GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota dominated Minnesota from start to finish, pummeling the Gophers 6-0 in the first game of the best-of-three WCHA playoff series.
Any time you play a big rival, youre in the game right from the beginning, said UND goalie Brad Eidsness, whose shutout made him the second netminder in UND history to notch 20 wins or more in each of his first two seasons. Theres good hop in everybodys step.
Earlier in the week, Minnesota coach Don Lucia was quoted as saying that hed be satisfied with a 0-0 score after the first period. He didnt get his wish. The Fighting Sioux stormed to a 3-0 lead in the opening stanza and never slowed down.
The sell-out crowd of 11,677 at Ralph Engelstad Arena was electric from the time the Sioux took to the ice. The Gophers never gave UND fans any reason to settle down.
When youve got that many people being that loud, I think its going to be a tough road atmosphere for anybody, said UND junior Brad Malone. You cant really put a price tag on this kind of atmosphere. Its unbelievable.
Thats part of what you fight so hard for during the regular season, is a little bit of that home ice boost, UND coach Dave Hakstol said.
Just 1:39 into the game, UND freshman forward Danny Kristo stripped Minnesotas Nick Larson of the puck in front of goalie Alex Kangas. Kangas made the initial stop, only to see Kristo stuff in the rebound to give the Sioux a quick 1-0 lead. Kristos 14th goal of the season stood as the game winner.
It was huge momentum, and the building got rocking right from the start, Malone said of Kristos goal.
The Gophers had a chance even it up when Malone was called for contact to the head cross checking. A blocked shot by Sioux forward Jason Gregoire at the Minnesota blue line turned into a 2-on-1 rush with center Chris VandeVelde. VandeVelde hit Gregoire with a centering pass and Gregoire dished the puck back to him. The senior backhanded it into an open net for a shorthanded tally at 16:07.
Jason Gregoire got in the lane, got the shot block and both he and Chris made a couple of good plays on the rush getting up ice, Hakstol said. That was an important goal.
Shot blocking is a little part of the game that sometimes goes unnoticed, he added. Weve talked about details during our stretch run. Thats one of the details that we have to get better at. We did a good job of it tonight.
Minnesotas situation went from bad to worse with 55 seconds left in the period. UND forward Brett Hextall sent Malone in alone on Kangas. He fired the puck in high blocker side to put the Sioux up 3-0 at the end of the opening period.
“Hexy made an unreal pass,” Malone said. “I was screeching at the top of my lungs and he found me. He (Kangas) came out, but I just tried to put it on net quickly and, luckily, it found the hole.”
The next period saw the Gophers forecheck pick up and generate more scoring chances, but each time they had an opportunity, sophomore goalie Brad Eidsness (27 saves) was equal to the task.
We know how skilled they are up front, Eidsness said. They have a lot of good, quick sticks. They can score a lot of goals. You just have to take it shot by shot. Even though we had a 3-0 lead, they could have jumped on us really quick there.
Just when it looked as if Minnesota might end the period with some momentum, UND junior forward Matt Frattin put the Sioux up 4-0.
After a wild melee in front of Minnesotas net, Sioux defenseman Derrick LaPoint got the puck to partner Jake Marto at the right point. From near the left circle, Frattin one-timed Martos cross-ice pass to give the Sioux a four-goal lead at the 18:50 mark.
Of Frattins shot, Malone said, When he lets her go, its a lot like Brett Hull. Hes got an NHL kind of shot.
Sophomore goalie Kent Patterson replaced Kangas in goal to start the third period, but it made no difference. The Sioux went up 5-0 at the 7:46 mark when sophomore forward Mario Lamoureux got his stick on a bouncing puck in the slot and fired it in.
Frattin notched his second goal at 15:33 when he drove wide around Minnesotas Jordan Schroeder and fired a wrister from the left dot that caught the inside far corner, making the final score 6-0.
Frattin, who was suspended by Hakstol for the first half of the season, didnt have a point against the Gophers when UND played at Minnesota in January. He now has seven goals in the last eight games.
While UND didnt score on either of its two power plays, Eidsness and the Sioux penalty killers held Minnesota 0-5 on its man-advantage opportunities.
There were some good opportunities and some good saves by Brad, Hakstol said. We dont want to put ourselves in a situation like we did tonight where we had to kill three in a row. You dont want to do that in playoff hockey.
Winning its eighth straight game, UND improves to 21-11-5 while Minnesota falls to 17-18-2. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in Engelstad Arena for game two of the series.
Knowing that the Gophers are one game away from their season ending, Malone said of Saturdays game, [t]he starts going to be key again. Its going to be the same kind of atmosphere, the same kind of battle level. We cant be happy. Weve got to refocus and get ready for tomorrow.