DAYTON, Ohio — The last time the North Dakota Fighting Sioux played hockey in the state of Ohio, they fell just shy of a national championship, losing 4-1 to Denver in last season’s title game in Columbus. With the disappointment of that game firmly behind them, the No. 6 Sioux returned to the Buckeye State triumphantly, shutting down the Miami Redhawks in a 3-0 win at the Lefty McFadden Invitational.
Last season, their goaltender, junior Jordan Parise led North Dakota all the way to the national championship game. Parise seems to have picked up right where he left off, making an impressive 37 saves in tonight’s shutout, the fifth of his career, and helping the Sioux win their fourth consecutive season opener.
“Last year is gone and over with,” emphasized North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol, who is beginning his second year at the helm of his alma mater. “For some of our returning players, I think it was great motivation over the summer, but now, we’re six weeks in. It may be in the back of their minds a little bit, but it’s well in the back of their minds.”
Parise was helped by a strong defensive corps, which included a penalty killing unit that held the Redhawks to 0-for-11 on the power play.
“[Parise] played extremely well,” said Hakstol. “I thought he was the first star of the game tonight. And he allowed the freshmen to gain a little bit of confidence in a win. Jordan made a lot of first saves and did a pretty good job limiting the number of second shots and rebound shots.”
Of the six defensemen for North Dakota, four were freshmen making their college debuts.
“Those guys got better and better, from the start of the game to the end of the game,” said Hakstol. “That’s what we had hoped to see. We know they’re young, but we also have a lot of confidence in them. They’re good hockey players, they’re smart players, and they’re going to adjust to this level pretty quickly.”
North Dakota (1-0-0) began the scoring as the first period began to draw to a close. On a beautifully executed 3-on-2, junior assistant captain Chris Porter fed freshman Jonathan Toews, who was trailing the play. Toews fired a wrist shot into the upper right corner, beating Redhawk freshman goaltender Jeff Zatkoff.
“I just waited until the screen came across and put it far side,” described Toews.
Miami (0-1-0) had plenty of opportunities to tie the score, in a game filled with power play chances. However, its best chance came with five minutes to go in the second period. Senior center Chris Michael was pulled down on a shorthanded breakaway, leading to a dramatic penalty shot. However, once again, Parise proved up to the task, stopping Michael’s bid to tie the game, sliding to his right to smother the shot.
“He came down his off side and took a shot,” described Parise. “I was just lucky enough to be in the right position to make that save.”
“One of Jordan’s greatest attributes is his competitiveness,” added Hakstol, “and what more of a competitive situation could there be? One-on-one, forward on goaltender. I think it’s the ultimate competitive situation. And he came out on the right end of it.”
With time winding down in the period, North Dakota extended its lead to 2-0, as two freshman phenoms, both first-round NHL draft picks, connected on the power play. T.J. Oshie (St. Louis Blues) tapped a great pass from Brian Lee (Ottawa Senators) past a defenseless Zatkoff.
From there, the Sioux never looked back, as Drew Stafford added a shorthanded empty-net goal with seconds remaining to make the final score 3-0. Despite the result, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi remained confident in his team.
“I thought it was a good game,” said Blasi. “I thought both teams played well, and I was very happy with our effort. I knew that it was going to be a tough game, but I also knew that, if we played well, we were going to be a better team after the game, and I feel like we are.”
On Sunday, in a matchup of two college hockey powerhouses, North Dakota will face the Michigan State Spartans to determine the champion of this year’s Invitational. Meanwhile, the Redhawks will play host to Wayne State.
Notes: Despite Parise’s success, the quick turnaround to a 2:05 start time tomorrow means that sophomore goaltender Phillippe Lamoureux will start for North Dakota against Michigan State.