GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Minnesota survived a furious third-period rally by North Dakota to earn a 4-3 win and a road split at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Senior forward Ben Gordon’s extra-attacker goal with 1.6 seconds left in the second period gave Minnesota a 4-1 lead and stood as the game-winner. The Fighting Sioux scored two goals in the last four minutes to make it a tight game, but in the end, Minnesota’s freshman goalie Alex Kangas stood tall to preserve the win.
“We knew that we had to play a full 60 minutes, and I think we did,” Kangas said. “They got a couple bounces there and a couple goals, but I like the way we battled and pulled through.”
The Gophers played a strong game Friday, but came away with a 4-2 loss when UND scored four goals in the final period. Saturday was a new opportunity and Minnesota’s hard work paid off.
“I thought that both teams played so hard last night that both of us didn’t have the same jump in our step tonight,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “That was probably good for us because we didn’t want an up-and-down game. We just wanted to play patient and counterattack a number of times off our defense and score some goals. If you play with the lead, it makes the game a lot easier.”
Minnesota got that lead early. Just 2:37 into the game, Gophers’ freshman forward Mike Hoeffel came down the slot in the Sioux zone and fired a wrister that beat Sioux goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux high glove side. With the Gophers now 8-0-1 when they score first, getting on the board first proved decisive.
At the 13:47 mark, UND tied the game 1-1 when a centering pass from forward Darcy Zajac went in off T.J. Oshie’s skate. The play was reviewed and the goal stood, giving the junior his eighth goal of the season.
With 1:15 left in the first period, Minnesota defenseman Derek Peltier’s shot from the left point was deflected in past Lamoureux by junior forward Blake Wheeler, giving Minnesota a 2-1 lead at the end of one period.
Minnesota took control of the game with two unanswered goals in the second period. Hoeffel notched his second goal of the game at the 5:45 mark when Minnesota capitalized on a turnover in UND’s zone. Senior forward Mike Howe froze Lamoureux, and then dropped a pass to Hoeffel in the slot that he roofed over the Sioux goalie.
The biggest goal of the game proved to be senior forward Ben Gordons extra-attacker tally with 1.6 seconds left in the second period. With a delayed penalty in effect, the Gophers got the extra attacker on the ice. The Sioux were out of gas and couldn’t get control of the puck or a change. Wheeler threw a shot on goal from Lamoureux’s left and the rebound went to Gordon, who was camped out to the right of the crease. He put it in the net, giving Minnesota a commanding 4-1 lead.
The three-goal lead effectively took the home crowd of 11,857 out of the game. Minnesota appeared in charge until UND junior forward Ryan Duncan put a shot through traffic from the right circle that deflected off a Gopher shin pad to pull the Sioux to within 2.
At the 17:35 mark, sophomore center Chris VandeVelde scored to cut Minnesota’s lead to one goal. Although VandeVelde was in the crease and fell into Kangas as the puck crossed the goal line, a review of the play allowed the score to stand.
“There was a shot from the point and it just deflected off me,” VandeVelde said. “I kind of fell back into Kangas and it just barely rolled over.”
Suddenly, the home crowd was back in the game and the Gophers were on their heels.
UND pulled Lamoureux for the extra attacker with 1:23 left and generated some quality scoring chances, but Kangas withstood the attack and the Gophers survived UND’s rally for a 4-3 road win and series split.
“We made it a made scramble at the end there,” said VandeVelde. “It was too bad we couldn’t get something generated earlier. We kind of took the first two periods off. It was an exciting finish, but we just came up short.”
Kangas never let the pressure get to him.
“The fans were heckling me all night and I kind of enjoy that,” he said. “It’s good to shut them up, too, at the end.”
For UND coach Dave Hakstol, it was his team’s third failure this season to sweep a WCHA opponent at home after winning Friday.
“To sweep a series in this league, you have to have desperation through 60 minutes,” he said. “We couldn’t put that together for 60 minutes tonight. So, that’s what’s disappointing.”
The win gives the Gophers a reason for optimism heading into the Christmas break, especially knowing that they should be a better team the second half of the season, as they will get three players back.
“I think we played as well as we probably could have this weekend,” Lucia said. “We’ve got three forwards sitting back at home that could make our team better.”
Minnesota improves to 9-8-1 overall and 5-7-0 in the WCHA, while UND falls to 8-6-1 overall and 6-6-0 in conference play.