GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota kept a lock on the WCHA lead with a dominant 5-2 win over Bemidji State in an afternoon game before 12,114 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Behind two power-play goals by senior forward Matt Frattin, a three-point game by junior forward Jason Gregoire and a smothering defense that limited the Beavers to 27 shot attempts, the Fighting Sioux improved to 23-8-3 overall and 18-6-1 in league play. BSU, which remains tied for tenth in the WCHA, falls to 12-15-4 overall and 8-13-4 in the conference.
“We just struggled with any type of sustained pressure,” said BSU head coach Tom Serratore. “Give credit where credit’s due: Their big, physical defensive corps and their big, strong center men really neutralized us.”
UND head coach Dave Hakstol characterized the win as “a good grinding game,” which has become the team’s personality as of late.
“I thought we ground it out pretty well for 60 minutes,” he said.
After starting the season averaging nearly a goal a game, Frattin was held without a tally for a four-game stretch in January. Unfortunately for UND’s opponents, he seems to have regained his scoring touch with six goals in the last six games.
“We told our guys, ‘Don’t let Frattin shoot,’” Serratore said. “That didn’t help, did it?”
“You always have ups and downs,” Frattin noted. “You’re going to be on a hot streak or you’re going to be on a cold streak. You just try to limit the cold streaks and keep getting the puck to the net. When you have opportunities, you try to bury them.”
Serratore said the Beavers gave Frattin too much time and space.
“He’s such a dangerous player,” the BSU coach said. “He showed why he’s probably going to be the WCHA player of the year.”
UND took advantage of its first power play when Gregoire tallied at 9:14 of the opening stanza. From behind the Beavers’ net, freshman center Brock Nelson made a quick centering pass to Gregoire, who was all alone in front of junior goalie Dan Bakala. He pounded the puck home for his 15th goal of the season.
“I saw out of the corner of my eye that Gregs was all alone in front and the D-man was on the other side of the net,” Nelson said. “So I just tried to get it out to him as quick as I could. Gregs made a great play and got it upstairs.”
During a game in which there hadn’t been much offense and the home crowd seemed somewhat disinterested, Hakstol said scoring first was important for the Sioux.
“A lot of times, I don’t put a lot of onus on the first goal of the game,” he explained. “To get that first goal seemed to put a little more energy into the building, and it worked out for us.”
With the Beavers on the power play, Bakala had to bail out his team, stopping Frattin, UND’s leading scorer, on a 2-on-1 rush with Gregoire. He then stoned Sioux forward Derek Rodwell coming out of the penalty box on a partial breakaway.
UND’s fourth line put the Sioux up 2-0 at the 17:10 mark. Senior defenseman Derrick LaPoint blasted a slapper from the right point that was tipped in by senior forward Brent Davidson, camped out in front of the BSU net. UND outshot the Beavers 10-2 in the first period.
The Sioux went up 3-0 on the man advantage at 2:25 of the second period. Evan Trupp found Frattin coming down the slot and hit him with a pass that he one-timed under the crossbar. The goal stood as the eventual game-winner.
The Beavers got some life when UND defenseman Andrew MacWilliam mishandled the puck at the BSU blue line and sent senior forward Ryan Cramer off on a clean breakaway. He snapped a wrist shot that beat Sioux goalie Aaron Dell glove side to make it a 3-1 game.
UND restored its three-goal lead with 1:48 left in the period. Frattin unloaded a wicked wrister from the top of the left circle that hit Bakala and then trickled over the line. His second power play goal of the game was his 26th of the season.
The Sioux made it a 5-1 game at 9:17 of the third period. Coming down the right side, Gregoire fought through a check along the boards and then made a centering pass that deflected into the net off the stick of BSU’s Jordan George.
BSU senior center Matt Read notched his 17th goal of the season shorthanded in the last 20 seconds of the game to make the final score 5-2.
UND outshot BSU 33-15 and went 3-6 on the power play. Dell had 13 saves for the Sioux and Bakala had 28 for the Beavers.
“You can’t be so one-sided with the power plays,” Serratore said. “We have to get more power play opportunities. You have to work to draw penalties. Again, without having a lot of sustained pressure, you’re just not going to draw a lot of penalties.”
Asked if the Sioux are thinking about the possibility of playing for a share of the WCHA title on Sunday, Frattin replied, “It’s on the back of our minds, I guess. Our main focus is just to come out and play 60 minutes tomorrow and hopefully get the ‘W.’”
The UND-BSU series is being played Saturday and Sunday afternoons because Engelstad Arena is also hosting the North Dakota state high school boy’s and girl’s hockey tournaments. The puck drops 3:37 p.m. on Sunday for the second game.