GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota shook off a trend of losing one-goal games and instead held on for a 3-2 victory over visiting Minnesota State, sweeping the series at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“We had six one-goal losses in the first half,” UND coach Dave Hakstol noted. “Maybe we can find a way to win six games. Well, we got one tonight. It was a very hard-fought win, right down to the wire. It’s a good win, and it completes a four point weekend.”
Fighting Sioux sophomore forward Jason Gregoire scored two goals for the second straight game, giving him five points on the weekend. His power-play tally at 9:42 of the third period was the game-winner.
“He’s a guy who wants to be on the hot seat,” Hakstol said of Gregoire. “He’s a guy who’s a difference maker, and he has the confidence to do that.”
The Sioux once again got off to a fast start, going up 2-0 before five minutes were gone. It was too much for the Mavericks to overcome.
“They’re a good hockey team,” said Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting. “We spotted them two goals in the first five minutes and then we beat them the rest of the game. We beat them 2-1 the last 55 minutes of the game.”
UND’s first goal at 3:29 was initially credited to junior forward Matt Frattin, who rejoined the team at the start of the year after being suspended during the summer and sitting out the first half of the season. His shot from near the top of the left circle went in off Gregoire’s shin pad and the scoring was later changed.
Despite missing a semester of school and hockey, Frattin, who contributed two assists, said he feels as if he’s already in game shape.
“It was kind of a concern with the coaches and myself, but I’ve been doing a little extra work myself, cardio-wise,” he noted. “I feel really good out there.”
With UND senior defenseman Chay Genoway already out indefinitely and sophomore forward Brett Hextall out for 4-6 weeks with a leg injury, Hakstol had to juggle the roster once again. Freshman forward Corban Knight, who tallied two goals Friday, was injured late in that game and will also be out 4-6 weeks.
It opened the door for freshman Michael Cichy to step into the lineup. He didn’t disappoint, taking a pass from linemate David Toews at the Minnesota State blue line and going in alone on goalie Austin Lee. He scored top shelf on the short side, putting UND up 2-0 at the 4:38 mark.
Sioux freshmen forwards have chipped in five goals over a stretch in which the team has gone 3-0-1.
“That’s the only way we’re going to be successful; everybody had to do a little bit,” Hakstol said. “We’ve been fortunate over the past couple of weekends for that to happen. It was a trademark of our success early in the first half, and a little bit of that went away for a few weeks. Hopefully, it will become a trademark of our team and of our game as we go through the second half.”
UND has also had difficulty building on two-goal leads, and when Mavericks’ senior forward Geoff Irwin punched in a power-play goal past goalie Brad Eidsness at the 19:00 mark of the first period, it gave Minnesota State new life.
The second period saw UND outshoot Minnesota State 16-8, but the Sioux were unable to get the puck past Lee. Each team had two chances with the man advantage, but neither could capitalize. That set up a battle in the third period that saw the teams trade goals.
With UND on the power play, Gregoire gave the Sioux a 3-1 lead at 9:41 when he found a loose puck in front of the crease and knocked it in. The insurance marker proved crucial when Minnesota State junior defenseman Channing Boe pounced on a turnover in the UND zone and fired it past Eidsness, making it a 3-2 game.
Jutting pulled Lee for the extra attacker for the final minute of the game, but a cross-checking penalty to Minnesota State’s Kael Mouillierat with 27 seconds remaining appeared to put the game out of reach. The Mavericks had one final chance with 12 seconds left and a faceoff in UND’s zone. Although Minnesota State won the faceoff, the puck went between players and out of the zone, ending the contest.
“I think that any time you come into a building that’s tough to play in like this one is against a great hockey team, over the last 55 minutes, we beat them 2-1,” Jutting said. “I thought we competed pretty hard tonight.”
The win wasn’t pretty, but Hakstol said it should help his young team going forward.
“There’s a lot of lessons we can take out of tonight’s game,” Hakstol said. “There were some bonehead things that we did throughout this game individually that could have cost us, but we showed that we are a pretty good team. We overcame the negatives we created for ourselves, as well as some other adversity, and were able to close out a win.”
The win moved UND into a tie for fifth in the WCHA with Wisconsin. The Sioux, 12-6-4 overall and 8-6-2 in league play, next travel to Minnesota for a series Jan. 15-16. Minnesota State falls to eighth in the conference, with a record of 11-11-2 overall and 5-10-1 in the WCHA. The Mavericks are at home against Minnesota-Duluth Jan. 15-6.