GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Banner raisings can sometimes become inauspicious events, but North Dakota raised its WCHA-leading 14th league championship banner while turning back a challenge from Merrimack.
In the nonconference season opener for both teams, the Fighting Sioux got two goals from their fourth line to down the visiting Warriors from Hockey East, 5-2.
The line centered by freshman Corban Knight with sophomore David Toews and Michael Cichy on the wing was listed as the fourth line, but UND coach Dave Hakstol said that didnt mean much.
Theyre listed as No. 4 on the depth chart, so I guess you can look at it that way, he said of the trio, which combined for a five-point night. I dont know that we know right now who our number one, two, three or four lines are. They showed some signs that at some point in time, they can be pretty effective as a group.
After Merrimack wiped out UNDs 2-0 lead with two goals late in the first period, Cichy set up the game-winning goal and the insurance marker that gave the Sioux a 4-2 lead heading into the final stanza. Toews had a goal and an assist. Knight had a goal received the teams hard hat honor as the hardest working player.
Asked which was bigger, getting the hard hat or notching his first collegiate goal, Knight replied, A lot of the credit goes to my line. They made that play happen. This hats a pretty big honor, but I think the goal has to take that one.
On a team that started six freshmen and five sophomores, Hakstol was pleased with the teams overall effort.
From my vantage point, the key to the hockey game was our ability to come out with good composure in the second period and regain the lead after giving up a quick two-goal lead at the end of the first period, he said.
UND came out firing on all cylinders, scoring just 21 seconds into the game when sophomore forward Jason Gregoire tipped in senior defenseman Chay Genoways shot from the left point.
The Sioux took a 2-0 lead at 12:31 on a goal by Toews. He took a drop pass from center Darcy Zajac in the right circle and fired a quick wrister that beat Merrimack sophomore goalie Joe Cannata far side.
Playing for the first time ever before 11,135 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said, You try not to expect too much, let the game play out. It obviously wasnt the start we would have hoped for.
With all the momentum on UNDs side, the Warriors took advantage of a turnover in the Sioux zone to make it a 2-1 game at 15:20. Junior forward Francois Quimets shot from the high slot was blocked, but senior Justin Bonitatibus found the puck just outside the crease and shot it past Sioux sophomore goalie Brad Eidsness.
Merrimack knotted it 2-2 with 24.5 second left in the period. Junior center Joe Cucci took the puck away from Genoway in the neutral zone and fed it to senior forward Chris Barton, who broke in alone on Eidsness. He flipped a backhander over the goalies outstretched pad and the Warriors were right back in it.
Theyre a very good team and they play up-tempo, Dennehy said of the Sioux. We knew they were going to come at us the first five minutes. We also knew that we were resilient enough to come back from that.
Genoway said the first period breakdowns are something UND needs to learn from.
Were a young team, and we got to understand that in the college game, anything can happen, he said. Teams are looking to come back. As a young team, weve just got to learn to keep the foot on the pedal for 60 minutes.
Buoyed by their success the first period, the Warriors came out strong in the second. However, after Merrimacks initial pressure, UND regained its two-goal lead.
At the 10:16 mark, just as time expired on a UND too many men on the ice penalty, Cichy came out of the box to lead a 3-on-1 rush. Cannata stopped Genoway, but trailing the play, senior center Chris VandeVelde pounded the puck in 5-hole to put the Sioux up 3-2.
You look back and it very well could have been 3-2 us, Dennehy said. We missed an empty net and then were too tired to get back and they score on the turnover. We missed an empty net. We had four guys in the paint and the puck just sitting there and we didnt get to it. Thats how hockey goes.
Cichy set up UNDs second goal of the period when he fed Toews in the high slot. Cannata stopped Toews shot, only to have Knight find the rebound and fire it home to make it a 4-2 game.
A power-play goal at 14:51 of the third period by UND sophomore forward Brett Hextall closed out the scoring and gave UND the 5-2 victory. Left open on the left side, Hextall one-timed a cross ice pass from linemate Evan Trupp past Cannata.
Dennehy praised Cannata, who made 35 saves, one of which was an amazing stop on Hextall on the back door.
Joe has the capability of being an NHL goalie, Dennehy said. He was not our problem.
The two teams meet Saturday in Engelstad Arena at 7:30 p.m. for the second game of the series.