COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Following a pair of home losses to St. Cloud State, No. 11 North Dakota needed a fresh start. The Sioux freshmen took the meaning literally. Three different first-years scored for the visitors, as the Fighting Sioux knocked off the No. 7 Colorado College Tigers, 4-2, on Friday night.
North Dakota’s lineup included nine freshmen, a fact that has led to oft inconsistent play throughout the year. Sioux fans hope that tonight’s 60-minute effort is a sign of a team filled with rookies-no-more.
“With such a young team, it’s been really hard to find consistency and our identity,” said freshman Jonathan Toews. “But this was a big game for us. The guys were sick and tired of sitting around talking about what we needed to do and not doing it.”
Colorado College (17-11-1, 9-9-1 WCHA) looking hungry following an idle weekend, scored less than three minutes into the game on the power play. With an open shooting lane in the near slot, Marty Sertich opted instead to feed Joey Crabb at the side of Sioux cage. Crabb lifted a shot off of the shoulder of sliding North Dakota netminder Jordan Parise and into the net to give Colorado College a 1-0 lead.
Sioux standout Toews made CC fans sit with a highlight-reel goal midway through the period, however. With a delayed penalty coming against the Tigers, the North Dakota freshman wheeled around a pair of flat-footed defensemen, cutting in alone on Tigers goaltender Matt Zaba. Toews slid the puck quickly to his backhand and slipped a shot past the left pad of Zaba to knot the score at 1-1.
“I looked up and I saw the defensemen kind of standing still,” noted Toews. “So I found my speed and took it to the net. I tried to stuff it in I didn’t think it was going to go in on such a sharp angle.”
North Dakota (18-12-1, 11-10-0) took the lead late in the first with a power-play tally of its own. Just 15 seconds into the man advantage, T.J. Oshie hacked home a rebound during a scrum in the CC crease, sending the Sioux to the locker room with a 2-1 lead.
A fluke goal gave North Dakota a two-goal lead halfway through the second period. On a two-on-two rush, Erik Fabian fed a seemingly innocuous pass through CC’s high slot. The pass ricocheted off of the skate of Tigers defenseman Jesse Stokke and past a startled Zaba. Having peeled off to make a change, Fabian was the last to know he had netted the visitors a 3-1 lead.
The goal was ironic for CC’s Stokke, who as a senior has never scored a collegiate goal into an opposing team’s net.
“The one difference in the game was a bounce,” said North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol. “That’s something we haven’t been getting a whole lot of lately.”
Midway through the third period, the Tigers’ Hobey Baker nominee found himself with a glorious chance to cut the Sioux lead in half. With his squad on the power play, Brett Sterling snuck in undetected to the far post and corralled a pass while Parise dove helplessly across the crease. Sterling was unable to lift the puck over the sprawled goaltender, however, burying the rubber in the prone Parise’s chest.
Despite the two-goal lead, North Dakota stuck to its aggressive game plan and rushed at the CC net. Though the Tigers did play stronger as the night progressed and managed some solid possession time in the Sioux end, the visitors refused to pack into a shell.
“We will not have a lot of success if we play a defensive style,” said Hakstol. “We have to stay aggressive, and I thought we did that tonight.”
The Sioux put the game on ice at 11:09 of the third with a two-on-one rush. With Toews on his left, freshman Ryan Duncan opted to take a shot of his own, rifling a wrist shot high and past Zaba’s glove.
Braydon Cox scored Colorado College’s second goal at 17:13 of the third, but the home team would draw no closer.
The two teams will meet again Saturday night at 7 p.m. MST.