GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Take two of the best defensive teams in the nation, put them head-to-head in the marquee matchup of the Subway Holiday Classic and what do you get?
Having No. 1 ranked Miami and No. 4 North Dakota combine for 10 goals and a 5-5 tie probably wasn’t the outcome most expected. However, the offensive fireworks made for a highly entertaining spectacle that gave the crowd of 11,425 at Ralph Engelstad Arena their money’s worth.
“That was one of the most fun games I’ve played this year yet,” said UND freshman forward Danny Kristo, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player. “They’re a great team with great team speed. I think we match up well with them.”
UND entered the game tied with Bemidji State as the top defensive team in the nation, giving up 1.69 goals per game. Miami was nearly as good, allowing a stingy 1.75 a game. The scoring explosion that ensued didn’t seem likely.
“For two of the top three or top four defensive teams in the country, it didn’t look like it at times, did it?” Miami coach Enrico Blasi asked with a chuckle. “I think you saw a little bit of everything tonight from everybody.”
“It was absolutely entertaining,” UND coach Dave Hakstol agreed.
The RedHawks erased a two-goal deficit in the third period to earn the tie. Miami freshman forward Reilly Smith capped off a four-point night (two goals, two assists), scoring with 2:41 left in regulation to make it a 5-5 game.
Smith admitted that almost he left the ice for a line change just before scoring the game-tying goal.
“I was tired at the end of a shift,” he said. “It crossed my mind just to go off the ice and get a change, but we were down a goal, so I just wanted to see what I could do.”
He did plenty.
Entering the UND zone with speed, junior center Andrew Miele feathered a pass through to Smith that sent him in alone on Sioux goalie Brad Eidsness. He deked, got the goalie down and put a shot over him to end the scoring at 5-5.
“It almost feels like a loss, giving up a lead in the third period in our rink,” said UND’s Jason Gregoire. “In the end, we got three points out of four this weekend. We’re pretty happy with that.”
Miami came out looking energized following its 3-2 upset loss to Bemidji State on Friday. The RedHawks controlled play for the first half of the period and benefitted from a fortunate bounce to get on the board.
Junior center Pat Cannone’s centering pass from the left corner bounced off a skate and directly to Smith, who buried the chance, giving Miami a 1-0 lead at 8:17.
Two straight RedHawks’ penalties opened the door for UND to get in the game. With four seconds left in the second penalty, freshman defenseman Ben Blood threaded a wrister through traffic from the left point that found the back of the net. His first career goal knotted the score 1-1 at 13:52.
Anyone who thought a tight defensive battle would follow was disabused of that idea in the second period when the Sioux outscored the RedHawks 4-2.
Miami junior center Carter Camper notched his third tally of the tournament at 3:20. On a one-on-two rush against UND defensive pair Jake Marto and Derrick LaPoint, Camper fired a shot using LaPoint as a screen that went in five-hole on Eidsness.
The Sioux answered at 7:23 with a power-play goal by freshman Danny Kristo. UND once again found success in planting a screen in front of Knapp and letting a wrister fly from the point.
Just 26 seconds later, the Sioux struck again when Gregoire found a loose puck during a melee in front of the net and banged it home, given UND a 3-2 lead.
Miami came right back and tied it 3-3 at 10:07. Using a strong forecheck, the RedHawks stopped the Sioux from clearing the zone. A centering pass from Smith found Wingels all alone to Eidsness’s left, and his quick shot tied it up.
A power play for Miami provide an opportunity to regain the lead up, but instead, junior center Brad Malone took the puck away in the RedHawks zone, got Knapp down, and slid the puck in behind him to put the Sioux up 4-3 at the 16:00 mark.
Kristo notched his third tally of the tournament with a power-play goal at 17:46, giving UND a 5-3 lead heading into the final stanza.
Hakstol said the Sioux didn’t go into the last period thinking their lead was safe.
“You don’t go into a period like that and try to protect a two-goal lead for 20 minutes, not against that team,” he noted.
In the third period, Miami cut UND’s lead to one with a power-play goal by sophomore defenseman Cameron Schilling at 9:27. Taking a page from UND’s book, Schilling’s shot from the left circle found its way past a screened Eidsness.
“I think both teams had the same idea of getting pucks in low and going to the net hard,” Smith said.
After Smith tied it up at 17:19, the overtime period failed to resolve anything. The RedHawks had two shots on goal and held the Sioux to none.
The RedHawks could have used a win, having gone 1-1-4 in their last six games, but Blasi was satisfied with the way his team responded to the adversity.
“When you go down 5-3, you have to battle back, and I thought our guys did that,” he said. “It was a real good comeback for our team.”
The Sioux are now 3-0-1 in non-conference play.
“We gave up a two-goal lead in the third period, but I’m going to look at the glass as half full,” Hakstol said. “We’re undefeated in conference play, and we did a lot of good things.
“Honestly, most importantly, the last six days we got back to where we’re playing and practicing like we expect.”
Miami, 9-2-5 overall and 6-1-3 in the CCHA, next hosts Notre Dame for a two-game series Dec. 4-5. The Sioux, 8-4-2 overall and 5-4-1 in the WCHA, travel to Minnesota-Duluth for a series Dec. 4-5.