GRAND FORKS, N.D. — When the game is on the line, go with your seniors.
That’s what North Dakota did to eke out a 2-1 victory over Robert Morris, earning a sweep at Ralph Engelstad Arena that gives UND a final nonconference record of 5-2-2. The second-ranked Fighting Sioux improve to 16-5-2 while Robert Morris falls to 12-7-1.
UND senior forward Matt Frattin’s nation-leading 20th goal of the season with 4:01 left in regulation broke a scoreless tie. It came less than a minute after an apparent goal by Frattin’s linemate, senior Evan Trupp, had been disallowed
Repeatedly frustrated by Colonials goalie Eric Levine, Frattin finished off a grinding shift by walking into the left circle and snapping a wrist shot short side that cleanly beat the sophomore netminder to give the Fighting Sioux a 1-0 lead. It was a big goal for UND’s “Pony Express” senior line of Brad Malone, Frattin and Trupp.
“Those guys have really pushed the envelope and carried us along for the past 6-8 weeks,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol. “That was a great shift. They weren’t at their best all night, but at a critical time, they got it done.”
Frattin said UND assistant coach Dane Jackson advised him to look for other shot options after Levine continually frustrated Sioux shooters looking to pick the top corner glove side.
“There was a screen there in front of the net,” Frattin said. “He (Levine) was kind of cheating to that far side to get a look. I found a lucky hole and put it there.”
Levine, who finished with 33 saves, kept the Colonials in the game with solid goaltending and some spectacular saves.
“You have to keep your head up and not get frustrated at all,” Frattin said. “When you get your opportunity, you’ve got to bury it.”
An empty-net goal by UND sophomore forward Danny Kristo with 1:01 left in regulation gave the Sioux a 2-0 lead and proved to be the game-winner. With 20 seconds left, Robert Morris senior center Nathan Longpre notched an extra-attacker goal to pull the Colonials within one. But the Colonials couldn’t generate another scoring chance, and UND held on for the win.
After the Fighting Sioux were swept by Maine back in October, their nonconference record was 1-2-1. Since then, UND has gone 4-0-1 in nonconference games. Hakstol said it was important for UND to win its last two nonconference games of the season.
“It’s as good as we can do after we kind of gave away a weekend out in Maine and didn’t help ourselves out there,” he said. “We bounced back and put ourselves in the best possible position we could after that point.”
The Colonials proved a much better team than the one pounded 8-0 by the Fighting Sioux on Friday, but still came out on the losing end.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys the way we responded after yesterday,” said Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley. “We played hard and we played how we should have played last night. Very rarely do you say that you’re excited about your performance when you lose, but we left it all out there.”
In the first period, the Colonials showed that it wouldn’t be an easy night for UND. They did that, skating to a 0-0 tie after 20 minutes of play. Both teams had five-on-three power play opportunities, and neither could capitalize. Colonials defenseman Denny Urban hit a pipe on a Robert Morris power play and UND’s Brad Malone returned the favor on the other end during a Sioux man advantage.
Robert Morris appeared to get its first goal of the series and take a 1-0 lead at 1:34 of the second period, but after a lengthy review, the goal was disallowed because of a man in the crease violation. Colonials center Cody Crichton appeared to be screening Dell with both skates in the crease before a shot from the point arrived. Dell made the save, but defenseman Andrew MacWilliam pushed Crichton into Dell, causing the puck to cross the line.
“He (Crichton) was in the crease for a good couple seconds before the puck even got there,” Dell said. “He was quite a bit in my way. I did what I could, but I thought the right call was made.”
After that scare, UND picked up its play, outshooting the Colonials 16-5 for the period. However, Levine was up to the task. One of his best efforts came when UND’s Corban Knight was all alone with the puck on the doorstep. Levine did the splits to stop Knight’s first shot and then got an arm across the crease to rob him again. The play caused a melee to erupt and put Robert Morris on the power play.
“Eric Levine’s a quality goalie,” Schooley said. “He made good saves and kept us in there when we were running around in the second period. He made some big saves and gave us the opportunity. All we wanted was a chance tonight, and we had it.”
Much of the third period was dominated by the Colonials, who outshot the Sioux 17-5. UND sophomore goalie Aaron Dell saw his shutout streak of 224 minutes, 31 seconds (second longest in UND history) end with Longpre’s extra-attacker goal with 20 seconds remaining.
“We got the win; that’s all that matters,” Dell said when asked about his shutout streak coming to an end.
UND returns to WCHA action Jan. 14-15 when it hosts Minnesota. Robert Morris is at home Jan. 14-15 against Atlantic Hockey foe Connecticut.