GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota showed up with intensity, emotion and effort over three periods, and it paid off with an important 6-3 WCHA win over Minnesota State.
Home ice hasn’t been much of an advantage for the Fighting Sioux this season. They were 5-6 at Ralph Engelstad Arena heading into the series with the Mavericks. Behind outstanding performances from forwards Drew Stafford (two goals) and T.J. Oshie (two goals and an assist), UND built a 6-1 third-period lead, then cruised to victory.
“I felt that we really had the advantage against them pretty much the whole game, not only physically, but mentally,” Stafford said. “I thought we were throwing our weight around. We were knocking guys over.
“That’s what we want to establish at home,” he added. “That’s how we’re going to play the game.”
Stafford, a first-round draft pick of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, started the Sioux off right with the all-important first goal 4:43 into the opening period. He intercepted a clearing pass, walked in alone on Mavericks freshman goalie Dan Tormey and buried the rebound off his initial shot.
UND is now 13-1-1 when it scores the first goal, 9-0-0 when scoring four or more goals, and 13-3-1 when giving up three or fewer goals.
The Mavericks tied the game 1-1 with a power-play goal at the 14:14 mark. Sophomore forward Ryan Carter notched his 10th goal of the season when he one-timed a pass from defenseman Kyle Peto past Sioux goalie Philippe Lamoureux.
UND forward Chris Porter’s goal at 16:44 gave the Sioux a 2-1 lead they held at the end of the first period. A rebound off defenseman Taylor Chorney’s shot came to Porter, who kicked the puck to his stick and fired it in the open net.
Stafford gave the Sioux a 3-1 lead 4:12 into the second period. Freshman Jonathan Toews picked off an MSU outlet pass and fed Stafford, who was alone in the slot. He deked Tormey and flipped in a backhander for his 17th goal of the season.
Oshie, a first-round draft choice of the St. Louis Blues, made it 4-1 when he scored at 12:38 of the second. A failed Maverick clearing attempt led to Oshie and teammate Ryan Duncan playing the give-and-go down low for the game winner.
“I thought we competed all night long, to be honest,” said MSU coach Troy Jutting. “The problem is that we made four or five just brutal turnovers. And when you do that against first-round draft picks, they’re going to put it in the back of the net.”
In the third period, Oshie struck again on the power play at the 3:19 mark. After UND center Travis Zajac won a faceoff in the Mavericks zone, the puck lay in the slot until Oshie battled his way to it and fired it past Tormey.
“I was fighting with one of their defenseman to get the puck, and luckily I got my stick on it. It hit the post and went in,” he said. “I didn’t really know where I was hitting the puck to. I just kind of swung my stick. Luckily, it went in.”
With UND leading 5-1, Jutting replaced Tormey with junior goalie Chris Clark. The Mavericks coach wasn’t critical of his starting goalie’s performance.
“We hung him out to dry,” Jutting said. “You make the kind of turnovers we made, they’re getting quality opportunities, and they scored on them.”
The Sioux quickly welcomed Clark to the game by scoring at 4:33 on their first shot against him for a commanding 6-1 lead. Junior forward Erik Fabian netted his fourth goal of the season by pounding in a centering pass from Mike Prpich.
The Mavericks got two more goals to close out the scoring. MSU senior defenseman Jon Dubel scored at 6:18. Senior forward Rob Rankin collected his seventh goal of the season on a shorthanded breakaway at 12:45 to make the final score 6-3.
“The last couple of games, I’ve had about three or four breakaways shorthanded,” Rankin said. “Finally, this is the first one I scored on.”
With less than a minute to play, tempers flared when MSU forward Jon Kalinski took a run at Sioux defenseman Matt Jones. Three players from each team ended up in the box with roughing an misconduct penalties. More penalties were assessed after the game ended as players from both teams continued confrontations.
Sioux coach Dave Hakstol was pleased with the effort his players turned in before 11,309 fans at Engelstad Arena.
“We did a good job in all three zones,” he said. “Offensively, we were hungry. We were able to finish on a few plays and that made the difference.”
He also explained how the Sioux created and capitalized on so many turnovers in MSU’s zone.
“It’s tenacity all over the ice,” Hakstol said. “To be able to win games against teams like Minnesota State, that’s how you have to play. I was happy with that intensity level tonight.”
The two teams meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at Engelstad Arena for the second game of the series.