DENVER — Something must happen to the North Dakota Fighting Sioux come playoff time. The Sioux, normally a tighter defensive team, seem to get involved in offensive shootouts, such as last year’s game against Boston College.
Saturday night, they won a wild game 8-5 over the Michigan Wolverines, capitalizing five times on the power play to earn a rematch of last week’s WCHA Final Five championship against Minnesota in the West Regional final Sunday.
“It was a wild and crazy game for the first 25 to 30 minutes of the hockey game,” said Sioux coach Dave Hakstol. “Obviously we didn’t come out and get off to a good start. Defensively we gave up an awful lot of grade-A opportunities.”
Fans barely had time to get comfortable in their seats before the Wolverines were up 2-0. First, Kevin Porter beat Sioux goalie Philippe Lamoureux high glove side at the 26-second mark with a wrist shot from the top of the slot, and then at the 58-second mark Andrew Cogliano broke in alone on Lamoureux. Lamoureux made the initial stop, but Chris Summers came flying into the crease and knocked the loose puck in.
The Sioux battled back with a power-play goal at 3:05. Chay Genoway fired a wrist shot from the left point that Billy Sauer made the initial stop on, but the puck came to Chris VandeVelde in the slot. His swat at the rebound hit the left post and ricocheted to Chris Porter stationed down low, who fired it into the net.
The announcer was still calling out the goal credit when the Wolverines got the two-goal lead back at 4:58. Leading scorer T.J. Hensick stole the puck from Jonathan Toews in the left corner, skated out to the middle of the slot and fired a shot that beat Lamoureux five-hole.
“I really have to pay Michigan credit,” said Hakstol. “They flat-out made some great plays. Their team speed is as good as any team we’ve played, so they put us back on our heels right away.”
Things settled down for a bit after that, but the Sioux got a series of goals on flurry late in the period, in part due to their effectiveness on the power play. Porter got his second of the game at 14:36 when, stationed near the left post, he redirected Brad Miller’s wrist shot from the point out of the air near his ankles past Sauer.
Less than two minutes later, the Sioux’s big line got on the board when T.J. Oshie took the puck behind the net, stepped out to his left and lifted a backhand past Sauer into the top left corner to tie the score.
The Sioux weren’t done yet. With Brandon Naurato in the box for roughing, Matt Hunwick was whistled for interference, giving the Sioux a 5-on-3 for almost two minutes, and the Sioux capitalized at 18:47. Robbie Bina picked up the puck along the right side boards on a nice feed from Ryan Duncan and fed Toews streaking down the left side, who lifted it into the open net.
The second period started as wild as the first, as the Wolverines again scored two goals inside the first minute. Starting the period on a power play, Hensick carried the puck down the left side boards, slid it through Bina’s legs, picked it up and beat Lamoureux top shelf stick side to tie the game at the 15 second mark.
Cogliano put the Wolverines back in the lead on a sloppy turnover by Lamoureux. Lamoureux skated out to the left corner to play the puck, but he failed to see Cogliano streaking in, and Cogliano picked off Lamoureux’s pass behind the net and wrapped it around the right post ahead of a diving Lamoureux at the 58 second mark.
Asked whether he considered pulling Lamoureux at that point, Hakstol was vehement in saying it didn’t cross his mind. “Phil has really proven his mental toughness,” said Hakstol. “I think as a team we have faith in him, and you know he’s going to battle back at some point in time, you know he’s going to battle to beat the guy at the other end of the rink. He showed that tonight. He made a couple of saves in the second half of the game, game-changing saves.”
The power play continued be a strong point for the Sioux, and they tied it at 3:16 when they won a draw and Oshie passed it to Bina at the left point, who fired a perfect wrist shot into the upper right corner of the net.
The Sioux regained the lead at 4:53 of the period when Rylan Kaip fired a wrist shot from the top of the slot that beat Sauer stick-side.
The Sioux scored their fifth power-play goal of the game on an unbelievable play by Oshie, who picked up a rebound on the left side of the net and, from behind the goal line, banked a shot in off the back of Sauer’s right pad at 8:03.
Lamoureux meanwhile, settled down, making several excellent stops, stoning David Rohlfs from the low slot and then robbing Hensick on a breakaway. Hensick tried to go stick side, but Lamoureux got his shoulder on it and then smothered the rebound. After the whistle, Lamoureux employed a little gamesmanship by hurling the puck out of his glove up the ice.
The third period was a more sedate affair. The energy of the teams seemed down after the wild scoring flurries of the first two periods, and the crowd couldn’t seem to sustain their excitement.
Lamoureux came up big a couple of times, including when he robbed Rohlfs on a redirect of a pass from Jack Johnson.
The Wolverines’ chances took a major hit at 7:34 when Hensick was called for a 10-minute misconduct. Late in the period, it almost seemed that Hensick would finish his collegiate career in the box, but a whistle sprang him with just over two minutes left in the game.
“It was extremely frustrating, considering I didn’t think I deserved a 10-minute, considering I’ve only had one I think in my entire career,” said Hensick. “For the ref to do what he did, to take me out of the game for 10 minutes in a critical situation was unlikely to happen. The ref tried to take control of the game; I just think he should have done it earlier in the game.”
“I think it’s important when you get to this level that everyone understand what the standard is,” said Wolverines’ coach Red Berenson, who was clearly upset after the game.
Oshie added an empty-net goal at 17:49 to seal the win when he picked up a clear behind Hunwick.
“I relaxed a little bit when T.J. scored the empty net goal,” said Hakstol. “A little bit. The way the night was going, there was no way to relax until the final buzzer. From our standpoint, we had a goal to achieve tonight, and that was to wake up tomorrow morning and prepare for another game, no matter who it is. It’s going to be a heck of a matchup tomorrow night. You can take everything in the past and throw it out, including last Saturday.”
“It’s always a good game when we play the Gophers,” said Oshie. “It’s a huge rivalry and it’s a fun game to play in. There’s definitely been a feeling in my gut this week. We took a pretty tough loss last weekend, but we need to keep our heads tomorrow night and not exert ourselves and just play our game, which is hard-nosed Fighting Sioux hockey.