GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Don’t tell North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol that with his team’s season on the line and two key juniors out of the lineup, he should be concerned about youth and inexperience.
“Someone said, ‘Jeez, you have 10 freshman on the ice,’” Hakstol said. “Well, so be it. We have 20 players on the ice. They have 20 players. If we don’t win tonight, that’s it.”
The Fighting Sioux did win convincingly. Their 4-1 victory over visiting Minnesota State University-Mankato kept Fighting Sioux playoff hopes alive and set up a third and final game with the Mavericks at 7:05 p.m. Sunday in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Last weekend, junior forward Erik Fabian, who played a key role in UND’s run to the 2005 national championship game, was lost for the season to a knee injury. On Friday against the Mavericks, junior forward Drew Stafford, the team’s leading scorer with 44 points, suffered a knee injury in the first period and remained out of the lineup Saturday.
However, it didn’t seem to matter as the Sioux got two goals from freshman T.J. Oshie, one from freshman Jonathan Toews and one from sophomore Travis Zajac. Even though Stafford couldn’t be on the ice, Oshie said his leadership off the ice contributed to UND’s victory.
“Today, he pulled us aside and talked to us,” Oshie said “He let us know that we had to do the job, no matter how the lines were or whatever the situation was. We have to pull through, and we have to lead the team now.”
UND began the game looking much different from the Sioux team that lost 3-2 in overtime Friday. They out-hustled, out-hit, outshot and out-scored the Mavericks, 2-0, in the first period. Unfortunately for MSU, that didn’t change.
“They came out playing the body real hard,” said MSU captain David Backes. “They were in our face playing that scrummy kind of hockey. They’re definitely a good team when they’re doing that along with the combination of (Jordan) Parise in net making a few key saves. We just got outworked and they were the better team tonight.”
Toews opened the scoring at 12:40 of the first when he pounced on the rebound off a shot by freshman forward Ryan Duncan and jammed it in past goalie Dan Tormey. Oshie scored at 13:36 to give UND a 2-0 lead. His shot from a bad angle hit the far post, deflected off an MSU player and bounced across the goal line.
“Last night, I don’t think we worked hard enough for the bounces to go our way like that,” Oshie said. “Tonight, we definitely did.”
MSU coach Troy Jutting agreed with Oshie’s assessment.
“I think tonight’s game was real simple. They played a better hockey game than we did start to finish,” he said.
Early in the second period, MSU had a 5-on-3 power play for nearly two minutes.
“You’ve got to score on the 5-on-3, there’s no doubt about it,” Jutting said. “It was an opportunity to get back in the game.”
But Parise and UND’s penalty killers put on a textbook display of how to survive the two-man advantage.
“It all starts with the goalie,” Zajac said. “Jordy stood on his head again and kept us in the game. That’s all we can ask from him.”
“We moved the puck well,” Backes said. “We kept control of it for most of the power-play time. It felt like they had four goalies out there sometimes.”
Instead of the Mavericks closing UND’s lead, it was the Sioux who scored next. At the 5:39 mark, Zajac won a faceoff in MSU’s zone and made a centering pass. Crashing the net, Oshie shot the puck past Tormey for his 22nd goal of the season and a three-goal Sioux lead.
The Sioux took six penalties in the second period, enabling the Mavericks to finally cash in on the power play. At 15:50, defenseman Kyle Peto one-timed a pass from Backes to make it a 3-1 game.
“We were in the box too much tonight in the second period,” Hakstol said. “Some of that comes out of energy and enthusiasm. It’s playoff time and we have to be a little more disciplined and make better decisions.”
Zajac put the game out of reach with a power-play goal at 10:25 of the third period. He deflected defenseman Brian Lee’s shot from the point past Tormey to put UND on top 4-1 for good.
“We all took it upon ourselves to play better,” Zajac said. “We had a couple guys out of the lineup. It was a team effort today. Bottom line was, we won as a team.”
Hakstol was satisfied with the manner in which the Sioux rebounded from Friday’s performance and responded to the adversity.
“I’m happy with the way our whole team responded. It’s one step in the right direction, but we have to respond again tomorrow night,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of pride in both locker rooms, and it’s going to be a hell of a game tomorrow night.”