GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota’s two first-period power-play goals by forward-turned-defenseman Brad Miller set the stage for a 4-1 victory over WCHA opponent Minnesota State.
Miller’s backhander past Mavericks’ goalie Mike Zacharias at 15:26 broke his 15-game goal-scoring drought. His slap shot through traffic found the back of the net at 19:39 and stood as the game-winner.
“They’re one of the tougher teams in the league to wear down because they play so much like us,” Miller said of MSU after the hard-fought, physical game. “We got fortunate with a couple of power plays early in the game, but otherwise, it was pretty back and forth.”
UND, 17-11-3 overall and 12-6-3 in league play, improved its home record to 10-3-1. The Fighting Sioux haven’t lost a game at Ralph Engelstad Arena since Cornell won 2-1 Nov. 29.
“We’ve played well here, but our fans have made it a tough place to play,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol. “The energy and electricity that they bring to our hockey team, that’s irreplaceable.”
With both teams coming off a bye week, UND came out fast, but MSU withstood the pressure. Zacharias was tested early when the Mavericks took a penalty 16 seconds into the opening stanza. He held back the initial Sioux barrage until MSU began applying pressure in UND’s zone, leading to a five-on-three power play for 1:14 midway through the period.
The Mavericks missed their best scoring opportunity on the two-man advantage when senior forward Mick Berge’s slap shot from the slot hit the post. Sioux freshman goalie Brad Eidsness stood tall as UND killed the penalty and regained the momentum.
“We hit the post and had another one that just slipped by our guy on the back door,” MSU coach Troy Jutting said of the missed opportunities on the power play. “We had our chances and just didn’t capitalize. Hockey’s a game of breaks like that sometimes, and that obviously affected the game, too.”
Miller got UND on the board with his first power-play goal. He took a feed from Jake Marto, skated into the slot and flipped a backhander past Zacharias.
As the period wound down, the Mavericks got into penalty trouble. With 28 seconds remaining, UND received a two-man advantage for seven seconds. Miller needed just a fraction of a second less than that to notch his second power-play goal of the game, his sixth of the season.
“I was just trying to get it on net and trying to keep it low to generate a rebound,” Miller said. “It must’ve had eyes because I sure wasn’t aiming there.”
“Special teams were real important in the first period, and ‘Millsy’ was obviously the guy getting it done,” Hakstol said. “He was the one who made the plays and found a way to get the puck in the back of the net.”
UND upped its lead to 3-0 with an unassisted even-strength goal by Evan Trupp at 6:05 of the second period. From behind the net, Trupp deflected a defenseman’s clearing attempt toward the net. The puck appeared to hit Zacharias in the back and roll in.
Asked how the puck went in the net, Trupp replied, “To be honest, I don’t even know. It was just one of those goals that was a lucky bounce. If you work hard, every now and then, you’ll get one.”
Hakstol credited the goal to the strong forechecking and cycling of the line centered by Chris VandeVelde with Trupp and Matt Frattin on the wings.
“We had all kinds of good opportunities to score; that probably wasn’t our best, from behind the net,” he said. “I thought we worked hard enough to maybe deserve a bounce on that third goal.”
Despite the bad bounce, Zacharias kept MSU in the game as the Sioux outshot the Mavericks 21-4 for the period.
Just 59 seconds into the third period, MSU got back into the game with an unassisted short-handed goal by junior wing Geoff Irwin to make it 3-1. After the Sioux lost a faceoff in MSU’s zone, Irwin led a two-on-one rush into UND’s zone and sniped the corner.
Senior forward Andrew Kozek restored UND’s three-goal lead when defenseman Joe Finley’s slap shot from the left point bounced off him and past Zacharias at 10:28 to make the final score 4-1.
The Mavericks gained new life when junior wing Trevor Bruess appeared to score on the power play at 12:09. However, after reviewing the play, the goal was disallowed because it went in off Bruess’ skate.
Coming off the Mavericks’ first-ever sweep of Minnesota, Jutting said his team didn’t play as well as it has in recent weeks.
“I don’t think we were quite as sharp tonight, but part of that is that we played an opponent who played hard and played well,” he said.
MSU falls to 13-4-3 overall and 9-12-2 in the WCHA. The two teams will meet for the second game of the series at 7:07 p.m. Saturday in Engelstad Arena.