GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Minnesota-Duluth held on to first place in the WCHA with a 3-2 overtime victory over North Dakota before 11,731 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Bulldogs senior forward Justin Fontaine capitalized on a 2-on-1 rush 58 seconds into overtime to give UMD the road split. Fontaine’s game-winner was set up by a sensational behind-the-back pass from linemate Mike Connolly.
“That was fun,” beamed Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin. “That was an exciting game, especially towards the end. Both teams had great chances. That was hockey.”
UMD, which improved to 7-1-2 overall and 4-1-1 in league play, maintained a one-point lead in the WCHA with UND, Nebraska-Omaha and Wisconsin all tied for second. After handing UMD its first defeat of the season Friday, UND fell to 5-4-1 overall and 4-2-0 in the WCHA.
The Fighting Sioux, who continually frustrated the Bulldogs in a 4-2 win the previous night, came out flat and hurt themselves with penalties.
“We’re an older team, and that shouldn’t happen,” said UND captain Chay Genoway. “It’s disappointing. We’ve got to learn from these things. There’s just no excuse for coming out flat.”
In contrast, the Bulldogs started by playing one of their best periods of the weekend, but it was the Sioux who 1-0 led after the opening stanza. After UMD’s Kyle Schmidt went to the box for high sticking, Sioux freshman Brock Nelson struck for his first collegiate goal at 18:39.
Junior goalie Kenny Reiter stopped Genoway’s blast from the point, but camped out to the right of the goal, Nelson got his stick on the puck and roofed it over the goalie. The play was reviewed and the goal stood.
“He’s just slowly but surely getting better every game,” Genoway said of Nelson. “It’s good for him to get one and get some confidence because he’s going to be a big part of this team as we move on.”
Getting his first back-to-back starts, Sioux sophomore goalie Aaron Dell had to be sharp as a tenacious UMD forecheck gave UND fits. After the Friday loss, Sandelin wanted his team to be more aggressive.
“Last night, I thought we gave them way too much room, and they certainly are not a team that you can give a whole lot of room to,” he said. “Tonight, we were a little more aggressive. We got in on the forecheck a little bit better and tried to pressure the puck a little bit more.”
The second period began with two straight UND penalties. A goal by junior forward Mike Connolly at 2:48 went in just as time expired on the first penalty to knot the score 1-1. Connolly received a hard pass from defenseman Wade Bergman from the right point and knocked it in past Dell.
UND’s second penalty was a five-minute major and game misconduct on junior forward Mario Lamoureux for checking from behind. It appeared that UMD could take control of the game, but Dell and the Sioux penalty killers turned back the Bulldogs.
“I certainly didn’t think we gained any momentum out of that,” Sandelin said. “I thought they gained some momentum out of that penalty kill.”
Just 21 seconds after UND killed the major, senior wing Even Trupp rifled in a wrist shot off a face off in UMD’s zone to give the Sioux a 2-1 lead at 8:53.
The Bulldogs battled back to knot it 2-2. From the right corner, Schmidt hit freshman forward J.T. Brown with a centering pass that isolated him on Dell. He beat the goalie through the pads at 13:41.
UMD outshot UND 20-15 through the first two periods, but the Sioux turned up the heat in the third to outshoot the Bulldogs 12-7.
“I thought we did play pretty good the last half of the third period,” Genoway said. “We finally started to play our game a little bit. That’s too little too late. I’m just disappointed in our effort.”
A hooking penalty on UMD’s Kyle Schmidt at the 15:12 mark provided the Sioux with their best opportunity to end it in regulation. However, despite several quality chances, Reiter and the Bulldog penalty killers kept UND off the board and sent the game into overtime.
“That was pretty up-and-down at the end there,” Sandelin said. “The building was into it. It was a great hockey game.”
Shortly into overtime, Sioux center Corban Knight had a chance to win it when he tried to put in a rebound off linemate Jason Gregoire’s shot. But his shot missed the net, giving the Bulldogs the opportunity they wanted.
UND defenseman freshman Justin Faulk made a long pass that sprung Connolly and Fontaine on a two-on-one rush. Sioux defenseman Ben Blood appeared to have Connolly cut off and blanketed, but the forward’s behind-the-back pass was right on Fontaine’s tape. He rifled the puck past Dell to give UMD the 3-2 win and a road split.
“That was pretty,” Sandelin said. “It was a great play by two great players.”
Hakstol said the winning goal came as the result of a mistake on a Sioux line change. Some players got caught up in scrum in front of UND’s bench, creating a gap in the defensive coverage that the Bulldogs exploited.
“They made a good play, but we gave up a 2-on-1 with zero back-pressure,” he explained. “That gives two good players an awful lot of time and space to make that play. It was a very nice play by them; poor play on our part.”
Hakstol placed some of the blame for the loss on himself.
“After the penalty kill at the start of the second and then the five-minute major, I don’t think I got enough minutes out of our entire bench,” he noted. “So it starts with me. We showed some fatigue at different times of the game.”
The Sioux are on the road at Wisconsin Nov. 12-13 for a two-game WCHA series. The Bulldogs next host Michigan Tech Nov. 12-13.