GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The weather outside was frightful, but Fighting Sioux fans who braved a blizzard and sub-zero wind-chill saw something delightful: North Dakota’s first home sweep of the season.
UND got at least one goal from each line and two goals from defensemen in a 7-4 conference win over visiting St. Cloud State at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Sioux entered the series in ninth place in the WCHA, but the win, combined with Minnesota State’ loss to Denver and Alaska Anchorage being idle, vaulted UND into sixth place.
December isn’t just the time for holidays and the official onset of winter; it’s also the month when Sioux teams under UND coach Dave Hakstol seem come out of hibernation and begin playing good hockey. For the first time, UND is above .500, 9-8-1 overall and 6-5-1 in conference play.
“I think that we were kind of shocked into the season,” said UND sophomore defenseman Jake Marto, who had a goal and an assist. “We were maybe a little bit off. We realized that Christmas was coming real fast. We needed to start turning stuff around, and I think we’ve showed that.”
“I guess we’ll see what kind of story we can write this year,” Hakstol said. “I said it a month and a half ago: I like this hockey team. We as a staff feel like this team can be a good one. Even when we were going through some pretty tough times, we didn’t waver from that.”
The Sioux have now won five of their last six games. During that stretch, they’ve outscored opponents 32-15. In each of the past three weekends, UND has had a game in which it’s scored seven or more goals.
“We’re not an offensive juggernaut right now, but what we have is a lot of guys chipping in,” said Hakstol, attempting to explain his team’s sudden offensive surge. “We felt all along that eventually the tide would turn for us and we would start scoring goals.
“We’re not going to score six or seven every night. We feel like we can win games by scoring three or four each and every night on average. We’re proving over the last few weekends that we can do that.”
SCSU coach Bob Motzko, who has seen his team struggle on NHL-sized ice, put it simply. “We haven’t been exposed defensively like that all year.”
In a wild six-goal first period , UND outshot SCSU 15-7 and took a 4-2 lead. The Sioux jumped on the Huskies early, scoring three goals in the first five minutes.
Just 1:08 in, SCSU’s failure to clear their zone enabled Andrew Kozek to dish the puck to senior forward Ryan Duncan coming down the slot. Duncan’s quick wrist shot beat junior goalie Jase Weslosky high blocker side to put UND up 1-0.
The Huskies answered quickly, making it a 1-1 game at 3:05. Junior defenseman Garrett Raboin got his stick on a centering pass from forward Josh Swanson deep in the Sioux zone and tipped the puck past freshman goalie Brad Eidsness.
Just 52 seconds later, UND scored the first of three straight goals to take a 4-1 lead. The Sioux capitalized on a three-on-two rush with Marto batting in the rebound off forward Brett Hextall’s shot from the slot.
The Sioux needed just 13 seconds to cash in on a power play. Junior center Chris VandeVelde tipped Marto’s shot from the point past Weslosky at 5:00. With his second goal of the season at 11:33, junior forward Darcy Zajac knocked in a rebound off a shot from the slot by linemate Matt Watkins.
The Huskies battled back and cut UND’s lead to 4-2 at 17:08. Attempting to skate the puck out of his zone, Sioux defenseman Brad Miller turned the puck over in front of his net, enabling freshman forward Travis Novak to score on a quick wrist shot.
In the second period, sophomore goalie Dan Dunn replaced Weslosky, who made 11 saves on 15 shots. Dunn finished the game with nine saves on 11 shots. For UND, Eidsness had 19 saves on 23 shots.
The Huskies closed to within a goal at 15:51 to make it 4-3. When Eidsness couldn’t handle a backhand by forward Michael Olson from the right side of the net, senior forward Brent Borgen found the loose puck and shoveled it on goal. UND’s Ryan Martens attempted to get his stick on the puck to shoot it out before it crossed the goal line and nearly succeeded. A review revealed that it had crossed the line.
Just when it appeared the Huskies had regained the momentum, they took two penalties that gave UND a five-on-three advantage with just over a minute left in the period. Defenseman Chay Genoway ripped a shot that clanged off the right post. The rebound came out the left side directly to Hextall, who put the puck in the open net, restoring UND’s two-goal lead.
“Huge goal,” Hakstol said. “We felt like we’d played a real good, solid 20 minutes, and all of a sudden we’re losing the period 1-0. To score a five-on-three power-play goal with a couple of seconds left in the period was another key point in the game.”
SCSU refused to go away and cut UND’s lead to one once more when junior forward Ryan Lasch scored on a power play at 5:17. He beat Eidsness short-side with a wrist shot from the left circle on the Huskies’ lone power play goal of the series.
However, just as they did all game, the Sioux quickly responded with a goal of their own at 5:59. Freshman center David Toews beat Dunn high on the blocker side with a wrist shot from the right circle to put UND up 6-4.
“They outworked us down low,” Lasch said. “That’s how they got all their chances. They came out with the puck every time out of their defensive zone. They beat in all the battles.”
Hakstol said the response by the line of Toews, Jason Gregoire and Matt Frattin is indicative of how everyone on the team is expected to contribute.
“They had a great shift right after the power-play goal,” he noted. “They ground it out, made good plays, had a couple of opportunities and finished it with what was probably the biggest goal of the game.”
The final goal of the game came on a bizarre play with one second left and SCSU’s goalie pulled for the extra attacker. The Huskies’ Garrett Roe, trying to get the puck into UND’s zone, banked it off the boards, but it deflected back into SCSU’s zone. Defenseman Nicholas Rioux realized too late that the rolling puck was headed for the open net. It lazily rolled across the line just as time expired.
UND sophomore defenseman Derrick LaPoint, the last Sioux player to touch the puck, received credit for the unassisted goal that made the final score 7-4.
Although the final score was more lopsided than Friday’s 3-2 UND win, Motzko felt that the Huskies played better.
“We were making more plays tonight,” he said. “Believe it or not, we made some mistakes and got down, but we played better tonight.”
UND’s next game is an exhibition at home against the U.S. Under-18 National Team on Dec. 19. SCSU, which falls to 10-8-0 overall and 5-7-0 in conference play, has a week off before going on the road to take on Cornell Dec. 27. and either Colgate or Maine on Dec. 28.