GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota passed its first test of the season, downing visiting Manitoba 6-1 in an exhibition at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Junior forward Drew Stafford led the Fighting Sioux with two power-play goals and an assist. Coach Dave Hakstol was pleased with UND’s special teams as the Sioux went 3-11 on the power play and blanked the Bison on their nine power-play opportunities.
“The positives were on the power play and the penalty kill and mostly five-on-five, playing with intelligence and poise and making some good plays. I’m very happy with that,” Hakstol said.
The Sioux dominated the game for long stretches, generating flurries of shots on Manitoba freshman goalie Krister Toews, who made several big saves on point-blank scoring chances that prevented a complete blowout.
“Everyone’s saying we have a young team with a lot of freshmen, but I thought we went out there and played great,” Stafford said of the lopsided 49-18 difference in shots on goal. “We were just totally dominating down low.”
For Bison coach Mike Sirant, his goalie’s play was the one bright spot of the game.
“Krister Toews was outstanding in goal. That’s one guy who really played well for us,” he said.
After defeating Bemidji State 5-3 in an exhibition on Saturday, Sirant hoped for a better showing against UND.
“We knew that we were going to have our hands full tonight, but still we’re disappointed that we didn’t perform better,” he said. “We didn’t help ourselves. We took some selfish penalties that were costly. A lot of times we just didn’t make the right decisions.”
The Sioux led 2-0 at the end of the first period with power-play goals by sophomore forward Rastislav Spirko at 11:09 and Stafford at 13:15. But when Manitoba sophomore center Lee Stubbs got behind UND’s defense and scored on Sioux junior goalie Jordan Parise just 1:37 into the second period, suddenly it was a one-goal game.
“I saw that he was going to try a poke check,” Stubbs said of his move on Parise. “As soon as I saw he was going to do that, I shot it through his legs.”
That was as close as Manitoba got. Freshman forward Andrew Kozek rifled a wrist shot from the slot that nicked the crossbar and bounced in at 16:32. Just over a minute later, Stafford scored his second goal of the game on a UND 5-on-3 power play, giving the Sioux a 4-1 lead after two periods.
In the third period, junior forward Chris Porter attempted a centering pass from behind the net that hit a Manitoba defenseman’s leg and bounced in at the 14:01 mark. Freshman center Ryan Duncan closed out the scoring at 16:03 when his wrist shot from the right circle hit Toews’ pad and bounced in, giving UND a 6-1 victory.
“I think for this time of year, we’re happy with this performance,” Hakstol said. “We’ve had one practice. We had 10 freshmen in the lineup tonight. We competed very hard and showed pretty good poise and playmaking ability.”
From Sirant’s perspective, the 10 freshmen on UND’s roster didn’t give Manitoba any advantage.
“We have a young team, too, but when you look at UND’s young guys, you’re talking about some pretty high-end players,” he said. “Some of these guys are the top players in North America. They should be able to step in here and really make a contribution.”
Parise, who made 10 saves on 11 shots, was replaced by Sioux sophomore goalie Philippe Lamoureux halfway through the second period. He stopped all seven shots he faced.
“We had a good start,” Hakstol said. “This was like putting the foundation on a house. We’ll just try to build off this as a base.”
UND opens its regular season on the road Oct. 8-9 when it takes on Miami and Michigan State in the Lefty McFadden tournament in Dayton, Ohio.