GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol is probably asking himself: Whatever happened to home sweet home?
A six-game home stand against WCHA opponents was supposed to provide the boost his team needed to get back into the hunt for the league title. But Michigan Tech became the latest conference opponent to spoil UND’s hopes for a sweep with a 3-1 win at Ralph Engelstad Arena before 10,321 fans.
“We were desperate for points,” said MTU coach Jamie Russell. “I think we had to come into this game and play with a real sense of urgency.”
After getting their season off to a 5-1 start, the Huskies went 1-7-2 and came to Grand Forks without a player on the roster who’d ever won a game there. Russell was 0-12 against UND. But rather than taking advantage of home ice, the Sioux have won just one of five games there, falling to 5-7-1 in the WCHA and 7-9-1 overall.
“To come into this building and beat a team that we haven’t had success against, that’s big,” Russell said. “We need to enjoy it for about 10 minutes and refocus for tomorrow night.”
Following a scoreless first period, MTU took advantage of what’s become UND’s traditional second-period slump, a period during which the Sioux have now been outscored 28-15. UND’s power play, rated fourth in the nation coming into the game, failed to connect on three straight chances to start the period and went 0-6 for the night.
The Huskies then took a 1-0 lead at the 15:48 mark. Sophomore forward Alex Lord, standing at the bottom of the left circle, banged in a feed from freshman forward Ryan Bunger, beating Sioux junior goalie Philippe Lamoureux.
With 29 seconds left in the period and the Huskies on the power play, MTU junior forward Peter Rouleau tipped defenseman Lars Helminen’s shot from the point past Lamoureux to give his team a 2-0 lead. The puck appeared to carom off at least one Sioux player before trickling in 5-hole.
Bunger’s even-strength goal at 13:08 of the third period, combined with sophomore Rob Nolan’s outstanding goaltending, proved too much for the Sioux to overcome. After Lamoureux was pulled for an extra attacker, UND sophomore forward Brad Miller spoiled Nolan’s shutout bid with a goal at 18:33.
Although UND applied relentless pressure in the game’s last minute and a half, they couldn’t finish on several quality scoring chances.
“I thought our guys played with their hearts on their sleeves,” Nolan said. “They made it a lot easier for me.”
Hakstol said lack of offensive execution has been a big part of UND’s problem.
“We’re struggling offensively right now to finish on plays,” he said. “We have to get through that. We had some plays that were there to be finished, and we just didn’t finish them.”
Bunger said that when MTU went through its skid, it was because the team was taking periods off, but that wasn’t the case against UND.
“Tonight, everybody just came out playing hard and playing physical,” he said. “For 60 minutes tonight, everybody chipped in.”
How badly are the Sioux struggling? The Huskies’ power play, ranked dead last in the nation, scored the game-winning goal, and 6-7, 252-pound Fighting Sioux defenseman Joe Finley couldn’t even get a fight going with a smaller willing opponent.
About half way through the third period, Finley dropped the gloves and challenged Huskies defenseman Jake Wilkens to a fight. The 6-1, 205-pound Wilkens dropped his gloves, too, but officials got between the pair before any blows could be exchanged. Both spent the remainder of the game in the penalty box.
“Things don’t always go right. Things don’t always come easy,” Hakstol said. “Certainly for us right now, they’re not coming easy. We have to stay mentally tough come back and battle tomorrow.”
MTU improves to 7-8-2 overall and 4-7-2 in the WCHA. When the two teams meet at Engelstad Arena at 7:05 p.m. Saturday for the second game of the series, a win by the Huskies would put them one point ahead of the sixth place Sioux.