GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Asked if he remembered the last time North Dakota swept a WCHA team at home during the regular season, Fighting Sioux assistant captain Taylor Chorney had to think long and hard; he couldn’t remember.
“Jeez, it must go way back,” the junior defenseman finally said.
UND’s 4-1 victory over visiting Michigan Tech gave Sioux fans an opportunity to break out the brooms and enabled UND players to do something they hadn’t done this season after a two-game series: a center ice stick salute.
“It was the 11th straight sell-out, and these people have been here night in and night out,” Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said of the Sioux fans, who gave their team a standing ovation at game’s end. “It took a long time, but I don’t care what time of year it is, it’s always fun to see. Not a lot of people left. Everybody waited for it.”
For the record, the last time the Sioux swept at Ralph Engelstad Arena during the regular season was Oct. 7, 2006, in their home-opener against Quinnipiac. The last time they swept a WCHA opponent at home in the regular season was March 4, 2006, Chorney’s freshman year.
More importantly, the sweep means that UND remains alone in third place in the WCHA. The sweep also gives the Sioux their first three-game winning streak of the season.
“We didn’t talk about a sweep today,” Hakstol said. “We talked about trying to control our own destiny. We came into the weekend in sole possession of third and we wanted to make sure we came out of the weekend in sole possession of third, regardless of what anyone else does. That’s what we tried to focus on.”
UND’s penalty kill played a key role in the sweep. MTU’s power play went 0-10 on the weekend and the Huskies generated a mere four shots with the man advantage over two games.
“Their forecheck was outstanding,” said Huskies’ coach Jamie Russell. “They disrupted what we normally do. They didn’t let us get set up. When we did get set up, they took away a lot of our options. I thought their penalty kill was the best we’ve seen in the country all year.”
Chorney and senior forward Kyle Radke, two Sioux players who’ve struggled throughout the season, saw their fortunes change. Chorney scored a power play goal in each game, his first goals of the season.
Radke scored his first goal of the season and UND’s first goal of the game when he beat Huskies’ goalie Rob Nolan on a wraparound at 7:21 of the first period.
“For myself and the team, it’s nice to get the monkey off the back, getting the first sweep and first goal of the season, finally,” Radke said.
Sophomore defenseman Chay Genoway put UND up 2-0 at the 14:11 mark of the first period when he went coast to coast and beat Nolan with a wrist shot from the slot. Sioux goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux had the lone assist on the play.
“That play itself was obviously a good individual effort by Chay to beat their first guy,” Hakstol said of the game-winning goal. “By beating that first guy, that just opens up a little bit of space going into the zone. Chay just took what was there. You put it on net and good things happen.”
In the second period, a turnover in the Huskies’ zone resulted in a Sioux goal and a 3-0 lead at the 15:04 mark. Freshman forward Evan Trupp scooped up the loose puck and spotted center Chris VandeVelde alone in the right circle. He one-timed Trupp’s cross-ice pass to beat Nolan cleanly.
The third period couldn’t have started any better for the Huskies. After killing a Sioux power play, sophomore defenseman Drew Dobson’s wrist shot through traffic beat Lamoureux and made it a 3-1 game at 2:49. MTU then went on the power play, but once again, the Sioux penalty killers got the job done.
In their past two series against New Hampshire and St. Cloud State, UND saw two-goal leads evaporate in the third period, but that wouldn’t be the case this time.
“When New Hampshire scored against us, you looked down the bench and guys put their heads down and got deflated,” Chorney said. “But we’ve learned from that. In those situations, you’ve got to come together, tighten up and rally, make smarter plays and not try to do too much with the puck. Just keep it simple.”
The Sioux netted their second power-play goal of the game at 9:28 when Chorney blasted a slapper from the slot off a pass from behind the net by T.J. Oshie. The goal restored UND’s three-goal lead and crushed MTU’s momentum.
“I thought we held it together pretty well,” Hakstol said when it looked as if the Sioux could be headed for another disappointing third period. “We came back, earned a power play and made a good play to regain the three-goal lead. I don’t think anybody tightened up on the bench.”
Russell gave his team credit for playing better than it did Friday.
“I thought we came out and competed harder than we did last night,” he said. “We didn’t get too many loose pucks last night. We battled and we competed. We had a couple of big turnovers that cost us.”
In the end, the Huskies lost by an identical 4-1 score.
“Every weekend, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, you’ve got to take out the positives, put it behind you, go on and work hard,” Nolan said. “We’re going to put this one behind us, take the good things and move forward.”
UND improves to 12-8-1 overall and is 9-7-0 in the WCHA. The Sioux are on the road next for a two-game series Jan. 18-19 at Minnesota State. MTU, 9-11-2 overall and 5-8-1 in league play, is off next weekend. The Huskies next series is at home against Colorado College Jan. 25-26.