GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Who says you can never go home again?
Ryan Potulny and Danny Irmen, two junior forwards for the Golden Gophers who played hockey at Grand Forks Red River High School, burned North Dakota for two goals to lead visiting Minnesota to a 4-3 victory over the fifth-ranked Fighting Sioux.
On two teams that feature as much youth as they do talent, the Gophers looked to their dynamic duo from the west to deliver the knockout punches.
“It has to be Potulny and Irmen,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “It’s still the older guys who have to lead the way.”
And that they did. It took just 58 seconds for Potulny to say “hello” to Sioux fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena where UND played its first game in just over a month before a packed house of 11,710.
He netted his 13th goal of the season after taking a drop pass in the slot from defenseman Chris Harrington, burying his shot to give Minnesota a quick 1-0 lead. Relentless forechecking in UND’s zone helped set up Potulny’s scoring opportunity on which he beat Sioux goalie Jordan Parise high glove side.
The Gophers forecheck continued to bottle up the Sioux in their own end, limiting UND to two shots in the first half of the period. That trend continued for long stretches throughout the game.
“We didn’t play very well tactically,” said UND freshman forward Jonathan Toews, who rang two shots off posts during the game. “We had trouble getting the puck out of our zone.”
However, at the 10:30 mark, Sioux freshman forward T.J. Oshie made the most of an opportunity when he stepped out from behind the net, faked a shot short side and then stuffed in the puck five-hole on junior goalie Kellen Briggs to tie the game 1-1.
Minnesota took the lead again at 13:37 when freshman forward Phil Kessel scored a power play goal, snapping a wrister from the left circle past Parise. A Gopher player appeared to be in the crease screening Parise, but referee Derek Shepherd allowed the goal, despite an animated protest by UND coach Dave Hakstol.
“After his review, he (Shepherd) thought it was a good goal. I disagreed,” Hakstol said.
The Sioux attempted just 11 shots in the first period, compared to 26 for Minnesota.
A wild second period of up-and-down-the-ice hockey saw each team score two goals, enabling the Gophers to take a 4-3 lead into the third period.
UND caught a break early in the second when Gologoski was called for holding and Irmen was called for obstruction on the delayed penalty. The Sioux tied the game 2-2 on the ensuing 5-on-3 power play. Freshman defenseman Brian Lee walked down the slot and sniped a wrist shot that caught the top left corner at 4:36.
The 2-2 tie was short-lived. Irmen came out of the box just in time to pick up Ryan Stoa’s clear out of the UND zone. He went in all alone on Parise, deked him and flipped in a backhander to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead at the 5:17 mark.
Irmen taunted Sioux fans after the goal, waving his stick at the crowd and tugging at the Minnesota logo on his jersey. After the game, he explained his action, saying, “It really means a lot to be a native (North Dakotan) and beat the Sioux.”
The Gophers took a two-goal lead at 8:39 on sophomore forward Ben Gordon’s power play goal. Parise left a big rebound off defenseman Mike Vannelli’s shot from the point that Gordon got his stick on and fired through a pile of bodies in front of the net.
Although Parise got his pad on Gordon’s shot, Sioux defenseman Taylor Chorney appeared to accidentally kick the puck in while trying to corral it.
Sophomore forward Rastislav Spirko made it a one-goal game again with his power play goal at 10:39 of the second period. His wrist shot from near the top of the slot beat Briggs high stick side.
In the third period, the Sioux could get no closer. Minnesota’s forecheck continued to stifle UND’s transition game, and when the Sioux created opportunities they couldn’t capitalize on them.
Hakstol pulled Parise for an extra attacker in the final 1:17 of the game. UND had an opportunity to tie the game when Gopher defenseman P.J. Atherton was whistled for holding with 1:01 left. But even with a 6-on-4 advantage, the Sioux couldn’t get the tying goal past Briggs.
“It was a tight game,” Hakstol said. “We had a chance to tie it up late in the game and we didn’t get it done.”
Lucia said there was a noticeable difference between the way the Gophers played this game and their two losses against Wisconsin last weekend.
“We worked hard from start to finish. A team that does that will give itself a chance to win every night,” he said. “We also kept it simple. We didn’t try to make a lot of pretty plays.”
The Gophers outshot the Sioux 33-22. Briggs made 19 saves and Parise had 29. Each team had eight penalties for 16 minutes and each team was 2-6 on the power play.
Minnesota is now 8-5-4 overall and 7-4-2 in the WCHA. The Sioux are 10-6-1 overall and 6-5-0 in the WCHA. The two teams meet at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in Engelstad Arena for the second game of the series.