GRAND FORKS, N.D. — What would a Denver-North Dakota game be without controversy?
The Fighting Sioux and the Pioneers skated to a 2-2 tie before 11,856 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The practical result is that DU holds onto first place in the WCHA while UND moves into sole possession of second place, one point behind Denver.
However, the ejection of DU coach George Gwozdecky in the second period, his actions during the game and the officiating that followed are likely to keep college hockey fans buzzing for weeks to come. Questions are already being raised about whether the DU coach should be suspended by the WCHA.
UND coach Dave Hakstol said that he didn’t think that Gwozdecky deserved to be suspended, noting that he missed UND’s series against DU a year ago after being suspended by the league for making an obscene gesture toward officials during a game at Minnesota.
“It’s got to be something pretty drastic, to me, to take a guy away from his team,” he said. “I have a ton of respect for George.”
Asked if he thought the league would suspend him, Gwozdecky replied, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
With the game tied 1-1 in the second period, Gwozdecky became irate during contact between Sioux and Pioneer players in front of DU’s bench.
“What was I mad about? What are you mad at officials about?” he asked reporters. “There were a couple of calls that I thought should have been made that they decided weren’t calls that I decided were calls. So we agreed to disagree.”
At the 9:30 mark, referee Todd Anderson assessed the team a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a 10-minute game misconduct, signaling Gwozdecky’s ejection from the game.
That led to a lengthy discussion across the ice near the penalty box between Pioneers’ captain J.P. Testwuide and officials. During that time, Gwozdecky stood on the dasher and shouted at the officials. After Testwuide returned to the bench and spoke with the coaches, Gwozdecky went on to the ice and walked toward Anderson, who would not talk to or go near him.
“To be honest, I thought he was going to go sit the two minutes himself; I didn’t know what was going on there,” said Pioneers’ freshman defenseman Patrick Wiercoch.
When asked why he went across the ice toward the penalty box where Anderson was standing, Gwozdecky said that he was going to the DU locker room. However, the tunnel to the locker room is directly behind the bench.
“I was going to take the long way,” he said. “I wasn’t going to the penalty box. I was going to our locker room. I wanted to get the attention of our officials.”
The coach talked to a linesman before finally leaving the game to the thunderous approval of Sioux fans, who hadn’t been into the game until that point. Gwozdecky said he watched the remainder of the second period in the press room and then watched the third period and overtime from the press box.
Hakstol said he was puzzled by the penalties assessed to DU’s bench. He also questioned the five straight penalties called against the Sioux following Gwozdecky’s ejection, one of which led to the game-tying power play goal.
“There was one minor penalty; my question was: why wasn’t there another one?” said Hakstol “A five-on-three would have been a critical turning point in the game. Those are just my questions. The resulting tenor to the game or maybe the officiating after that is of concern to me.”
Events seemed to work in UND’s favor when sophomore forward Evan Trupp put the Sioux ahead 2-1 at 16:52. Just as time ran out on a DU power play, he scooped up the puck in the neutral zone and went in alone on a breakaway. His backhander through goalie Marc Cheverie’s five-hole gave UND the lead, but it wouldn’t last long.
Sioux defenseman Chay Genoway was whistled for interference with 1:33 left in the second period. Wiercioch blasted a slap shot from the point that beat freshman goalie Brad Eidsness high glove side to tie the game 2-2 at the 19:00 mark. That’s where the score stayed through regulation and overtime.
Wiercioch said the Pioneers improved their play because they stayed focused on playing hockey.
“I think last night, we were a little too worried about the lip game that was going on, maybe a little too worried about certain individuals on the other team,” he said. “Tonight, we just focused on the guys in the locker room.”
The Pioneers, who had to come from behind twice to tie the Sioux, probably deserved a better fate. They outshot UND 40-25, controlled play in the Sioux zone for long stretches and hit a post in overtime. If not for the 38 saves by Eidsness, some of them outstanding, DU would have earned a split.
“Brad Eidsness did a great job tonight bailing out our team,” Hakstol said. “Things have a funny way of evening out. We’ve given Brad some pretty good leads to work with in a few games. Tonight, he gave us a chance to get one point and the guys worked extremely hard in front of him to scrap it out.”
Gwozdecky commended his players for responding to Friday night’s 8-3 thrashing better than he did.
“Sometimes the results aren’t what you look at or what you want,” he said. “But I thought the process of how we went about playing the game, especially responding from last night, was something that probably was more important to me and this team than a point or two.
“We played against a really good hockey team, a team that really kicked our butts last night in a very difficult venue. Other than myself, I thought we dealt with it in a really good manner.”
DU started the game with more jump and played much better defensively, but it was the Sioux who were rewarded with their first shot on goal. Junior center Chris VandeVelde dug the puck out of the left corner and hit linemate Matt Frattin with a pass that isolated him on Cheverie. Frattin fired in the puck five-hole to give UND a 1-0 lead at 4:44.
The Pioneers got on the board at 11:21 when a bounce went their way. Sophomore defenseman Chris Nutini threw the puck on goal from the right point. It bounced off a Sioux player, hit forward Anthony Maiani standing in front of and went in to make it a 1-1 game.
DU, 15-7-3 overall and 11-5-2 in league play, next hosts Alaska Anchorage for a two-game series Jan. 30-31. UND, 15-10-3 overall and 10-5-3 in the WCHA, are on the road for a two-game series at St. Cloud State Jan. 30-31.