GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota played its third game of the season while Minnesota played its first, and the 4-0 Fighting Sioux victory before a sold out crowd of 11,840 at Ralph Engelstad Arena might have reflected that difference.
The first game of the year, I felt that at times, we werent anticipating the next move on the rink, said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. We were watching and then reacting rather than anticipating where the next play was going. When you do that, it seems like youre a step off all night long.
UNDs special teams and sophomore goalie Brad Eidsness were the difference. The Sioux notched two power-play goals and a shorthanded tally while Eidsness recorded the second shutout of his career.
Last year, as a freshman, things seemed to happen a little bit faster, Eidsness said. This year, I think things have slowed down a little bit in my mind. Its allowed me to think the game better, be in better spots and make better reads.
UND took the lead at 2:17 on a power-play goal by sophomore forward Jason Gregoire which stood as the game winner. Center Chris VandeVeldes centering attempt from the behind the net was blocked and the puck deflected into the crease where junior goalie Alex Kangas lost track of it. Gregoire alertly poked the puck in to give the Sioux a 1-0 lead.
The action was up-and-down the ice with both teams trading scoring chances, but in the last five minutes of the period, UND began to generate more quality scoring opportunities. The best came with 4.7 seconds left in the period when Kangas made a beautiful glove save on VandeVelde all alone in the slot.
I thought that Alex was really good, Lucia said. I thought that he gave us a chance to win. He made a couple of really nice saves and he did what he needed to do tonight.
UNDs strong play carried into the second period in which the Sioux outshot the Gophers 19-9 and scored shorthanded to take a 2-0 lead.
I thought wed get better as the game went on, Lucia said. It seemed like the momentum, we could never get it back after the first shift of the second period.
Junior defenseman Derrick LaPoint put UND up by two goals at 4:21 with the first shorthanded goal of his career.
The play was set up when center Brad Malone made a strong move the net. He was denied, but got the puck back to forward Evan Trupp in the right circle. Trupp spotted LaPoint entering the zone late and passed to him in the slot. LaPoint wound up and fired a slapshot that got past Kangas.
Trupp and Malone, they made the play, LaPoint said. They worked it down low and I just saw an opportunity. They left the blue line wide open. I made the jump and Trupp made a good pass right on my tape. Kangas came out to play the puck, but I just slid it past his shoulder.
It ended LaPoints 16-game streak without a goal. More importantly, it showed UND coach Dave Hakstol that LaPoint has recovered from the horrendous leg injury that required surgery and prematurely ended his season last February.
I think I said Wednesday night that Derrick was about 90 percent of the way back to being healthy and back to true form, Hakstol said. Tonight, he took the next 10 percent step.
UND took control of the game with two goals in the third period while Eidsness and the Sioux defense kept the Gophers off the scoreboard.
With the Sioux on the power play, senior defenseman Chay Genoway skated the puck to open ice at the right point and blasted a slapshot at the 5:56 mark that beat Kangas high to the blocker side. Sophomore forward Mario Lamoureux closed out the scoring at 8:18 when he put in the rebound from linemate Darcy Zajacs shot off Kangas pad to make it 4-0 UND.
Minnesota had one last chance to get back in the game when UND freshman defenseman Joe Gleason was called for checking from behind and assessed a 5-minute major penalty with 4:03 left to play. But the Sioux penalty kill, which has yet to give up a power play goal, stymied the Gophers and preserved the shutout for Eidsness.
One of the things I think our team needs to accomplish every night is that we need to be tough to play against, Hakstol said. That doesnt necessarily mean highlight reel hits; it means tough, gritty play, and I thought we did that for the better part of 60 minutes.
UND won most of the face-offs and thats where Lucia said Minnesotas problems started.
If you dont start with the puck, then youre chasing all night, he noted. It just seemed like thats what we were doing all night.
Overall, Lucia said, [o]ur whole team needs to be better. I dont think we played to the level that you need to play if youre going to beat a good team.
Kangas made 39 saves on 43 shots and the Gophers went 0-5 on the power play. Eidsness stopped all 22 shots he faced and the Sioux were 2-6 on the power play. UND is 3-0-0 overall and 1-0-0 in the WCHA. The Gophers are 0-1-0 overall and in league play.
The two teams will meet at 7 p.m. Saturday in Engelstad Arena for the second game of the series.