GRAND FORKS, N.D. — For all of the history that has been made at Ralph Engelstad Arena in the last year, for one night, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux (3-4-1, 1-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) are happy to have avoided making more of it.
Mark MacMillan, Corban Knight and Brock Nelson all scored second period goals as North Dakota avoided starting the year 0-4 in WCHA play for the first time in program history, defeating the St. Cloud State Huskies (3-4-1, 1-1 WCHA) 3-1 in front of another sold-out crowd of 11,747.
After losing two straight games in which they handily outshot their opponent and looked like they “deserved” more, coach Dave Hakstol was happy to finally get what they deserved: their first conference win.
“You can only talk so long about doing good things and maybe deserving a little bit better,” Hakstol said. “You have to have some results to show for it.
“Our guys had a great mental resolve coming to the rink today. No one was hanging their heads; no one was looking back. Everybody was concentrated on the job at hand. We went out, worked hard and we have two points to show for it.”
UND did not have that wide margin on the shot count like in their previous two games, but they had the chances they needed to split the series. They outshot St. Cloud 26-21 Saturday night, but unlike Friday, they got the greasy goals they needed.
In the first period, North Dakota fired more heavy artillery at St. Cloud’s Ryan Faragher, the freshman who had the 44-save shutout in Friday night’s game, but Faragher stopped all 10 shots he faced in the first 20 minutes.
However, in the second, a power-play goal changed all that. MacMillan’s redirect of a Ben Blood point shot was what finally solved Faragher (23 saves) at 1:13 of the second period on a power play.
“We had hoped we’d be able to get one in the first 10 minutes; that was in the back of my mind,” said Hakstol. “Obviously, that didn’t happen, but we got the first one of the game, and that was a big goal for us.”
North Dakota continued to get more bounces to go their way. Knight added his fourth goal of the season by circling in front of the net and firing a soft wrister past Faragher at 11:11. Just 89 seconds later, Rocco Grimaldi picked up his first career point with a brilliant feed to Brock Nelson on another power play. Nelson roofed it over Faragher’s shoulder for his fourth goal of the season.
The Huskies responded with a late second period goal. Ben Hanowski knocked the puck into a wide-open net after linemate Nick Dowd drew Sioux goaltender Aaron Dell (20 saves) out of position.
Hanowski’s third of the year finally seemed to get the St. Cloud offense back on track. and perpetuating that momentum was the Huskies’ ability to draw penalties, which finally came through in the last period.
“We only had one penalty in the first two because we weren’t working hard enough,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. “You got to work to draw penalties. The third period is when we finally turned up the steam and drew some penalties.”
Unfortunately for the Huskies, they came up empty on both of their power play opportunities in the third ,and couldn’t climb back. Instead, North Dakota’s defense clamped down and held off the Huskies threat.
“I thought it was our most consistent 60-minute defensive effort [of the season],” Hakstol said. “When we did have turnovers, we were in a really good position to track pucks and to provide back pressure to help our defensemen out coming back on the rush. I thought that was a big difference for us tonight.”
Despite being disappointed in the loss, Motzko said the team will probably see this split in a positive light down the road.
“That’s how you pick it up in this league,” he said. “We’ll take the split on the road right now and now we go home. It becomes a real good weekend if we can get back next week in the win column.”