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College Hockey:
Stafford Shorthander Keys North Dakota Win

— They went almost an entire period without a shot. They allowed two power-play goals while scoring none of their own. They were on the road in front of a sellout crowd.

And they won anyway.

The North Dakota Fighting Sioux weathered several storms to defeat New Hampshire, 3-2, in the opener of a weekend series. With the score tied, 1-1, going into the third and the momentum solidly on UNH’s side, North Dakota took over the game in the final frame, outshooting the Wildcats, 14-6.

Travis Zajac and Drew Stafford collaborated on the pivotal goal, a shorthanded strike at the 5:20 mark. Following UNH’s retaliation to tie it on that same power play, North Dakota got the game-winner on another collaboration, this time between Brian Lee and Jonathan Toews.

“Between the second and third period, Coach [Dave] Hakstol told us that the game was in our hands,” Stafford said. “We could control the outcome of this game. And we came out flying.”

Stafford’s shorthanded strike came off a poor UNH pass from point-to-point. In the resulting footrace, Zajac got a step on Brian Yandle, drew the pressure to himself and slid the puck to Stafford. The junior cut across the crease and then waited and waited and waited to shoot until goaltender Jeff Pietrasiak was completely down and out.

“Travis did an excellent job of drawing the pressure to him and that allowed me to get open,” Stafford said. “I had all the time in the world to make a play. I noticed that the goalie was kind of far out of his net and he went down really early. I thought I could hold on for just an extra second there.”

Brett Hemingway answered from the doorstep on the rebound of a Yandle blast from the point. Two minutes later, however, Lee set up Toews for the game-winner from the left post.

The strong third period for the Sioux came on the heels of a stretch where netminder Jordan Parise had to keep his team in the game. From the closing of the first period through the 17:30 mark of the second, North Dakota couldn’t muster a single shot.

“The momentum definitely swung toward New Hampshire near the end of the first period … and I thought they held onto that throughout the second period,” Hakstol said. “We were fortunate with some good goaltending and a little bit of survival mode to give us a chance to come out in the third .

“We needed a couple guys to step forward. You look at guys like Zajac and Stafford. Those are guys that we need to step forward and make plays in games like this. And they did that.”

The win brings eighth-ranked North Dakota’s record to 3-1 while New Hampshire, ranked 11th, drops to 1-2.

“We got off to a bad start with the first goal, but the team bounced back,” UNH coach Richard Umile said. “We were playing good hockey. But in the third period they came out and started taking it away from us. We didn’t handle the puck well and turned it over. [The shorthanded goal] was a huge goal.”

Goaltending and special teams dominated the first period. UNH had the advantage with five power plays to North Dakota’s one, but Parise sent his team into the locker room with a 1-0 lead with several excellent stops in the late stages.

At the other end, Pietrasiak surrendered the softest of goals with the game barely more than a minute old. An attempt to pull a rebound into himself went awry and the puck slid instead to the side of the crease where it rested until T.J. Oshie tapped it in. The gift-wrapped goal was the freshman’s seventh point.

It took 15 minutes, but the North Dakota defense returned the favor, turning the puck over on the doorstep. Parise, however, made a big pad save on Jacob Micflikier.

Parise, who entered the game with shutouts in his only two games, was soon called on for more of the same. The UNH power play, which had sputtered in its first three chances, turned up the intensity in the final minutes. Micflikier fed cross-ice to Hemingway just off the left post, but Parise moved quickly to take away much of the net.

Another penalty, drawn by Daniel Winnik as he was hauled down while cutting across the low slot, made it a five-on-three advantage, but again Parise came through, stopping a Yandle shot through traffic.

UNH kept the momentum going in the second period, finally solving Parise in a continuation of the five-on-three. The goal came just 18 seconds into the period on a shot from the point by Michael Hutchins through a Winnik screen and may have been deflected by a defenseman.

The period continued decidedly in New Hampshire’s favor as it held the Sioux without a shot until the 17:30 mark. North Dakota finally mounted a flurry in the closing minutes, but a strong third period would be needed to emerge with a win.

And a strong third period is exactly what the Sioux produced, led by Zajac and Stafford.

The two teams complete the series on Saturday night at 7 p.m..

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