GRAND FORKS, N.D. — For the second time in three weeks, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were the guest as an opponent attempted to set a new program attendance mark.
After falling into an early two-goal hole that they proved unable to climb out of in Madison in front of an NCAA-record crowd of 10,668, the Gophers were far less intimidated by the 3,158 people, the program’s second-largest crowd, that turned out in Grand Forks to support the North Dakota Fighting Sioux.
Minnesota (23-7-2 overall, 18-7-2-1 in the WCHA) jumped to a 3-0 lead late in the first period before the Sioux responded.
“I don’t think the crowd affected us one bit, and that may be because we’ve been in a pretty hostile environment before,” Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said. “I think our team was pretty focused and ready to play our game tonight.”
After a 5-on-3 power-play goal drew UND (17-11-3, 15-10-2-0) within one at 3-2 in the second period, a major penalty and a game misconduct on Sara Dagenais for a check from behind early in the final period doomed the Sioux effort. The Gophers used the resulting five-minute power play to score twice and increase their margin to 5-2.
In all, Minnesota special teams produced three power-play goals and a short-handed strike by Amanda Kessel, one of two tallies on the night by the Gophers’ leading scorer.
“We were happy with our power plays, but certainly wanted to try to get one unit that was extremely dangerous with Jen Schoullis’ line and Anne Schleper and Megan Bozek, and they did a great job tonight,” Frost said. “And our other unit is very dangerous, too, if that other unit doesn’t score as evidenced tonight by Sarah Davis’ goal as well.”
Schleper said the power-play units are still adjusting to the switches in personnel that were made prior to the series versus Bemidji State the week before.
“We’re still trying to find that groove, and hopefully going into the playoffs next weekend, we can get set and just roll with that,” she said.
The visitors also got a key penalty kill down the stretch when they were down two skaters for 1:47; the Sioux pulled goaltender Stephanie Ney for an extra attacker, giving them a 6-on-3 edge for part of that time.
“They scored on the 5-on-3 earlier in the game and it was just poor execution,” Frost said. “It wasn’t because we didn’t know what to do; we just didn’t get in the path of that shot from the top. We talked about that in between periods, and then again towards the end of the game when they had that 6-on-3. We did a really good job of executing the game plan and fronting those pucks, and then Noora (Räty) had to make some big saves there, too.”
“I felt we had our opportunities and the difference being they converted on theirs a little better than we did today,” North Dakota coach Brian Idalski said.
Megan Bozek notched the game’s first tally on Minnesota’s initial power play at 7:03, walking in from the right point and beating Ney with a top-corner shot from the face-off dot.
Kessel doubled the lead while shorthanded, slipping the puck between a defender’s legs on a rush before converting on the backhand.
“I just saw open ice and skated with the puck,” Kessel said. “I saw that the defenseman was caught flat-footed, and I went out-and-in on her and finished it.”
The teams exchanged goals that deflected off opponent skates a half minute apart, making the score 3-1 at the first intermission, with Terra Rasmussen connecting for Minnesota and Dagenais the Sioux beneficiary.
UND gained momentum from that goal and had the better of the second period, outshooting Minnesota 8-5 and getting the only goal from Monique Lamoureux-Kolls.
“Coming into the third, I felt like just stay the course,” Idalski said.
Instead, the Dagenais check ended her night, and the subsequent bad-angle goals by Davis and Kessel during the penalty widened the gap.
Kessel said she wasn’t trying to copy the shot by Davis 53 seconds earlier.
“I was actually trying to pass it, and the goalie was sliding over and it hit the girl’s pad and deflected in,” Kessel said.
A spin-o-rama break-away goal by Jocelyne Lamoureux, her 25th of the season, got UND back within two as they returned to full strength.
“There’s not many times that I’m like ‘oh my goodness’, but that was ridiculously good,” Idalski said.
“(Holly) Perkins was able to catch me on the break-away pass, and I kind of peeked over my head and knew that I had space to make a little bit slower of a move than when somebody is right on your butt,” Lamoureux said. “Good thing it worked, because I’d have looked really bad if it didn’t.”
However, the home team could inch no closer and Minnesota gained a 5-3 victory.
Sarah Erickson, Kelly Seeler, and Anne Schleper each finished with two assists for the Gophers, while Lamoureux had an assist to go with her goal for the Sioux.
“That five-minute penalty kind of changed up things and kind of did a little rollercoaster,” Schleper said. “We put a few in, but we did give up some of those breakaways. From here on out, we need to make sure that we’re stopping those and playing defense first.”
Idalski indicated that the Sioux will adjust in Saturday’s rematch.
“We’re going to have to do some things differently with the kill,” he said.
As for the fans, he hopes that those in attendance on Friday are back on Saturday night.
“Bring a friend; bring two,” Idalski said.