GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Playing like a desperate team in danger of losing its grasp on a possible NCAA at-large bid, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux used three power-play goals to come from behind for a 5-3 win and a split of their weekend series with the Minnesota Gophers.
“PairWise, we had dropped to ninth, Dartmouth had moved ahead of us before the game, and we needed this, so huge from that standpoint as well,” North Dakota coach Brian Idalski said.
UND (18-11-3, 16-10-2-0 WCHA) found holes in the usually stingy Noora Räty to score five times on 16 shots over the final two periods, including four goals in the decisive third period.
“We talked about it’s not going to be the smartest kids or the strongest kids, it’s going to be the kids with the biggest will who are going to come out on top in the last 20 (minutes),” Idalski said.
Minnesota (23-8-2, 18-8-2-1 WCHA) needed at least a tie to wrap up the second seed for the WCHA tournament, but 12 minor penalties proved costly.
“It was just entirely too many penalties all weekend,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “It was just very frustrating. I think our players battled and competed and left their hearts on the ice. Some of the calls were warranted and others, in my opinion, were not. When we give up five, it’s going to be tough to win.”
As the third seed, the Gophers will host Ohio State starting Friday, while the fourth-seeded Sioux will entertain Bemidji State.
“We’ve done a pretty good job with Natalie Spooner and Laura McIntosh, but it’s playoffs now and there is less room for error,” Frost said. “Those two players in particular are pretty special, and that Ohio State team is very dangerous, as we’ve seen throughout the year in a couple very close games. We remember last year in the playoffs as well; it’s no easy feat. We’re looking forward to getting them into town and starting a new chapter here.”
Alyssa Wiebe gave UND a lasting lead at 8:09 of the third period, taking a couple stabs at a rebound to put the Sioux up 3-2. Wiebe recorded two assists along with her goal.
“It was a huge game for us,” she said. “We knew coming in that we needed to get some points this weekend.”
With the teams skating four-on-four, the game was, for all practical purposes, decided by a sequence where the Gophers hit iron and Sioux Stephanie Roy capped her career with the eventual game-winner.
“Megan Bozek comes down and rings one right off the crossbar, and 20 seconds later, the puck is in our net at the other end,” Frost said.
Roy scored with a backhand that went in through the five-hole.
“I actually wanted to lift that one,” she said. “It’s really hard on goalies to know where the backhand is going, so it’s a great feeling to have that puck go in.”
Jen Schoullis scored short-handed for Minnesota, her second goal of the night, to slice the deficit to 4-3, but Mary Loken struck on the continuing power play to seal the win for the Sioux.
The teams had traded power-play goals to reach a score of 2-2 with five and a half minutes gone in the third period.
Minnesota opened the scoring on their first shot of the game. Anne Schleper’s power-play snipe from the point found its way by a screened Stephanie Ney.
The Sioux then had the next six power-play opportunities, and Jocelyne Lamoureux knotted the score 1-1 with 14:33 gone in the second period. Räty made the save on Wiebe’s shot but couldn’t control the rebound and Lamoureux found the empty net.
Kelsey Ketcher gave North Dakota their first lead of the weekend 1:51 into the third period when her shot hit Sarah Davis’ skate and popped over the Minnesota netminder, but Jen Schoullis got the Gophers’ second power-play goal of the game off of a goal-mouth scramble.
“Hats off to the whole team; they did a great job on the ice,” Roy said.
The win made the Senior Night celebration, honoring her as the team’s lone senior, all the more sweet. The program’s first home playoff game starting next weekend serves as a testament to how far it has come during her career.
“Compared to my freshman year, it’s like night and day,” she said.