GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota proved that its Friday drubbing of No. 3 Minnesota was no fluke by downing the Golden Gophers 6-1 to earn a home sweep of its WCHA rival.
“We played consistent hockey,” UND coach Dave Hakstol of his team’s performance throughout the series. “We played hard from the drop of the puck. We played physical and we executed in a lot of different areas of the game.”
Minnesota senior defenseman R.J. Anderson didn’t mince words in assessing the Gophers’ play in Grand Forks.
“They came to a war with guns and we came with butter knives,” he said. “They beat us up and down the ice every shift, all weekend. They deserved to win.”
The Fighting Sioux entered the series in sixth place in the WCHA standings and emerged tied for fourth with Minnesota. The last time UND swept the Gophers at Ralph Engelstad Arena was November 2003, with Dean Blais as head coach.
Minnesota assistant coach John Hill said the series wasn’t so much about what the Gophers didn’t do, but what UND did.
“North Dakota came out hungrier,” he said. “They were more physical than us. They were opportunistic. They deserved the four points.”
Minnesota was again without head coach Don Lucia, who remained at home because of an illness. Also missing from the Gophers’ lineup were leading scorer Ryan Stoa and defenseman David Fischer, both of whom suffered injuries during Friday’s game. Stoa skated during warm-ups, but was replaced by freshman forward Joe Miller.
The Gophers opened Saturday’s tilt playing more physical. They tripled their shots on goal from Friday’s first period from two to six and played better defensively, but they didn’t get the same stellar early goaltending from Alex Kangas that he provided Friday.
Just 1:38 into the game, UND forward Evan Trupp passed from the slot to center Chris VandeVelde to the right of the net. His shot beat Kangas short side to put the Sioux up 1-0.
Former Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan put UND up 2-0 at 14:49 when his slap shot from the left circle hit Kangas’ glove and went in. The Gophers’ goalie appeared to think that he’d caught the puck, but it fell free with just enough momentum to carry over the line.
“I was just trying to put the puck on net, create some havoc and get a rebound,” Duncan said. “I was fortunate that it just ticked off his glove. It was one of those bounces.”
Rough play continued, but it didn’t deter the Sioux, who out-shot the Gophers 12-6 and had the better scoring opportunities.
The situation went from bad to worse for Minnesota in the second period, as UND scored three goals on eight shots to open a 5-0 lead.
At 11:08, freshman David Toews pounced on a turnover in the Minnesota zone and fed linemate Andrew Kozek. He skated unmarked into the right circle and unleashed a wicked wrist shot that beat Kangas cleanly, catching the top far corner.
Just 1:03 later, the Sioux went up 4-0 on freshman forward Jason Gregoire’s goal, his third of the series and eighth of the season. After winning a faceoff in Minnesota’s zone, defenseman Chay Genoway passed to Brett Hextall in the left corner. He fired a centering pass that Gregoire tipped past Kangas.
Toews, brother of former Sioux player and Chicago Blackhawks’ star Jonathan Toews, notched his fourth goal of the season at 14:58. With Kozek carrying the puck down the left wing, Toews raced for the net and tipped Kozek’s centering pass past Kangas to give UND a 5-0 lead at the end of two periods.
Freshman goalie Kent Patterson replaced Kangas at the start of the third period. Play got rough in the final stanza, resulting in a parade to the penalty box that eventually gave the Sioux a five-on-three power play. Duncan’s second goal of the game with the two-man advantage gave UND a 6-0 lead at 6:12.
Minnesota sophomore defenseman Cade Fairchild’s goal at 12:10 spoiled a shutout bid by Sioux goalie Brad Eidsness, who had 23 saves on 24 shots. The freshman netminder’s performance almost went unnoticed as a result of UND’s 12-goal weekend.
“He was pretty darn good again tonight,” Hakstol said. “At all key points of the hockey game tonight, he was rock solid.”
The Sioux got goals from all four lines Friday and three of four lines Saturday. Kozek said this UND squad has the most scoring depth of any team he’s played on during his four seasons.
“It’s nice when you don’t just have one or two lines putting pucks in the net,” he said “Even the guys who aren’t in the lineup each night are contributing.”
Duncan hopes that the sweep is a sign that the Sioux have put the inconsistency behind them that dogged them earlier in the season.
“We know we have a good team, and we know we have the potential to do some great things,” he said. “This weekend, we showed up to play, and that’s what can happen when we all show up with that focus and intensity.”
Hill said after that game that he didn’t believe Stoa’s injury was serious. He expects Fischer to be out of the lineup for two-to-three weeks.
Hakstol gave credit to Sioux fans who made up the vast majority of the 11,838 in the sellout crowed at Engelstad Arena.
“We had the seventh man all weekend,” he noted. “I think we have the best fans in college hockey and they proved that this weekend. You need every little edge that you can possibly get in a series like this.”
Anderson said the Gophers need to learn from being decisively swept and start Monday with a new commitment.
“We better be the hardest working team in the country because if we’re not, it’s going to be a long second half of the year,” he said.
Hill said that while the lopsided losses were tough to take, they could ultimately make Minnesota a better team.
“Like I told our players, you just can’t have passion for this game when you’re winning; you have to have passion when you’re losing, as well,” he said. “Right now its important that they make a decision to stick together and not start fraying apart at the seams over one weekend.”
Minnesota, 10-5-5 overall and 7-4-3 in conference play, has a home-and-home series Jan. 16-17 against St. Cloud State. UND, 13-10-1 overall and 7-6-1 in the WCHA, goes on the road for a two-game series against Michigan Tech Jan. 16-17.