MINNEAPOLIS — No one expected a tea party, but Saturday’s rematch between Minnesota and North Dakota was more like a rumble.
The Sioux (15-10-1, 8-8-0 WCHA) had something to prove after Friday’s rout, and the host Gophers (14-6-4, 9-5-2 WCHA) weren’t about to be run out of their own building by physical play.
Add in a season-high crowd of 10,269 — including a healthy number of UND fans — at Mariucci Arena, and the result was a rough-and-tumble affair during which 30 penalties were called, all in the first two periods. In the end, the victor wasn’t decided until Travis Zajac scored the winning goal at 18:38 of the third period in a 4-2 Sioux decision.
“This was our biggest game of the year,” said Sioux netminder Philippe Lamoureux, who starred in net for UND with 41 saves, one night after totaling a career-high 42. “This is huge for us.”
With the rivals tied at 2 in the waning minutes of the third period, Zajac’s game-winner came off a two-on-one break with T.J. Oshie. Rastislav Spirko fed Zajac the puck off a turnover, and with Zajac storming up the left side and no defender ahead of him, the sophomore from Winnipeg, Man., kept the puck and fired a slapshot past Minnesota freshman Jeff Frazee’s blocker side for his eighth goal of the season.
“As soon as I got over the blue line, I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to get a shot,’” said Zajac.
Spirko added an empty-netter, his eighth goal of the year, at 19:35 to seal the victory. Minnesota lost despite outshooting North Dakota for the second straight night, compiling a 43-27 advantage.
“Phil made a lot of good, timely saves,” said North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol.
Lamoureux also got the Mariucci crowd riled with a bit of celebration in the final seconds, gesticulating toward the stands behind the goal as several cups were tossed in his direction. No ill will was intended, he said.
“I have nothing but respect for [the Gophers],” he said. “They come and play hard every night. … I was just pumped. I was like, ‘Where are you guys [the crowd] now?’ But I thrive on that stuff.”
For the Gophers, meanwhile, a strong start wasn’t quite enough to overcome the Sioux.
“I think we’re disappointed, but we did a lot of good things,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, adding, “Even in the third, I thought we had some real good chances … but that little extra drive was maybe missing.”
Emotions ran predictably high early, contributing to a total of 17 penalties in the first period. Minnesota might have had the better of the play, but gained no advantage on the scoreboard after 20 minutes as a series of power plays limited the game’s flow.
At 5:19, UND’s Mike Prpich and Joe Finley went off for tripping and boarding, respectively, giving Minnesota two minutes of five-on-three. The Gophers cashed in at 5:53 with Alex Goligoski’s sixth goal of the year, a laser that beat Lamoureux to his blocker side. The tally extended the sophomore blueliner’s goal-scoring streak to four games.
Tempers flared again a few minutes later after a Mike Howe hook, leading to four sets of double minors, but no goal for UND on the ensuing power play. But Andrew Kozek knotted it up for North Dakota at 15:54 off a scramble in front of Frazee, scoring his fourth goal of the season on a short-range blast.
A holding-the-stick call against Minnesota’s Justin Bostrom carried over into the second period, and Jonathan Toews put the Sioux in front, hammering home the rebound of Zajac’s shot to make the score 2-1 UND just 42 seconds in.
But for the second straight night, UND took a major for hitting from behind. This time it was junior Erik Fabian getting the call after popping Danny Irmen in the back along the near boards, putting Minnesota on a five-minute power play.
A minute into the man-advantage, Phil Kessel and Chris Harrington combined to tie the game at 2. Kessel’s diagonal pass found the senior defenseman alone on the back door, and Harrington scored his second goal of the year on the putaway at 5:42.
The bad blood — and the parade to the box — continued throughout the middle frame, with 13 more penalties called, six of them at 17:45 after the players mixed it up again.
Shots on goal after two periods favored Minnesota, 32-15, but the shot that ended up counting most was Zajac’s.
“I thought we played well enough tonight to earn at least one point,” said Hakstol, “and tonight we made the last play.”
“I think they elevated their game,” concurred Lucia. “And I think we came down a notch. … We had our chances.”
Both teams continue in WCHA play next weekend. Minnesota hosts Colorado College Friday and Saturday, while North Dakota receives a visit from Minnesota State the same two nights.