GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Don’t tell North Dakota fans that the first game of the season, a 5-2 exhibition victory over the University of Manitoba, was meaningless.
Grand Forks native Robbie Bina, a junior defenseman who hadn’t played a game since his neck was broken during the 2005 WCHA Final Five, received a rousing standing ovation from Fighting Sioux fans when he was the last player introduced before the game started.
“I think we probably all expected it,” Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said of the welcome back Bina received. “I was in the tunnel and I was part of the ovation. It was exciting to see him come back and have the crowd react the way it did. You can bet our team had the same reaction for him.”
“It was great to have them behind me all the way,” Bina said. “I thought I was going to get a little cheer, but it was pretty sweet for the fans to do it that way.
“As soon as everyone started cheering for me, I just had a bunch of goose bumps running up and down my spine.”
Also back in the UND lineup was senior forward Erik Fabian, recently voted an assistant captain by his teammates. He suffered a season-ending knee injury during the final game of the regular season and underwent surgery.
Bina played a stellar defensive game and Fabian scored UND’s first goal of the night, shorthanded and unassisted.
“Robbie Bina, as Robbie always does, very quietly was rock-solid out there. He did a very good job for us,” said Hakstol.
With Manitoba on the power play, Fabian picked the pocket of defenseman Stewart Thiessen. His first shot was stopped by goalie Krister Toews, but Fabian stuff in the rebound. The goal put UND up 1-0 at the 3:46 mark.
“For me, I couldn’t write that any better,” Fabian said. “I guess there’s just a little bit of satisfaction to get that under my belt right away.”
Sioux freshman Hunter Bishop gave UND a 2-0 lead at 12:11. Linemate Ryan Martens hit Bishop with a pass in the slot. Toews stopped the initial backhander, but Bishop put in the rebound on his forehand.
Manitoba’s Nick Cowan cut UND’s lead in half with a goal at 16:28 of the opening period. He picked up the puck, skated unopposed into the slot and beat goalie Philippe Lamoureux through the pads with a low wrist shot.
The Sioux dominated the Bison in the first period, out shooting them 15-5, but the second period was a different story. Lamoureux was replaced by freshman goalie Anthony Grieco half way through the second period, and Manitoba wasted no time testing him.
Just 13 seconds into his first game in a Sioux uniform Grieco gave up a goal on the first shot he faced. Manitoba’s Nolan Walker tied the game 2-2 at the 10:32 mark when he tipped in Nick Cowan’s centering pass. However, Grieco was solid the rest of the way, at one point making three quick saves during a Manitoba power play.
Sophomore forward Jonathan Toews, a first-round draft choice of the Chicago Blackhawks, scored the game winner at 15:50 of the second period with UND on a five-minute power play. Forward Ryan Duncan’s pass sent Toews in alone on Toews (no relation) and he buried the opportunity.
“We were kind of struggling on the power play. We weren’t quite on the same page out there,” said UND’s Toews. “Dunc found me breaking through the neutral zone and I was able to put it away.
“It was a good goal because it kind of got us back into it and got some momentum going through the second period when we were struggling,” he said.
In the third period, UND took advantage of Manitoba penalties to put the game out of reach. With UND on a 5-on-3 power play, defenseman Taylor Chorney one-timed Brian Lee’s cross-ice pass and beat Toews cleanly to put the Sioux up 4-2 at 8:27.
UND sophomore goalie Aaron Walski played the final 14:30 of the game and stopped the lone shot he faced. Lamoureux had eight saves on nine shots and Grieco made nine saves on 10 shots. The Sioux outshot the Bison 37-20 and were 3-8 on the power play.
Duncan scored an unassisted power play goal at the 11:30 mark. He intercepted a clearing attempt at the blue line, skated into the left circle and fired a wrister through traffic that beat Toews short side.
Overall, Hakstol was satisfied with his team’s first game of the season.
“Expect a few bumps along the way in the first game, and certainly we had those,” he said. “We didn’t move the puck very well tonight, and we didn’t play with a lot of speed. I’ll give them (Manitoba) credit for clogging things up and I’ll give our guys credit for getting a little bit better as we got through the game. I thought our third period was a bright spot for us.”
UND opens its regular season with a two-game, non-conference series Oct. 6-7 against Quinnipiac at Ralph Engelstad Arena.