ST. CLOUD, Minn. — North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol came into this weekend’s series versus St. Cloud State with two goals: clinch home ice for the WCHA playoffs, and solidify UND’s standing in the PairWise Rankings, which mimic the NCAA tournament selection process.
The Sioux accomplished both by polishing off a three-point weekend, spoiling senior night at the National Hockey Center with a 2-0 shutout Saturday.
The Fighting Sioux, who held the 12th spot in the PairWise before the game, desperately needed a win considering that automatic bids for the AHA and CHA would place them near the end of the 16-team field. They earned it in a fashion that hasn’t exactly fit UND’s image over last few years: with suffocating defense.
With prodigious scorers like Brandon Bochenski and Zach Parise on the roster over the past few years, UND hadn’t really needed a formidable defense in order to be successful. However, the absence of those snipers this year has left the Fighting Sioux no choice but to lay its focus on the defensive zone to make up for their modest 2.8 goals per game average.
Coming into the game UND was third in the WCHA with a 2.48 goals against average.
Sophomore goalie and reigning WCHA Defensive Player of the Week Jordan Parise made his bid for a repeat in his fourth consecutive start after leading the Fighting Sioux to their first shutout of the season (the third of his career) by using their new defensive identity to perfection.
“(The shutout) is no big deal to me, but it just gives you a good idea of how well our team played defense tonight, said Parise, who finished with 28 saves. “I don’t look at it as I got the shutout; it was definitely a team ordeal. Our guys did just an excellent job tonight and I can’t say enough about them.”
Hakstol agreed with the team concept, but it’s clear that Parise is a crucial piece to UND’s defensive identity.
“It’s a combination of everyone,” he said. “It starts with good goaltending and I think we had to kill off five penalties again tonight and your goaltender is your best penalty killer. From Jordan on out we were very solid defensively. Really we didn’t give up anything on the offensive side of the game. We created a ton of opportunities but (Husky goalie) Tim Boron played extremely well on the other end. He made some big saves.”
After sitting out last nights game due to a back injury, UND’s leading scorer, Colby Genoway (7-26-33), made his presence known early with a blast from the point on the Fighting Sioux’s first power play 1:44 into the game.
“He’s a real key part of our power play,” Hakstol said. “He’s up top and he’s the quarterback. That unit has consistently been together for quite a long time and when you take away one of the pieces out there, it changes the dynamics. So to have Colby back was a key factor.”
UND had a opportunities to extend the lead in the first period after outshooting the Huskies 12-7 but they either misfired or were stopped by sophomore goalie Tim Boron. Fighting Sioux forwards Drew Stafford, Quinn Fylling, and Rastislav Spirko each fired wide on open net 2-on-1 chances, and Boron stifled power-play opportunities by Genoway, Brady Murray, and Fylling with under three minutes left in the opening period to keep the game close.
“In the first two periods, 12 of their 22 shots came on their power play and that includes a 4-on-3 and a 5-on-3 for two minutes,” said SCSU head coach Craig Dahl. “We played pretty well defensively against them and again we had several chances but we didn’t just bury them. That was the difference in the game.”
After Parise got his right leg in front of SCSU winger Brock Hooton’s point-blank one-timer from the slot, UND forward Erik Fabian slid a backhand pass from behind the net to an unguarded Brian Canady at the right post for a one-timer between Boron’s legs to put UND up 2-0 3:05 into the second period.
With time running out in the second period, Parise had to stand on his head on a Husky power play to stuff a power move by sophomore Nate Raduns and a wraparound attempt by senior Peter Szabo. Parise’s hot glove carried into the third period as he put up a wall on two partial breakaways by Husky freshman Sean Garrity and got some help from his left post on a putback attempt at the slot from Billy Hengen.
Although UND freshman Philippe Lamoureux had a better save percentage going into Saturday’s game, Parise has been hot down the stretch, allowing just three goals in the last three games.
“Jordan has been very consistent over the few games and its not just the statistics and the saves, it’s how he’s doing it,” Hakstol said. “He’s reading plays very well and that’s a big part of being a successful goaltender.”
Friday night’s tie ended an SCSU school-record nine-game conference home losing skid, but the Huskies still ended their regular season riding an 11-game conference winless steak at the NHC, with their last home victory dating back to Nov. 26.
Because Michigan Tech lost 5-0 to the Gophers, SCSU finished ninth (14-21-3, 8-19-1) and will play co-WCHA regular-season champion Colorado College in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. The Huskies, who upset CC in Colorado Springs earlier this year with a 4-3 overtime thriller, haven’t been swept by CC since 1995.
Friday’s tie also sealed UND’s home series with Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, and the Fighting Sioux seem to be right where they want to be going into that matchup.