GRAND FORKS, N.D. — In delivering a 6-3 thrashing to third-ranked Minnesota at Ralph Engelstad Arena, North Dakota didn’t look anything like an unranked team.
UND coach Dave Hakstol wouldn’t characterize the game as his team’s best of the season, but it was certainly one of the best.
“I think it’s probably arguable,” he explained. “We’ve played some pretty good hockey games. Parts of this game were certainly the way we wanted to play. The type of hockey we played tonight, that’s the way our team needs to play to be successful.”
Minnesota assistant coach John Hill took over the team with head coach Don Lucia remaining at home to undergo tests for an illness. Assistant captain Ryan Flynn said the team’s poor performance had nothing to do with Lucias absence or illness.
“We were focused; we had all the tools we needed to come and play this weekend,” he said. “We, as a team, just didn’t come out ready to go. Not one player in the locker room came ready to play. Our intensity level wasn’t nearly what it needed to be.”
Minnesota sophomore goalie Alex Kangas played an outstanding opening period, stopping all 18 UND shots he faced while the Gophers registered just two shots on Sioux goalie Brad Eidsness.
However, the next two periods were a different story. The Fighting Sioux rang up six goals on 16 shots, chasing Kangas from the game in the third period. His replacement, freshman Kent Patterson, stopped the five shots he faced.
Freshman forward Jason Gregoire led the way for UND, netting a power-play goal, scoring the game-winning goal and picking up an assist. Playing his first game before a packed house of 11,764 fans in one of the longest, most intense rivalries in college hockey didn’t faze him.
“That was just awesome,” he said of the sometimes deafening, raucous atmosphere. “I knew that crowd would be into it, but I didn’t expect that at all.”
In the first period, UND did everything but score. The Sioux out-shot, out-skated and out-hit the Gophers. After 20 minutes however, the score remained 0-0.
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance to win tonight,” Flynn said. “From the very beginning, we were out-worked, out-hustled. There was body contact all over the ice.”
Fortunately for the Gophers, Kangas was equal to the task. He robbed Matt Frattin on a clean breakaway. He stoned Ryan Duncan on a two-on-one rush. He stonewalled Gregoire on point-blank chance on the doorstep. He also helped kill a UND power play.
However, Kangas became human in the second period, allowing four goals on 19 shots. UND sophomore forward Evan Trupp put the Sioux up 1-0 with an unassisted short-handed goal at 1:17. He took the puck away at the Minnesota blue line and went in alone, faking a backhand shot before firing in the puck five-hole on his forehand.
A short time later, Frattin came in alone on a clean short-handed breakaway, only to hit the crossbar with his shot. Kangas made a big stop on UND’s Derrick LaPoint when the Sioux had an extra attacker on the ice during a delayed penalty.
However, UND cashed in on the ensuing power play to go up 2-0 at the 5:13 mark. Kangas stopped Trupp’s initial shot, but the rebound came to Gregoire to the right of the net. He roofed the puck over the goalie to put UND up 2-0.
Minnesota pulled within a goal at 7:41. Eidsness stopped a shot by defenseman Sam Lofquist from the right circle. The rebound went to Ryan Stoa alone in the slot, who hammered in his 12th goal of the season.
The Sioux responded at 11:25 with a goal by Duncan, ending a five-game scoring drought. Kangas juggled Gregoire’s shot from along the left boards. Crashing the net, Duncan alertly swatted in the rebound to put UND up 3-1.
Gregoire scored his second goal of the game, the game winner, unassisted at 17:29. He took the puck away from a Gopher defender at the blue line and went in on a breakaway. His backhander trickled through Kangas’ five hole, giving UND a 4-1 lead through two periods.
“I was hoping that he was sliding across and left that five-hole open,” Gregoire said. “Even though it got through, it went off his one pad and off the post and just slid in.”
The third period opened with the Gophers putting intense pressure on in the UND zone. Their efforts were rewarded when Stoa struck for his second goal of the game, rifling a drop pass in the slot from defenseman Cade Fairchild past Eidsness.
Whatever hopes Minnesota had of coming back were dashed when UND struck for two goals just over a minute apart. Senior forward Andrew Kozek beat Kangas with a laser wrist shot under the crossbar at 8:46 to cap off center Chris VandeVelde’s bull-like rush through Gophers’ defenders.
At 9:48, UND senior Ryan Martens notched his ninth goal of the season when he put a sharp-angled shot on goal from the right of the net. The puck eluded Kangas and found its way across the goal line. Trailing by four goals, Hill replaced Kangas with Patterson.
Minnesota closed out the scoring with a goal by freshman center Jordan Schroeder at 12:24 to make the final score 6-3.
With just under two minutes remaining, the game turned chippy after Patterson stopped a scoring attempt by freshman Brett Hextall. A melee erupted that resulted in UND ending the game on a power play.
Posting a 9-3 record in their last 12 games, Hakstol said that UND has begun to overcome the inconsistent play the team suffered from earlier in the season. Losses to Michigan Tech and Michigan State at the Great Lakes Invitational were major setbacks, however.
“It’s hard for me to say that I like our consistency because we had one dog of a weekend right in Detroit,” he said. “To be honest with you, other than that weekend, we’ve played pretty well. We’ve been pretty consistent over the majority of the last 8-10 games.”
The win improved UND to 7-5-1 in the WCHA (12-10-1 overall). The Sioux moved into a fifth-place tie with Minnesota Duluth and could tie Minnesota for third with a series sweep. The Gophers fell to 7-3-3 in league play and are 10-4-5 overall.
The two teams meet Saturday for the second game of the series beginning at 7:05 p.m. in Engelstad Arena.