GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Call it tit for tat. Call it poetic justice. Call it payback. Call it a lucky bounce.
Whatever it was, sophomore forward Drew Akins’ 80-foot goal was the game-winner, giving Minnesota-Duluth a 4-2 win over North Dakota before 11,674 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The Bulldogs, who were 0-9-1 at UND going into the game, battled to a hard-earned road split and gained two key points that enabled them to remain in third place in the WCHA.
In UND’s 8-3 Friday thumping of the Bulldogs, Sioux forward Brad Miller received credit for a freak goal that he never saw because he was sitting on the bench. In similar fashion, Aikens never saw his dump-in from just past the red line go on goal and bounce past Sioux senior goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux.
“I was just trying to get it in the zone and get a change,” said Akins, who turned to head for the bench immediately after shooting the puck into UNDs zone. He had no idea how it went in until he saw the replay on the arena’s scoreboard.
“I saw it take a pretty wicked bounce,” he recalled. “I wasn’t expecting to have it take a bounce like that.”
Neither was Lamoureux or either coach.
“I didn’t really see it,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “All I know is that I heard some people cheering and some people ‘Ahhh-ing.’ Funny things happen when you put pucks on the net.”
UND coach Dave Hakstol didn’t see what happened, either. In any case, he was more concerned about the two goals UMD scored before Akins’ improbable game winner.
“It’s a bounce of the puck,” he said. “That goal-against is out of your control.
“If you want to look defensively, I look at the first two. We had both of those on our tape and full possession for two, three seconds and didn’t make responsible plays with the puck,” he explained.
Playing their second WCHA series at home, the Sioux have twice blown out opponents in the Friday game, only to deliver lackluster efforts the Saturday game. Last season, the Sioux went from Oct. 7 to March 10 between home sweeps.
“I don’t care what happened last year,” Hakstol said. “It’s twice in our own building, and that bothers me.”
The loss continued an even more troubling trend that goes back to Feb. 18, 2005; that was the last time UND trailed after two periods and came back for a win. UND has now lost 22 straight games when behind after two periods.
UND struck first at the 8:36 mark off a turnover in UMDs zone. Bulldogs’ sophomore goalie Alex Stalock stopped Matt Watkins’ shot from the right circle, but Sioux captain Rylan Kaip pounced on the rebound in the slot and pounded it in to give UND a 1-0 lead.
The Bulldogs took advantage of sloppy play in UND’s end to tie the game 1-1 at 15:11. An errant clearing attempt went to UMD sophomore defenseman Trent Palm all alone at the right point. He fired a wrist shot that junior center MacGregor Sharp tipped past Lamoureux.
The Bulldogs took a 2-1 lead at 9:21 of the second period when Aikens one-timed Cody Dangberg’ centering pass from behind the net past Lamoureux. It was his first goal of the season.
“He’s been in and out and he’s had injuries,” Sandelin said. “He’s a hard-working kid. He’s not afraid to go in the tough areas.”
Hakstol expressed his dissatisfaction with his team’s performance in the second period.
“There was no urgency to our game in the second period,” he said. “We weren’t terrible, but that’s not what we’re shooting for here. If you want to be a team that’s going to be a top-five team or a top-three team, you have to play with urgency every single period.”
Kaip didn’t disagree his coach’s assessment.
“Definitely, we kind of fell asleep in the second period,” he said. “You can’t do that against any team in this league. They’re going to pounce on that. We’ve got to play 60 minutes. We didn’t do that. That’s why we lost.”
The Sioux did play with a sense of urgency in the third period, and when junior forward Andrew Kozek scored at 4:56, the momentum appeared to shift back to UND. Kozek picked center Jordan Fulton’s pocket and fired a quick wrist shot past Stalock to make it a 2-2 game.
At the 11:37 mark, Akins struck for his unlikely second goal from the neutral zone to put the Bulldogs ahead for good.
“I was sure happy to see it go in, I know that,” Sandelin said. “I thought they had a lot of momentum after they scored their goal.”
UND pulled Lamoureux with 1:19 left in the game, but senior forward Matt McKnight’s empty net goal with 50 seconds remaining sealed the win for the Bulldogs.
Coming off a performance in which he gave up six goals on 25 shots, Stalock turned back 20 of 22 shots he faced.
“Games like that are going to happen,” he said. “You can’t linger on a loss like that. Guys were obviously hanging their heads after what happened, but we had to move on and get our minds together in the locker room. It just shows how much character this team really has.”
The Bulldogs improve to 6-4-2 overall and 5-4-1 in the WCHA. The Sioux are 6-4-1 overall and 4-4-0 in league play. Both teams have WCHA road series next weekend’ UND travels to Denver and UMD goes to Minnesota State-Mankato.