GRAND FORKS, No. Dak. — A week off and a week of off-ice distractions didn’t faze North Dakota as the Fighting Sioux continued their hot streak, downing visiting Minnesota State University-Mankato 8-4 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
UND’s top line of sophomores T.J. Oshie, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Duncan accounted for four UND goals. Toews had two goals one short-handed and two assists.
MSU coach Troy Jutting called the Sioux trio “the best line in college hockey.”
“We just got beat by a better hockey team,” he said. “Jonathan Toews is a great player and he played great hockey tonight. So did T.J. Oshie and Ryan Duncan. They made great plays.”
UND coach Dave Hakstol said one important difference from the first half of the season when his team fell below .500 and out of the polls is that all three players on the top line are healthy.
“The number-one thing is that the three of them are playing hard like the rest of our team,” he said. “They went through so many struggles in the first half. At times, here was some criticism of them, so I’m just happy to see them have some success.”
UND struck first at 6:51 of the first period. Just as a Sioux power play expired, Toews intercepted a clearing attempt and dished the puck to Duncan. His wrist shot from the slot beat goalie Mike Zacharias low stick side. Oshie put UND up 2-0 at the 10:49 mark. Skating down the right side, he put a drag move on a Mavericks defenseman and cut into the slot where he roofed in a backhander that beat Zacharias high glove side.
The Mavericks responded with an even-strength goal by junior defenseman R.J. Linder at 14:14. UND junior goalie Philippe Lamoureux got his glove on Linder’s slapshot from the top of the right circle, but it trickled in to make it a 2-1 game.
MSU’s power play then got some help from the Sioux to tie the game 2-2 at 16:14. UND sophomore defenseman Brian Lee blocked a centering pass by MSU senior center Kurtis Kisio, only to see the puck deflect off his stick and into the Sioux net.
UND blew open the game in the second period with four unanswered goals. Sioux freshman forward Darcy Zajac beat Zacharias at 3:04 with a wrister from the left circle. At 9:25, Toews blew past an MSU defenseman and put the puck through the five-hole. At 10:12, following a face-off in the Sioux zone, sophomore defenseman Taylor Chorney carried the puck into the right circle and fired a wrist shot that beat Zacharias high stick side.
Lee’s goal at 16:14 gave the Sioux a 6-2 lead. At that point, Jutting replaced Zacharias with senior goalie Chris Clark.
MSU’s best offense continued to be fortunate bounces on the power play. A slapshot by Mavericks junior defenseman Steve Wagner went over the net, hit the glass and rebounded straight over the goal. The puck hit Lamoureux in the shoulder and bounced in to make it at 6-3 game at 17:23.
Just 32 seconds into the third period, UND struck for its seventh goal when sophomore forward Andrew Kozek stepped out from behind the net and slammed the puck past Clark, giving the Sioux a 7-3 lead.
With goals from UND’s third and four lines and two goals from the defensive corps, Hakstol said it’s important that UND not depend on one line for scoring.
“We’re getting scoring from all different areas, and when you get scoring from your defensemen, I don’t look at it as a bonus for this team,” Hakstol said. “I think it’s a necessity for this team to get some production from our blue line.”
UND went up 8-3 on a shorthanded goal by Toews at 9:54. After Oshie missed on a breakaway, he centered the puck to Toews who was all alone in front of Clark.
MSU closed out the scoring with an even-strength goal with 2:22 left in the game. Sioux goalie Aaron Walski, who replaced Lamoureux with 4:43 left, blocked a wraparound attempt by freshman forward Kael Mouillierat. But the puck continued through the crease where Zach Harrison pounded it in.
With 48 seconds left, a fight erupted as players paired off all over the ice. Five players from each team went to the box. UND’s Lee and Erik Fabian received 5-minute majors for fighting and game disqualifications. MSU lost three players for fighting and game DQs: Lucas Fransen, Matt Tyree and Trevor Bruess.
The Sioux, 9-1-1 since the Christmas break, moved above the .500 mark in the WCHA for the first time since Nov. 25 and held on to fifth place. UND’s conference record improved to 10-9-2 (16-11-2 overall). MSU, 7-12-4 in league play (10-16-5 overall), fell back to eighth place in the WCHA.
Coming into the series, MSU was playing well and just two points behind UND.But with two games in hand on the Mavericks, the win gave the Sioux a solid four-point lead in the standings.
“They’re a better team,” said a disappointed Jutting, who then added, “We’re a better team.”
Following a sweep of Minnesota at Mariucci Arena Jan. 26-27, two Sioux players Toews and Oshie were cited by Grand Forks police for being minors in a bar. UND defenseman Robbie Bina was charged with the misdemeanor of escaping arrest for opening the police car door in which his two teammates were sitting.
UND coach Dave Hakstol ended the speculation about how he might punish the
trio by starting them for the game. Neither the off-ice problems nor the week off appeared to bother the Sioux.
“That’s perfect that the whole thing came with a week off and then we had some time to let it blow over,” Chorney said. “We put that all behind us and we all know that it was wrong. We knew that the main thing was to get the win tonight and move on to tomorrow.”
The two teams meet Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at Engelstad Arena for the second game of the series.