughness was consistent.”
In a game that’s often determined by a bounce of the puck, Gilbert said the Badgers can’t let their bad luck get them down.
“You can’t think about the frustration, you just have to keep going, keep working hard,” he said. “It’s going to bounce your way. It’s eventually going to go in, whether it’s now or down the road.”
Parise invoked the name of late Sioux hockey benefactor Ralph Engelstad in explaining UND’s success in taking three of four points from Wisconsin.
“Our team worked incredibly hard this weekend. If we get a few bounces, they could be called lucky bounces,” he said “But I think, as Ralph Engelstad would say, ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get.’”
The Sioux are 12-12-2 in the WCHA and 17-13-4 overall. The Badgers are 16-8-2 in league play and 21-10-3 overall. Both teams close out the season on the road next weekend. UND travels to SCSU for a two-game series while Wisconsin takes on UMD.