GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Nebraska Omaha coach Dean Blais was smiling, even though he had just seen his Mavericks give up a third-period lead and lose 4-2 to North Dakota.
“If someone had said that you’re going to play North Dakota four times and beat them twice, I absolutely would have taken it,” he explained.
For UND, which suffered an embarrassing 8-4 loss Friday, it was a must-win situation if the Fighting Sioux hoped to stay near the top of the WCHA standings. Even though it took more than 54 minutes for the Sioux to gain the lead, they prevailed in a game that saw five goals scored in a span of just over six minutes late in the third period.
UND, 18-7-2 overall and 13-5-0 in league play, is tied for second place in the conference with Minnesota-Duluth. UNO, 13-9-2 overall and 10-6-2 in the WCHA, moved into fourth place in the league standings.
“Tonight was extremely important for us,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol. “The last 24 hours have been a real test for our team. There’s no easy way out of where we were last night.”
UND senior forward Evan Trupp, whose breakaway goal energized the team, said, “As a team, coming off a night like last night, we really wanted to win and prove to ourselves that we’re a better team than that.”
The Sioux played one of their better opening periods of the past two weeks, but couldn’t get the puck past UNO goalie John Faulkner. Although UND took three penalties, the Sioux generated more chances on UNO’s power plays than the Mavericks did. In the second half of the period, UNO’s forecheck began to pin the Sioux in their own end. Still, UND won the shots on goal battle 9-5.
In the second period, the Sioux had 44 seconds of five-on-three power play, but couldn’t capitalize. Their best opportunity came when Faulkner couldn’t control the rebound on a shot close in and the puck lay in the crease with the goalie down on the ice. UNO freshman defenseman Mike Young kicked it out before a Sioux player could get a stick on it.
“We had the season series on the line and both teams were playing maybe a little bit defensive-minded, which is maybe why there weren’t as many shots or chances as there was last night,” Trupp said. “Both teams were able to compete really hard tonight and kept it a little bit closer.”
UNO got on the scoreboard at 4:10 of the third period with its second of three short-handed goals on the weekend. UND senior defenseman Chay Genoway attempted to hold the puck in at the blue line, but Mavericks sophomore forward Terry Broadhurst chipped it past him and went in alone on Sioux goalie Aaron Dell. He buried the opportunity to give UNO a 1-0 lead.
“It’s a little demoralizing, but in such a game, emotions are running high and you can’t get down,” said junior forward Jason Gregoire. “Hockey’s a game of highs and lows. With the emotions, you can’t get too high or too low. I think the guys did a really good job of managing that and staying focused on the job at hand.”
The Sioux could get little going offensively, but then at the 12:55 mark, the flood gates opened. Trupp blocked a UNO shot at the blue line and was off on a breakaway with two Mavericks in hot pursuit. He roofed the puck over Faulkner to knot it 1-1.
“I was able to block a shot and use my speed,” Trupp said. “Usually, I try to go for the five-hole shot, but I knew there was a guy on me, so I just wanted to get a shot.”
UNO defenseman Michael Young was called for hooking on the play. That meant UND remained on the power play because of a rule change made by the NCAA this season. The Sioux took full advantage and went up 2-1 at 14:26 when sophomore forward Danny Kristo beat Faulkner short side on a cross-ice pass from Corban Knight.
The Sioux extended their lead to 3-1 when a flip pass in the neutral zone by defenseman Ben Blood enabled junior forward Jason Gregoire to split the defense and score top shelf on Faulkner.
“People don’t know how tough it is to flip a puck up like that,” Gregoire said of Blood’s pass. “It might look easy, but he practiced that a lot during the week.
“He flipped it up and I was getting hooked all the way in,” he added. “I knew the goalie was kind of playing my backhand, so I tried to pull it as quick as I could and get it upstairs.”
UNO was again called for hooking before Gregoire scored, which put UND back on the power play.
However, the Mavericks notched their second short-handed goal of the night when Young came in two-on-one and beat Dell high short side. With 1:24 remaining, the Mavericks had suddenly cut UND’s lead to one goal. But with the Sioux still on the power play, Blais couldn’t get Faulkner off the ice for an extra attacker.
“I look forward to that stuff, sometimes when there’s three or four minutes left,” Blais said. “That was going through my head, finding a way.”
Gregoire made sure it didn’t matter. He gave UND a 4-2 lead with a power-play goal at 19:08. This time, a pass from Knight sent him in on Faulkner, and his backhander from the slot insured the win.
“After last night, for our team to come back and play like that, after going down one as well, it’s a big testament to our character and maturity,” Gregoire said.
Blais was pleased with the Mavericks’ play in the series after tying and losing to Bemidji State the previous weekend.
“When we settled down, I thought we carried the play at times,” he said. “Then you get up 1-0, they tie it, and there’s no panic. But North Dakota’s got a lot of skill, and you give them a little bit of a break, they’ll put it in the net.”
For Hakstol, the win put the Sioux back on track to improvement after disappointing performances against Robert Morris, Minnesota and UNO the past three weeks.
“It takes a great effort to get out of it and get back to the type of play that we want to play as a team,” he said. “Tonight was a nice step toward that. I thought a great character performance over the 60 minutes. It’s a good win to at least push us in the right direction.”
UND next travels to Colorado College for a two-game series Jan. 28-29. UNO has a nonconference series at home against Alabama-Huntsville Jan. 28-29.