GRAND FORKS, N.D. — In an exhibition game featuring Dean Blais against his former protg Dave Hakstol, the Blais-coached U.S. Under-20 Team downed North Dakota, 4-2, at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Blais, currently in his first year as head coach at Nebraska-Omaha, will coach the U.S. National Junior Team during the 2010 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Thirteen of the 19 starters on the U.S. team come from the college ranks. The others are Americans who play either in Canadian juniors or on the U.S. National Development Team.
Boston College freshman Chris Kreider had two goals for the U.S. while Danny Kristo, a UND freshman playing for the U.S., scored an empty-netter with 17 seconds left to seal the win. Wisconsin’s Derek Stepan added two assists for the U20 team.
During his ten years as head coach at UND, Blais won two national championships and six WCHA titles. He also recommended Hakstol, his assistant, for the top spot when he left for the NHL in 2004.
“It was always an emotional thing to look out there and see the green and white and not cheer against them, but try to beat them,” Blais said of his return to Engelstad Arena. “That was hard. I knew I’d have a tough time with it.”
“It’s been great to have Dean around here for a few days,” Hakstol said. “He’s a guy that’s second to none in importance in our program, and as well for me personally.”
However, once the puck dropped, both coaches were all business.
“It’s not something you think about much during the 60 minutes, but certainly at the end of the game, it’s nice to shake his hand and wish them well going up there and winning a medal,” Hakstol related.
An odd moment — something probably seen only in an exhibition game — occurred at the end of the first period when Kristo and UND’s Brad Malone staged a shoving match before leaving the ice.
“We talked a little bit before the game,” Kristo explained. “We were trying to get coincidentals so we could go hang out in the box for a couple minutes.”
Their act apparently wasn’t good enough, because the officials didn’t buy it.
Kreider got the U.S. on the board first with a power-play tally at 6:51 of the second period. Camped in front of the crease, he deflected defenseman Cam Fowler’s blast from the point over the shoulder of UND goalie Brad Eidsness.
About half way through the second period, Blais replaced goalie Mike Lee (St. Cloud State) — who had stopped all 12 shots he faced — with Jack Campbell. Hakstol substituted freshman Aaron Dell for Eidsness, who had 13 saves on 14 shots.
The Fighting Sioux answered with a power-play goal at 17:37 of the second. Defenseman Jake Marto found Malone unmarked in front of the U.S. net. He dished the puck to forward Evan Trupp, who roofed it over a sprawling Campbell to knot it 1-1.
At 3:36 of the third period, the U.S. went ahead for good on Kreider’s second goal. Just as time expired on a UND penalty, Denver defenseman Matt Donovan centered the puck from the left of the goal. Kreider got his stick on it and knocked it past Dell to give the U.S. at 2-1 lead.
U.S. forward Jason Zucker fired a wrister from the left dot that beat Dell short side at 8:57 to make it 3-1. The Las Vegas native’s tally stood as the game winner.
With 49 seconds left , the Sioux cut the margin to one when Trupp scored a backhander with Dell pulled for the extra attacker. However, Kristo’s empty netter in the last 17 seconds sealed the win, giving the U.S. team a 4-2 victory.
“In the third period, it was kind of a defining moment for the kids,” Blais said. “Can you win a close game? Can you gut it out? Can you do the things we’ve asked for the last four days?
“They’re a talented bunch. It’s just whether they could play together and generate any offense together. I don’t think anyone was really rattled, and it kind of surprised me.”
Kreider said that even an exhibition win will be beneficial to the U.S. team heading into tournament play.
“Any win will give you confidence,” he noted. “From my perspective, (UND) is a really good college team. They’re big, they’re fast. They’re certainly physical, and they play with an edge. I think we should have an edge after playing well against North Dakota.”
Campbell finished with 20 saves on 22 shots while Dell had nine saves on 11 shots. The Sioux outshot the U.S. 34 to 26 and went one-for-six on the power play. The U.S. was one-for-four with the man advantage.
Besides missing leading Kristo, UND was without two of its three seniors. Defenseman and captain Chay Genoway remains out indefinitely with a head injury and assistant captain Darcy Zajac will miss 4-6 weeks. Trupp acknowledged that the team needs work.
“It was good to get some of our players, who probably haven’t gotten enough ice time, to get more ice time tonight, and get more comfortable on the ice and work on some chemistry as a team,” he said.
The U.S. will play an exhibition against the Czech Republic in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Dec. 22 before opening play in the IIHF World Junior tournament Dec. 26 against Germany. UND next plays Niagara Jan. 2 and either Colgate or Notre Dame Jan. 3 in the Shillelagh Tournament in Chicago.