DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota got together for a day of sports Saturday.
The opener was NCAA Division II football in Grand Forks, N.D., won by North Dakota. The second round was to decide the North Central Conference volleyball title at Romano Gym, won by UMD.
The day’s tiebreaker was a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game at the DECC.
UMD put itself in position to topple No. 10 North Dakota, taking a two-goal first-period lead and seeing two of the Fighting Sioux’s better players leave after checking-from-behind major penalties. But North Dakota roared back with five second-period goals, including three on the power play, on the way to a wild 7-4 victory before a crowd of 5,353. It was the ninth victory for the Fighting Sioux in the last 10 games of the series.
“We’re a team with so many capable players that we weren’t worried (about a 2-0 deficit),” said North Dakota sophomore center Travis Zajac, who had two goals and an assist. “We were just trying to stay focused and work through it. That’s the sign of a never-give-up team.”
UMD (2-6-2, 2-2-2 WCHA) led 2-0 halfway through the first period. By that time, North Dakota junior defenseman Matt Smaby had been lost to a five-minute major and game misconduct, taking away the team’s one experienced defenseman.
Twenty seconds into the second period, North Dakota winger Drew Stafford, who had three goals in Friday’s 5-3 win, was also called for checking from behind, a point of emphasis in college hockey this season.
The Bulldogs couldn’t add to their lead during the ensuing power play and then North Dakota rallied, aided by four UMD penalties in the period.
“That was part of our problem, we took too many penalties and they capitalized,” said UMD senior center Tim Stapleton, who had two goals. “It’s very tough to lose and get swept at home. You can’t have teams come in and beat you twice at home, but that’s what happened.”
The Fighting Sioux (7-4-1, 3-3-0) got goals 78 seconds apart from Zajak at 3:53 and his left winger, Rastislav Spirko, on a power play at 5:11. It was the first goal of the season for Spirko, who had sat out the last three series with a leg injury.
The third goal less than six minutes put North Dakota up, 3-2, on a Zajak left wing rush.
UMD freshman defenseman Josh Meyers momentarily halted the Sioux barrage with a power-play goal with 7:20 left in the second period. His first collegiate goal made it 3-3. But North Dakota’s Jonathan Toews responded 67 seconds later and fellow freshman star and linemate T.J. Oshie converted with 1:23 to go in the period, both with their team on the man-advantage. That left the Fighting Sioux up 5-3 and the Bulldogs and goalie Isaac Reichmuth feeling offensive heat.
“When we were behind and lost two players I didn’t even feel this team blink,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “To come back and win was very significant for this team. I was happy with the drive and the strong will they showed. We haven’t had a period like that all year.”
North Dakota goalie Jordan Parise, with 39 saves, had to be sharp in the final period, as UMD threw 15 shots on goal. The Bulldogs led in overall shots, 43-26.
Early in the game, it had appeared UMD would reverse its fortunes from the night before. On Friday, North Dakota scored twice in the first three minutes on the way to victory.
The Bulldogs recorded power-play goals three minutes apart and were up, 2-0, halfway through the opening period. They were helped out as North Dakota was whistled for too-many-men for the third time in the series at 4:57 and captain Smaby followed 40 seconds later with a checking from behind penalty.
A five-on-three power play of 80 seconds led to UMD’s first goal, as Stapleton finished off a flurry. Freshman winger Mason Raymond was alone on the right side for a power-play goal at 9:47. By the end of the period, the Bulldogs had built a huge 18-5 advantage in shots.
“After that it seemed like we took penalty after penalty, and you can’t be doing that. It stopped our momentum,” said UMD defenseman Steve Czech. “After that, in the second period, we were sitting back in the zone instead of getting out and attacking.”
In the third period, UMD hit goal pipes, couldn’t finish off two-on-one breaks, and were stopped by Parise. North Dakota freshman center Ryan Duncan had two goals in the last 20 minutes.
“We didn’t have that same intensity in the second period,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “Give (North Dakota) credit. They showed a lot of character and made some nice plays.”
UMD goes on the road this weekend at Alaska-Anchorage. North Dakota will continue its road swing at St. Cloud State.
Kevin Pates writes for the Duluth News Tribune.