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College Hockey:
Stafford’s Hat Trick Spurs Sioux

— A goal was awarded to North Dakota on Friday night without the puck ever crossing the goal line. It was something that few, if any, in the DECC crowd of 5,216 had ever seen.

However, it came with two seconds to play and by that time North Dakota had secured a victory over Minnesota Duluth in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s game.

That’s something the Fighting Sioux have done regularly the past three seasons. A 5-3 win was the eighth in the last nine games of the series. UMD (2-5-2 and 2-1-2 in the WCHA) fought back from 2-0 and 4-1 deficits but saw a four-game unbeaten streak snapped. No. 10-ranked North Dakota (6-4-1 and 2-3) needed all it could muster led by Drew Stafford’s first collegiate hat trick to break a three-game losing streak. The Fighting Sioux had allowed 15 goals during that stretch.

“We weren’t frustrated. We just had to forecheck harder, create more chances and be more sound around our net,” said Stafford, a junior right winger from Faribault, Minn. “I had to come here and shoot the puck.”

That’s what he did as North Dakota took control of the game less than three minutes into the first period. Stafford’s shot from the far right boards was stopped in the crease by Isaac Reichmuth. The goalie thought he had the play covered, but the puck trickled into the net at 58 seconds.

The Fighting Sioux used their speed 76 seconds later in a 2-on-1 rush. Freshman center Ryan Duncan (5-foot-6) converted a right wing attempt for a 2-0 advantage at 2:14.

UMD coach Scott Sandelin used a timeout at that point and said he told his team to start playing and stop watching. After being held without a goal on three straight first-period power plays, the Bulldogs were much better in the second.

Center Tim Stapleton, stopped on a shorthanded attempt in the first two minutes of the period, scored his third goal of the season at 8:59. In a quick transition play he came down the slot to earn his 130th career point (52 goals, 78 assists) in his 132 game.

“I think maybe we were too ready in the first period. We were too nervous with the puck,” said UMD senior Justin Williams, Stapleton’s right winger. “Then we got back more to our style of game.”

While UMD continued to apply pressure, North Dakota earned consecutive power plays in the last eight minutes and made good on the second. Stafford put in his own rebound with 3:36 left for a 3-1 lead. That came with UMD’s Michael Gergen off for slashing Fighting Sioux goalie Jordan Parise.

The margin went to 4-1 in a 4-on-4 shift at 8:14 of the third period as Stafford came out of the right corner of the UMD zone for his third goal, a team-leading seventh of the season. It was the first hat trick in 66 games for the Fighting Sioux and it came as Stafford was reunited with center Travis Zajac and left winger Rastislav Spirko, out since Oct. 15 month with a leg injury.

Power play chances got UMD back into the game. Freshman winger Mason Raymond connected in a 5-on-3 shift at 9:42 and Williams converted from the left edge with 91 seconds to play. It was 4-3.

“We didn’t play particularly well at the start. We came out flat,” said UMD freshman defenseman Matt Niskanen. “When we played with some urgency we got going pretty well. We showed we can play better.”

Reichmuth was pulled for an extra attacker with 84 seconds left. Niskanen made one save on a puck headed for UMD’s empty net with 62 seconds remaining, then tried to do the same in the final seconds, but Stafford was in the way. Niskanen said in his attempt to get to the puck, he tackled Stafford and they slid into the endboards. The puck, shot by North Dakota freshman center T.J. Oshie, hit a goal pipe, but didn’t go into the net. Referee Todd Anderson, however, awarded a goal.

The rule, as explained, is that if a player is denied a clear scoring chance into an empty net by an opposing player in the last two minutes of a game, a goal is awarded. The goal is usually given to the player being interfered with, but Stafford asked that it be given to Oshie.

North Dakota, the 2005 NCAA Division I runner-up, led in final shots on goal 31-29.

“That’s about as even a game as you’ll get. Each team had its moments,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “Having Spirko back maybe had a part in sparking Stafford’s performance, and he brought some poise to our power play.”

Sandelin has said all season that his young team will have ups and downs. There were nine freshmen on each roster Friday. “We certainly weren’t good in a lot of areas, but we still had a chance to tie the game,” said Sandelin. “We just weren’t very good defensively. We have to be better there.”

The Fighting Sioux and Bulldogs renew their fierce rivalry tomorrow night at the DECC.

Kevin Pates covers college hockey for the Duluth News Tribune

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