GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Minnesota withstood a furious third-period rally by North Dakota to hold on to a 4-3 victory, completing the road series sweep at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Golden Gopher forwards Danny Irmen and Ryan Potulny, both native North Dakotans, were once again the thorn in the sides of the Fighting Sioux, scoring three of Minnesota’s four goals.
Irmen had a goal and an assist, but his three penalties also helped keep UND in the game.
“Danny, if he wasn’t scoring, he was in the penalty box, but he was certainly into it,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said of Irmen’s performance. “On the scoreboard and all over the ice, you noticed him.”
After being swept at home last weekend by WCHA-leading Wisconsin, Minnesota came into the series at UND with many questions and a lot to prove. The Gophers left Grand Forks feeling much better about themselves and their prospects for the season.
“To come back and sweep our other rival, it’s really good for the team, it’s really good for our confidence,” Irmen said.
“I think the real key is that we were able to play with the lead all weekend long,” said Lucia. “Like when Wisconsin played us last week, they had the lead from start to finish. It was the same thing for us this weekend. It’s a lot easier to play with the lead.”
UND has now lost five straight home games, including back-to-back sweeps by Minnesota and Wisconsin. With a 3-5 record at home, Sioux coach Dave Hakstol is looking for answers about his team’s performance.
“This is our back yard and we have to make a statement that we own this building,” he said. “There is a home-ice advantage here, and it’s one we have to learn to take advantage of as a team. That’s something we have to correct.”
UND sophomore center Travis Zajac, who had a goal and an assist for the Sioux, believes the team’s intensity at home isn’t the same as on the road.
“I think we just come out hungrier on the road. We’re in a hostile environment and we know we have to come out and take the play to them,” he said. “When we’re at home, we sort of sit back and we don’t come out until we’re down a couple of goals.”
Sioux junior goalie Jordan Parise, who’s been solid in the nets for UND, had an uncharacteristic off night, giving up two goals on Minnesota’s first three shots in the opening period. Freshman wing Justin Bostrom scored at 5:54 and Potulny scored at 7:21 from nearly the same spot in the left circle off quick wrist shots.
In the second period, Zajac made it a 2-1 game with a power play goal at the 4:25 mark. But just as they did the previous night, the Gophers quickly answered with an unassisted goal by Potulny to restore Minnesota’s two-goal cushion.
UND squandered an opportunity to cut into Minnesota’s lead when the Sioux failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 power play half way through the period. Instead, it was Irmen who scored the game-winner on the power play for Minnesota with 14 seconds left in the period.
With the crowd of 11,723 out of the game and a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 lead, Minnesota appeared to be in total control at the start of the third period. Hakstol replaced Parise with sophomore goalie Philippe Lamoureux, who stopped all five shots he faced and made two huge saves to keep the Sioux in the game.
Just 3:21 into the period, the Sioux got exactly what they needed, a quick goal. Defenseman Taylor Chorney one-timed a cross-ice pass to make it a 4-2 game. With 2:34 remaining, senior forward Mike Prpich scored to make it a one-goal game.
Lucia felt as if he were watching a replay of Friday’s game, which ended with a last-minute penalty on Irmen and a 6-on-4 advantage for the Sioux. With 1:03 left and UND’s goalie pulled, Irmen was whistled for holding.
“Danny takes a penalty and I say, ‘Oh my gosh, here we go’” Lucia said. “It’s like dj vu tonight. 4-3. Penalty at the end. Pull the goalie.”
It was indeed dj vu because the result Saturday night was the same as it was Friday night. The Gophers withstood the pressure and held on for a 4-3 win and the road sweep.
Briggs said the Gophers never lost their composure when UND had the momentum and was pressing for the tie.
“I knew that we’d be strong. You can’t ever panic, no matter what’s going on, even though it’s a rough environment,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your head on straight and keep your eye on the puck.”
“I didn’t think that we played with the desperation that we needed until the third period,” Hakstol said. “That’s something that has to sink home very quickly here. We’re nearly half-way into the schedule now. It’s at that point of the year when you really have to realize the situation. There are only so many points to be had in the league.”
Briggs stopped 30 of 33 shots he faced while Parise had 20 saves on 24 shots. The Sioux outshot the Gophers 33-29. Minnesota was 1-3 on the power play while UND was 1-7.
Minnesota is now 9-5-4 overall and 8-4-2 in the WCHA. The Sioux are 10-7-1 overall and 6-6-0 in the WCHA.
The Gophers are off until Dec. 29 when they play Union at home, followed by either Massachusetts-Lowell or Canisius Dec. 30. The Sioux have a home-and-home series with Bemidji State, playing at Bemidji Dec. 16 and in Grand Forks Dec. 17.