GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota became the latest highly ranked team to discover that Minnesota is better than its record.
Playing before a raucous sellout crowd of 11,844 at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Gophers used a third period power-play goal by Nico Sacchetti and solid goaltending from Kent Patterson (35 saves) to defeat the second-ranked Fighting Sioux 3-2. UND joins Michigan and Minnesota-Duluth on the list of top-ranked teams the Gophers have beaten this season.
“We look forward to it all week, especially when we know we’re coming here where everybody doesn’t like us,” Patterson said of the Sioux-Gopher rivalry, which proved as intense as ever. “It’s just exciting to come in here, and especially to take two points away from them.”
The loss snapped UND’s nine-game unbeaten streak. The Sioux, 16-6-2 overall (11-4-0 WCHA) dropped into a first-place tie with UMD in league standings. Minnesota, 10-8-3 overall (7-6-2 WCHA) moved into a fifth-place tie with Colorado College.
“The guys battled,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “If you’re going to win up here, you’ve got play like that.”
Minnesota got the start it wanted, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the opening stanza. UND looked sharp on its first power play of the game, pelting Patterson with shot after shot, but the junior netminder came up big for the Gophers.
At 11:22, freshman center Nick Bjugstad created a turnover along the left boards that junior forward Nick Larson pounced on. He made a short pass back to senior forward Mike Hoeffel in the slot who rifled a quick wrister past Sioux goalie Aaron Dell at 11:22 to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.
When UND forward Brett Hextall took his second penalty of the period, it opened the door for the Gophers, who needed just 37 seconds to capitalize. When Dell couldn’t control a shot from the point by freshman Erik Haula, junior forward Jake Hansen stuffed in the rebound to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead at 15:51.
“We didn’t play good at the drop of the puck tonight,” said UND head coach Dave Hakstol. “It cost us two points. Minnesota played well, they played hard. We know they’re a good team. There’s nothing we learned about the WCHA tonight. Maybe we got a bit of a reminder in the first 20 minutes.”
For the Gophers, getting the early lead proved to be the key.
“Being able to score first and then get that power play goal so you can play with a 2-0 lead, the game becomes different,” Lucia said. “We were able to keep the crowd out of the game for a pretty extended period of time.”
The Gophers flirted with disaster by putting UND on the power play, and in the second period, they paid for it. Off another scramble in front of the net, senior center Brad Malone put in the rebound off his own shot over a pile of bodies to make it a 2-1 game at 13:54.
The Sioux went on the power play again for the third straight time, but the Gophers again dodged a bullet. A shot by Matt Frattin—the nation’s leading goal scorer—from high in the slot went off the post, and Evan Trupp fanned on his attempt to put the rebound into an open net.
With the Gophers on the power play for the last 1:28 of the period, Malone hammered Minnesota defenseman Kevin Wehrs into the boards in the same corner of the UND zone that Frattin leveled him last March 14 during the playoffs. No penalty was called. The play caused pushing and shoving as the teams headed off the ice, but tempers flared and a bench-clearing melee broke out.
The third period began with four Gophers and four Sioux in the penalty boxes. Out of the fracas at the end of the second period, UND received 1:28 of power play time. They cashed in when forward Jason Gregoire knocked in Hextall’s cross-crease pass to knot the score 2-2 at 1:31 mark.
Minnesota took advantage of the first of three consecutive UND penalties to take a 3-2 lead. Fourth line forward Sacchetti, who normally doesn’t play on the Gophers’ power play unit, roofed the rebound off Aaron Ness’ shot from the point over Dell for the game winner at 4:45.
With 1:14 left in the game, UND called timeout and pulled Dell for an extra attacker. But Patterson and the Gophers prevented the Sioux from getting any quality scoring chances and held on for the 3-2 win.
“It’s great for Nico to step up for the team like that and put us up 3-2,” Patterson said. “It’s even better that our whole team was committed to keep that lead all the way to the end.”
Playing his first game back after being out six weeks with an injury, Gregoire said, “Tomorrow, we just got to have a better first couple shifts, a better first period to get them (the Gophers) on their heels; definitely more physical within our limits and not taking penalties.”
Minnesota and UND will meet at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Engelstad Arena for the second game of the series.