GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Nebraska-Omaha is just a season and a half into its Western Collegiate Hockey Association tenure, but the rivalry with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux has already created plenty of memories.
Saturday night, Danny Kristo’s early third period goal gave North Dakota (9-8-1, 7-7 W.C.H.A.) a tight 1-0 victory over the Mavericks (9-8-3, 7-4-3 WCHA), the fourth in this series’ first six games to be decided by one goal.
Aaron Dell stopped all 26 shots he faced for his eighth career shutout, helping UND come back from a 2-1 overtime loss Friday to earn the split.
“I thought it was a real gutsy performance by our team,” said Sioux coach Dave Hakstol. “It was a real hard-fought game and a real hard-fought series.”
The two teams played through two quirky but nevertheless scoreless periods. Both sides had 21 shots through the first two with opportunities on both ends coming up short.
UND’s first shift out of the third period gate broke the stalemate. Danny Kristo skated in unassisted, wrapped around the net, then fired a shot stick side past Ryan Massa for his ninth of the year.
“I came around the net and they gave me a little time and space,” Kristo said. “I was looking for a pass and didn’t really see much open. They gave me too much space and the goalie was cheating a little bit, so I just snapped one short side and luckily it went in.”
That would be all the Fighting Sioux needed. They were able to hang on, holding the Mavericks to just five shots in the third period. Massa (31 saves) was finally able to get off the ice in favor of an extra attacker after UND clogged the neutral zone until late.
The Sioux kept the puck out of the net despite a lot of pressure from the Mavericks. Brock Montpetit got a good look at the net from the point and got a shot off with three seconds to go, but instead of finding twine, it clanged off the crossbar and into the corner as time expired.
“I didn’t see it, I heard it,” Dell said. “I was just hoping that it didn’t go down. Thankfully it stayed up.”
North Dakota fought back to earn the third split in as many series with Nebraska-Omaha, despite missing top line center Corban Knight, whose lower body injury may keep him out of the lineup for four to six weeks.
The Sioux shuffled lines a bit, sticking freshman Brendan O’Donnell up on the top line with Kristo and Brock Nelson. Mario Lamoureux returned after sitting out Friday night with an injury, even though that wasn’t in the cards until Saturday morning skate.
“Mario wanted to play,” Hakstol said. “He was in and obviously [athletic trainer] Mark Poolman was OK with it. And if you can believe it, Corban Knight came in on crutches and was politicking to play tonight as well.
“That tells you a little bit of the mindset of some of those guys. They want to do what they can to help the team win.”
Hakstol added that he liked where this victory puts his team, which started the year 1-5 in conference play. They’ll head into the break .500 in the league, despite injuries to key cogs of their system.
“It says we’re growing up a little bit. That’s kinda what Sioux hockey is about — whoever’s available. You go out, you do the job, you pull together — man up if you want — and go out and be successful.”
All in all, Saturday was just another chapter in this hard-fought series that won’t occur again until next season unless the two meet in postseason play.
“I knew that coming into this weekend that it’s already a good rivalry,” Kristo said of Omaha. “They’re a really good team over there, one of the most frustrating teams that I’ve played. They do a great job clogging the neutral zone and they finish every check. They have a really good head coach over there.”