GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota came into its second game against Alaska-Anchorage looking to make a statement on its home ice and did just that with a convincing 4-0 victory over the visiting Seawolves.
With an 0-2-1 record against the Seawolves, the Fighting Sioux didn’t even wait for the game to start. As the pre-game warm-up ended, the officials had to get between several players from both teams who continued to exchange words as they headed off the ice to the locker rooms.
“Our first half (of the season) was a little soft,” said UND sophomore T.J. Oshie, whose first period power play goal was the game winner. “It wasn’t the real Fighting Sioux hockey that we’re looking for. This last half of the season, we’ve really got to get gritty and play with a lot of heart.”
The Sioux players backed up the pre-game talk with their scoring, their defense and even their fists, blanking the Seawolves before 11,368 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“We definitely made a point to go out and make sure that everyone knows that this is our home ice,” said UND junior forward Rylan Kaip, who was ejected from the game along with UAA captain Chad Anderson for a second period fight. “I think that’s what we were lacking earlier this year. We had to do it and we did it tonight.”
The Sioux came out in the first period playing like a team with something to prove, building a 2-0 lead with goals by Oshie and Chris Porter. Oshie scored on the power play at 5:39. Ryan Duncan’s cross-ice pass came to defenseman Taylor Chorney who whiffed on his shot. But the puck slide to Oshie who had a wide-open net to shoot into.
Oshie, a number-one draft pick of the St. Louis Blues who scored 24 goals as a freshman, has just six goals his sophomore season and has struggled.
“It wasn’t a very hard goal, but sometimes that’s the bounce you got to get to maybe turn your season around,” Oshie said.
Porter, a senior and team captain, broke a 13-game goal-scoring slump. Just as a UND penalty expired, forward Matt Watkins picked off a UAA outlet pass at the blue line and went in two-on-one with Porter, who fired in the centering pass from the slot past junior goalie Nathan Lawson at 10:42.
UND coach Dave Hakstol was critical of a mistake made by Porter the previous night that cost the Sioux a goal, but praised his performance Saturday.
“He’s our team captain and he has to be our leader when it comes to accountability,” he said. “He showed some pretty good intestinal fortitude with the performance he came back with tonight. It was good to see him score a big goal that put us up by two.”
The Sioux continued their domination in the second period, adding two more goals to take a 4-0 lead. Just 28 seconds in, Grand Forks native Robbie Bina fired a wrister from the top of the slot that beat Lawson cleanly through traffic.
At 3:51 as players mixed it up after the whistle in front of the UAA net, Kaip and Anderson dropped their gloves and went at. Both players received five-minute majors for fighting and were ejected with game disqualifications.
Duncan scored his third goal of the series and 17th of the season on the power play at 7:52. Coming across the UAA blue line, Oshie fed a pass to Duncan who skated uncontested into the right circle and fired a wrist shot that went inside the far post.
In the third period, UND focused on playing defense, at one point killing off three straight penalties to preserve Lamoureux’s shutout. The Sioux penalty kill, which ranked near the bottom of the nation earlier in the season, held UAA without a power play for the series (0-10).
Hakstol said the penalty kill has become one of the team’s strong points, partly because of Lamoureux’s play.
“Since Christmas, it’s been a real strength of ours,” Hakstol said. “With Phil as the leader on that penalty kill, the whole group of guys has bought into the system that they’re working within and is executing it well.”
Since the Christmas break, Lamoureux is 4-1-1 with a 1.32 goals against average and a .950 save percentage. He missed six games earlier in the season with an ankle sprain and his play has steadily improved as he’s healed.
“My ankle feels a lot better,” Lamoureux said. “Coming back, it felt really sore when doing any type of exercises or anything. I really don’t notice it much any more, and it feels pretty good.”
One of the differences between UND’s Friday performance which ended in a 3-3 tie and Saturday’s shutout was that the Sioux gave the Seawolves few second chances.
“I think you could look at last night’s game when there were a lot of scrambles,” Lamoureux said. “I think we totally eliminated those tonight. It’s just a testament to how well our (defense) and our forwards played.”
For the series, Hakstol was pleased with the way his team played, showing more fire and determination than it did the first half of the season.
“Plain and simple, playing with an edge, playing hard for each other, that’s really what it comes down to,” he said. “This is a sport where you have to play hard for one another. You have to be there — not just physically — but be there for the guy next to you. You’ve got to battle together.”
The win enabled UND to move up to fifth place in the WCHA, improving to 11-11-2 overall and 7-9-2 in the league play. UAA falls to seventh place in the WCHA with a 10-11-3 overall record and 6-11-1 record in conference play.
The Sioux next play a home-and-home series Jan. 19-20 against nonconference opponent Bemidji State. The Seawolves return home for a two-game series Jan. 19-20 against Michigan Tech.