GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota scored two goals 45 seconds apart late in the second period, then hung on for a 3-2 nonconference win over visiting Harvard.
After losing six of their last seven home games and being blanked, 1-0, Thursday night by the visiting Crimson, the Fighting Sioux came out with a sense of urgency, playing the body and firing shots on senior goalie John Daigneau.
“I really liked the second efforts that we saw tonight in all different areas, not only in a couple of the goals that we scored. In all areas of the game, I thought second efforts were evident,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol.
The hard work paid off when UND capitalized on its first power play of the game. Sioux junior defenseman Matt Smaby fired a shot from the point through traffic that found the back of the net to put UND up 1-0 at 6:29 of the opening period.
At 11:54 of the second period, Harvard tied the game with a power-play goal by sophomore forward Mike Taylor, his second of the series and fourth of the season. His shot from the point found its way past a screened Jordan Parise.
With 1:39 left in the second period, Sioux junior forward Drew Stafford fought off a check and snapped a wrist shot from the top of the right circle. The puck caught the inside of the top corner to give UND a 2-1 lead.
But the Sioux weren’t done. Off a turnover in Harvard’s zone, center Travis Zajac fed the puck to forward Rastislav Spirko, who was all alone in front of Daigneau. Spirko moved across the top of the crease, got the goalie to commit and then flipped a shot over his pad to give UND a two-goal lead.
“I think the difference in this game was the last two minutes of the second period,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “We gave up two goals. For the rest of the night, I was very happy with the way our guys competed.”
Trailing in the final period, Harvard turned up the pressure, outshooting UND 15-7. However, the Crimson couldn’t cash in on either of their two power plays thanks to outstanding goaltending by Parise. He twice robbed Harvard players on point-blank scoring opportunities.
The Crimson cut UND’s lead to one goal with 7:11 left in the game. Parise stopped defenseman Dylan Reese’s shot from the point, but gave up a big rebound. In the ensuing scramble in front of the net, freshman forward Nick Coskren got his stick on the puck and slid it under Parise’s outstretched arm.
“He’s a good goaltender, so you just throw whatever you can on net and hope for the best,” Coskren said. “I just happened to get a rebound there. The thing was moving like two miles an hour, but it just snuck through on the ice. I didn’t feel like I aimed it or anything. It just got through.”
Tenacious forechecking by the Sioux for the remainder of the period kept the clock moving and limited Harvard’s scoring opportunities. Donato pulled Daigneau for the extra attacker with 47 second left, but Parise and the Sioux defense held on for the one-goal victory.
Parise made 28 saves on 30 shots and Daigneau stopped 20 of the 23 shots he faced. UND was 1-for-3 on the power play while Harvard was 1-for-5.
After expressing disappointment with his team’s play the previous night, Hakstol had high praise for Stafford, who he said played two of the best games of his UND career against Harvard. He also commended Smaby’s team leadership.
“I thought our captain, Matt Smaby, played like a captain,” he said. “I think he’s done that the past few weekends. He’s really been a warrior in there. I thought a lot more guys tonight followed his lead and jumped on board with that.”
UND finished its nonconference schedule with a 7-2-1 record, which could have future NCAA tournament implications. Smaby said that after losing 1-0 to Harvard on Thursday, earning the split was important.
“I think we all knew what was on the line,” Smaby said. “Our nonconference schedule is huge in getting us into the NCAA tournament. We felt like we gave one up last night and we had to earn this one tonight.
“This is like playoff mode for us,” he continued. “We can’t lose many more games. We were in this position last year and we responded really well. The pressure’s on us right now to win some of the big games at home and on the road.”
The Crimson are 10-6-1 overall (7-5-0 ECAC) and play at Union Jan. 6 and at Rensselaer Jan. 7. The Sioux are 12-8-1 overall (6-6-0 WCHA) and travel to Alaska Anchorage for a two-game series Jan. 6-7.