GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota used solid goaltending and outstanding special teams play to gain a split with visiting Alaska Anchorage.
Sioux freshman goalie Brad Eidsness made 23 saves in UND’s 3-1 win before a sellout crowd of 11,865 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Sioux notched two power-play goals and a short-handed goal, getting contributions from two sophomores who broke long scoring droughts.
After UND lost Friday’s game 3-2, Sioux coach Dave Hakstol made some lineup changes that paid off.
“I think we played much better than we did Friday night,” Hakstol said. “I think they played better as well. It was a really even battle. Someone mentioned that it felt like a playoff-type intensity. Well, that’s how it is every night in this league.”
UND got what it didn’t get in the first period Friday: a lead and big saves in goal.
“Early in the game five-on-five, Eidsness made some saves,” said UAA coach Dave Shyiak. “We could have easily been up 2-1 in the first period. Their goalie made some saves, they made some plays on the power play and that was the difference.”
The struggling Sioux power play (12.1 percent entering the game) got help from an unexpected source when sophomore forward Matt Frattin broke a 14-game scoring drought at 12:47 to put UND up 1-0.
Freshman forward Jason Gregoire brought the puck out to right of UAA goalie Bryce Christianson and made a centering pass that went through the crease. Frattin was waiting on the opposite side to pound the puck home.
“I saw the puck; it was kind of rolling and I just tried to put it on net,” Frattin said. “I finally popped one in. It’s been a while, since last year.”
Eidsness made key saves to preserve UND’s slim lead, keeping the Seawolves off the scoreboard on four first-period power play attempts. After a sometimes rocky start to the season, the rookie goalie from Chestermere, Alberta, said he’s adjusting to the college game.
“My confidence level has risen every single game since the start of the year,” Eidsness said. “It’s one of those things where you just have to get used to the speed. You have to get used to the buildings. There’s a little bit more going on around you. You just have to learn to focus and tune that out. I’m definitely starting to feel a little more comfortable.”
In the second period, four seconds after a tripping penalty on UND’s David Toews expired, Seawolves’ sophomore defenseman Kane Lafranchise fired a wrister from the top of the slot. The puck bounced off Sioux forward Darcy Zajac and went in, tying the game 1-1 at 11:06.
“It went off one guy for sure and maybe two,” Eidsness said.
Special teams proved to be the Seawolves undoing in the third period. Scoring his fourth goal in four games, Sioux freshman forward Brett Hextall netted the game-winner on the power play at 10:29. Christianson gave up a big rebound off Brad Miller’s shot from the point. Camped out to the left of the goal, Hextall fired the puck into an open net, giving the Sioux a 2-1 lead.
With plenty of time remaining, UAA went on a power play with an opportunity to tie the game. Instead, UND sophomore center Brad Malone scored short-handed at 12:31, giving the Sioux a 3-1 lead. It was just his second career goal and his first in 33 games.
Malone took the puck away at the UND blue line and skated into the UAA zone two-on-one with forward Ryan Duncan. His attempted pass to Duncan hit a defender’s skate and went in five-hole on Christianson.
“I’ll take anything I can get right now,” Malone said of the play. “I was two-on-one with ‘Dunc’ and trying to hit him back door. I got a lucky bounce.”
The Seawolves went 0-7 on the power play game and were 0-13 on the weekend. They came into the game ranked seventh in the nation at 21.3 percent.
“We won the special teams battle in the third period and only gave up five shots,” Hakstol said. “There’s a lot of good there.”
The Sioux were 2-9 on the power play, and Shyiak said that’s what killed UAA’s chance for a road sweep.
“Weak penalties continue to be our Achilles heel,” he said. “It was very evident tonight. They made plays on the power play. We took too many penalties and that was the difference in the game. We were the better team five-on-five.”
The split means that the teams remain tied for fifth place in the WCHA with eight points each. UAA is 6-4 overall and 3-3-2 in league play. The Sioux are 4-6-0 overall and 4-4-0 in the conference.
Both teams resume league play Nov. 21-22. UAA hosts a two-game series with Colorado College Nov. 21-22 while UND is on the road for a series at Minnesota Duluth.