GRAND FORKS, N.D. — For the second straight night, Minnesota got the start it needed to entertain hopes of earning its first sweep at North Dakota since December 2005, but it was the Fighting Sioux who came away with a 4-1 win.
Heading into the second game of the series, Minnesota was 10-2-3 when scoring a first-period goal and 9-1-2 when scoring first. So when Gophers defenseman Mark Alt put his team up 1-0 at 8:54 of the first period, the odds of staging a stunning road sweep of second-ranked UND appeared to favor Minnesota.
However, the Fighting Sioux are now 13-0-1 when scoring four or more goals, and their four unanswered tallies earned them a split and a key win that put them back atop the WCHA standings, thanks to Wisconsin’s defeat of Minnesota-Duluth. UND improves to 17-6-2 overall (12-4-0 WCHA) and Minnesota falls to 10-9-3 (7-7-2 WCHA).
The Gophers got two first-period goals in Friday’s game to down the Sioux 3-2, but UND coach Dave Hakstol said it was a different story Saturday.
“We played 60 minutes tonight; we didn’t last night,” he explained. “We played 40 minutes, and we weren’t able to dig ourselves out of that. Tonight, regardless of how different the style or the pace of the game was, we played solid hockey for 60 minutes.”
In the opening stanza, Alt blocked a Sioux clearing attempt at the blue line and threw the puck on goal from the left point. UND sophomore goalie Aaron Dell was partially screened by his defenseman and didn’t see the puck until the last second. It caught the top corner far side and went in.
The lead, however, was short-lived. Just 34 seconds later, UND senior forward Evan Trupp stripped Minnesota’s Nick Larson of the puck, walked in on junior goalie Kent Patterson, and beat him through the pads to knot it 1-1.
“That was a key part of the game, even though it was early on,” Hakstol said. “They scored a bit of a lucky goal to get the first goal, and Evan Trupp just went out and made a play. For me, that was the play of the game.”
Things started to fall apart for Minnesota when senior captain Jay Barriball inexplicably took back-to-back penalties at 12:27, first tripping UND’s Ben Blood in the neutral zone and then cross-checking Sioux captain Chay Genoway.
The double minor gave UND four minutes of power play time. Defenseman Aaron Ness compounded Minnesota’s problems when he was called for cross-checking just over a minute into the Sioux power play. UND cashed in on the two-man advantage at 14:12 to go ahead 2-1.
Sioux forward Matt Frattin carried the puck down the right side and passed back to Genoway in the slot. He dished the puck to senior center Brad Malone in the right circle, who one-timed it past Patterson for the game-winning goal.
Despite falling behind, Minnesota coach Don Lucia felt that his team was still in the game.
“We got down five-on-three for two minutes and I felt coming out of that period down 2-1, that was a win for us,” he said. “I thought now it’s just a one-shot game.”
There was no scoring in the second period, but Minnesota had three man-advantage opportunities to tie it. Barriball hit the cross bar on one power play and Jake Hanson’s apparent goal was disallowed when he tipped the puck in with a high stick. The Sioux missed on two short-handed chances when Patterson stoned Jason Gregoire on a clean breakaway and Frattin hit the post on another scoring opportunity.
UND built a commanding three-goal lead in the third period. At the 4:12 mark, sophomore center Corban Knight deflected in forward Brett Hextall’s shot through traffic from the top of the left circle to make it a 3-1 game.
“We got a bounce for that puck to go in the net, but it was a real good play right off the faceoff, and it was well-executed,” said Hakstol.
The Sioux went up 4-1 with their second power-play goal at 14:57. Sophomore forward Danny Kristo swept the puck in past Patterson’s outstretched pad as he was being dragged down to give UND a commanding three-goal lead.
“I definitely kind of threw a muffin on net and Kristo was able to bang in the rebound,” Trupp said.
Penalties from a scrum near the end and a slash by Genoway gave the Gophers a two-man advantage for the final 1:20 of the game. Dell continued to thwart the Minnesota power play, which went 0-6. UND finished 2-6 with the man advantage. Dell stopped 21 of the 22 shots he faced while Patterson made 22 saves on 26 shots.
Hakstol said Dell’s steady play has been a big part of UND’s success.
“All the way right down to the last play, I loved the fact that he continued battling as hard as he did on the last power play, right down to the last second,” he said. “He’s putting our team in a position where we have a chance to win.”
Both coaches agreed that the pace of the game didn’t lend itself to good hockey, but Trupp said that didn’t matter to the players.
“You can’t expect a rivalry game like that to be pretty at all,” he said. “It’s in-your-face hockey, and the fun ones you want to be in.”
Lucia credited UND with playing an effective game against Minnesota’s top-end players.
“We just couldn’t get anything going to give ourselves a chance,” he said. “Other than that, the guys competed and Kent played well. I didn’t see any rhythm to us at all.”
Next weekend, UND hosts Nebraska Omaha at Engelstad Arena Jan. 21-22. Minnesota has a week off before hosting Alaska Anchorage Jan. 28-29.