GRAND FORKS, N.D. — For the second consecutive night, North Dakota rode a third-period scoring surge and Jordan Parise’s solid goaltending to a decisive victory over visiting Michigan Tech.
The 6-0 win enabled the Fighting Sioux to sweep the Huskies, finish fourth in the WCHA regular-season standings and secure home ice for the league playoffs next weekend.
UND freshman T.J. Oshie’s goal at 6:17 of the second period his 20th of the season stood as the game winner. The Warroad, Minn., native is tied for first nationally with seven game-winning goals on the season. Parise’s shutout was the junior goalie’s fifth of the season and the ninth of his career.
It took UND just over three minutes in the third period to blow open what had been close game. With the Sioux clinging to a 1-0 lead, the Huskies went on the power play with a chance to tie it up. Junior forward Drew Stafford started UND’s scoring explosion at 3:21 with his second shorthanded goal of the series and nation-leading sixth of the season.
Stafford picked the pocket of MTU senior center Brandon Schwartz at the blue line, raced alone into the Huskies zone and fired a shot from the top of the right circle that beat goalie Michael-Lee Teslak short side.
“Drew Stafford, scoring our second goal, that was probably the key play of the hockey game,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol.
“Special teams are huge as far as momentum,” Stafford added. “For a team to score a shorthanded goal, that just totally deflates the other team’s power play. The game was close right there. They wanted to get a goal on the power play, but we were able to capitalize on it.”
At 5:16, UND went up 3-0 when freshman defenseman Brian Lee tipped a pass from freshman forward Ryan Duncan past Teslak. Less than a minute later, Sioux forward Andrew Kozek made it 4-0 when he tipped in a pass from linemate Rylan Kaip.
“The pass from Rylan Kaip was just unbelievable, just a gift,” Kozek said. “I think I’m going to have to send him a Christmas card.”
Kozek’s goal added insult to injury because it came just after the 5-11, 185-pound freshman leveled MTU’s 6-7, 258-pound senior defenseman John Scott in the corner with a crushing body check. It was one of several big hits the Sicamous, British Columbia, native delivered in the series.
“Right before playoffs, I just love that kind of hockey,” Kozek said. “The grinding, the hitting I get most of my points by bumping in the corners and going from there.”
Hakstol said that Kozek, who’s spent most of his time at UND on a checking line, is starting to contribute offensively as expected.
“We’ve seen the physical play out of him before pretty consistently,” he said. “At times we’ve seen flashes of goal-scoring ability that we know he has. Tonight, we saw both.”
UND assistant captain Mike Prpich made it a 5-0 game at 6:32 when he fired in a wrist shot from the slot off freshman Jonathan Toews centering pass. MTU coach Jamie Russell then called a timeout and replaced Teslak with freshman goalie Rob Nolan.
As one of two seniors on the team, Prpich said scoring a goal in his last regular-season outing in front of 11,393 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena was a moment to remember.
“It’s pretty special. I’m just kind of soaking it all in right now,” Prpich said. “My days are numbered here, so I just sit back and take it all in.”
Kozek netted his second goal of the game on the power play at 15:58. His wrist shot through traffic from the slot beat Nolan high glove side, giving UND a 6-0 win.
The Sioux finish the regular season with a 23-14-1 record overall and 16-12-0 record in the WCHA. They will host Minnesota State-Mankato for a best-of-three series at Engelstad Arena March 10-11 and March 12 if necessary.
The Sioux struggled at home for much of the season where they were swept by WCHA opponents Wisconsin, Minnesota and St. Cloud State. But after sweeping its last two home series against MTU and Minnesota-Duluth, UND is 11-8-0 at home and has momentum heading into the post-season. That’s important because the NCAA West Regional playoffs will be held in Grand Forks on UND’s home ice.
“I think our guys in the locker room have everything in perspective,” Hakstol said. “Really, we’ve been in playoff mode for about a month well. We’ve played well, we’ve played extremely hard and it’s nice that we’re getting rewarded for that a little bit.
“The first step was solidifying home-ice advantage,” he said. “Now, the challenge for us right away is preparing to take advantage of home ice against Minnesota State.”
From a player’s perspective, Prpich believes that playing at home will be a plus for the Sioux.
“We’re playing well at home and we’re starting to get that mentality that this is our ice and nobody’s going to come in here and push us around,” he said. “Come playoff time, you want to be rolling at home and use that home ice as an advantage.”
With about half of UND’s roster being freshmen, the Sioux suffered what could be a key loss in its sweep of MTU. In the first period, junior Erik Fabian went down with a knee injury, was helped off the ice and didn’t return. Hakstol said the injury could be serious and will be evaluated further on Monday.
MTU, 7-23-6 overall and 6-16-6 in the WCHA, finished in eighth place. They will travel to Wisconsin next weekend for a best-of-three series with the Badgers.