GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota jumped out to an early lead against Minnesota State and never looked back, as the Fighting Sioux downed the visiting Mavericks, 4-1, at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“We had a lot of guys that did a good job and played hard, and played well through 60 minutes,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol.
Behind a pair of goals each from sophomore Jason Gregoire and freshman Corban Knight, fifth-ranked UND improved to 7-6-2 in the WCHA and 11-6-4 overall.
Gregoire, who leads the team in goal scoring, notched his 10th of the season and appears to be warming up in time for the standard second-half Sioux surge.
“I’ve always been a second-half player, for whatever reason,” he noted. “If I knew what it was, maybe I could pinpoint it to be a full-season guy.
“The Sioux are usually a second-half team as well, and that kind of goes along well with me.”
Another positive development for UND is that its freshmen forwards have netted four goals in the last three games.
“With all our injuries, all the freshman have taken a little bit more responsibility,” Knight said, “and I think we’re answering the bell.”
UND quickly opened a 2-0 lead in the first period. Knight collected his second tally of the season at 2:07. He powered around Mankato defenseman Channing Boe, deked freshman goalie Phil Cook and stuffed the puck in far side.
“It was just one of those plays where I caught the defenseman a little flat-footed and just tried to make a play, and it worked,” Knight said.
“They made good plays, and we didn’t,” said Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting. “The first goal was a good play by their kid, but our kid didn’t make the play he needs to make. It’s just a difference of one kid making the play and the other kid not making the play.”
At 6:48, an attempted centering pass from behind the net by Sioux center Chris VandeVelde deflected off a Mavericks’ defenseman to Gregoire. He got his stick on the puck a flipped a backhander past Cook.
After Cook gave up two goals on six shots, he was replaced by sophomore goalie Austin Lee.
With Sioux defenseman Ben Blood in the box for contact to the head cross checking, Minnesota State cut UND’s lead in half with a power-play goal by defenseman Ben Youds at the 10:13 mark. He fired a low wrister from the top of the right circle that beat a screened Brad Eidsness low glove side.
“I thought we played 10 minutes of hockey tonight the way we’re capable of playing, and that was the last 10 minutes of the first period,” Jutting said. “We went down 2-0 and I thought we battled back to start to gain some momentum.”
In a second period that saw the Sioux outshoot the Mavericks 14-5, UND scored twice to take a 4-1 lead that held for the remainder of the game.
Jutting summed up the game by saying, “We needed another puck on the rink tonight so we can play, too.”
Knight picked up his second tally at 9:41 when UND capitalized on a three-on-one rush. Senior center Darcy Zajac carried the puck down the right side and made a centering pass that Knight tipped past Lee to restore the Sioux two-goal lead.
“The credit goes to Darcy on that play,” Knight said. “He made an incredible pass. From there, it was pretty simple for me.”
“On the third goal, we got guys who step up on pucks they got no chance at, and it ends up on a three-on-one — horrible decisions,” Jutting said.
Gregoire scored his goal on a power play at 16:26. After VandeVelde won a faceoff in the Minnesota State zone, the sophomore forward picked up the loose puck in the right circle and carried it into the slot. His wrister cleanly beat Lee to put the Sioux up 4-1.
“I got a good bounce of the puck,” Gregoire said. “The goalie’s coming across with me, and going low glove is usually a pretty good option. I think that’s where I got him.”
Hakstol credited his team with building on the solid hockey it played the previous weekend at the Shillelagh Tournament in Illinois.
“We need to have everyone chipping in,” he said. “We need to have scoring from different areas of our lineup, and that’s happened over the last three games. We’re 2-0-1 over that playing period. That tells the tale for the type of team that we are.”
Despite the win, UND remained in sixth place in the WCHA while Minnesota State is in seventh with a 5-9-1 record in league play (11-10-2 overall).
The two teams will meet Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in Engelstad Arena for the second game of the series.