MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — In a game between heated rivals in which records and rankings mean little, the line between winning and losing is hair thin and opportunities must be seized when offered.
Such was the case on Friday night as No. 5 Minnesota and No. 15 North Dakota combined to go 1-for-14 with the man-advantage, but Nick Bjugstad scored the lone power-play goal to provide the difference in Minnesota’s 2-0 win in front of 10,176 at Mariucci Arena.
Tom Serratore added an even strength goal in the final period and Kent Patterson made 24 saves to record his fifth shutout of the season in just nine games. The shutout ties a single-season team record set in 1987-88 by Robb Stauber, who happened to win the Hobey Baker Award that season.
“He’s making some key saves at pivotal moments,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia of Patterson. “But I like the way the guys are willing to block shots in front of him and clean up the rebounds and pay attention to some details.”
Sioux goaltender Aaron Dell was outstanding in turning away 30 Minnesota shots, including a handful of the spectacular variety. Danny Kristo, Ben Blood and Brock Nelson combined for half of North Dakota’s shots on goal with four each.
North Dakota (3-5-1, 1-4-0 WCHA) has struggled to score this season, scoring just 10 times in its last 163 shots on goal. Sioux coach Dave Hakstol says his team has to loosen up offensively.
“We have some guys that are maybe forcing things a little bit,” said Hakstol. “We played real hard defensively, but we were really pressing real hard offensively and that’s natural for guys that want to be leaders and be difference makers in the game. Sometimes you have to try and step back and loosen up a little bit.”
The intensity of the rivalry came into play in a sloppy, scoreless first period. Both teams appeared to be a bit tentative and in feel-out mode for the most part as passes weren’t crisp and quality scoring chances were few. On the other hand, despite Mariucci Arena’s Olympic-size ice sheet, both teams did well to limit time and space in each end.
A major penalty assessed to Seth Ambroz for contact to the head just 30 seconds in to the second period gave the Sioux a golden opportunity to jump out in front, but Minnesota (8-1-0, 5-0-0 WCHA) killed it off allowing just four shots in the process.
“It was physical, there was blocked shots, goaltending, guys making plays, and there wasn’t a lot of space in the game tonight,” said Lucia. “We were able to do a good job on our kill and maybe get some momentum from our kill because we didn’t give up a lot of looks on it.”
Bjugstad called the game one of his favorite games he has ever played.
“There’s just no better game you can play in,” said Bjugstad. “It’s a man’s game, everyone’s hitting out there, it’s pretty tough and I think that’s what makes it fun.”
Bjugstad got Minnesota on the board at 12:44 of the second period when Kyle Rau maintained puck possession after getting knocked to the ice and alertly found Bjugstad all alone in the left circle. Bjugstad took a couple of strides and fired it over Dell’s right shoulder for a 1-0 Minnesota lead.
“If I wouldn’t have scored, I think I would have caught some (ribs) from the guys,” said Bjugstad. “It was a 3-on-0 and there was some wide open guys, but fortunately it went in.”
“He showed good poise,” said Lucia. “He didn’t just unload it from a distance, he walked right in on the goaltender and made a heck of a shot.”
Hakstol saw it that way, too.
“It was a good shot by Bjugstad,” said Hakstol. “We didn’t have a lot of breakdowns on the penalty kill tonight, but that was one of them and they took advantage of it.
“Both sides played pretty hard on specialty teams, they won that battle 1-0, and that turned out to be the game winner.”