WINNIPEG, Manitoba — While Fenway Park hosted a pair of marquee Hockey East showdowns, the MTS Centre hosted a college hockey showcase of its own Saturday night.
North Dakota and Clarkson came together to feature NCAA hockey in a rare game on Canadian soil Saturday at the U.S. College Hockey Classic. A total of 7,075 people – many of them Manitobans came out to the home of the Winnipeg Jets to watch a brand of hockey not familiar to Canada.
The scoring sheet read all Canada, as Alberta’s Carter Rowney notched two goals and British Columbia’s Mark MacMillan added a late goal to lift UND (11-8-2) to a key 3-1 non-conference victory.
Quebec’s Julien Cayer also scored for the Golden Knights, who drop to 9-10-4.
Rowney, centering the top line in place of the injured Corban Knight, earned his first two goal game of his college career in the first time he’s played north of the border since his days in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“It’s good to come back to Canada always, something better about up here,” said Rowney. “It’s good to be back in the homeland in front of Winnipeg fans at the MTS Centre – it’s a great experience.”
Rowney seemed to be in the right place in the right time all night, tallying five shots on goal and nearly completing the hat trick at several moments. Nevertheless, it was a good start to 2012 for the sophomore forward.
“It’s definitely great,” said Rowney. “I’m going out there and playing with some good linemates – Danny Kristo and Brock Nelson. They’re definitely pushing me.”
Clarkson took the early one-goal lead at 4:11 of the first. Cayer scored his fifth of the year from right in front of North Dakota goaltender Aaron Dell to put the Golden Knights in charge early.
“I just thought we managed the puck a lot better in the first period than we did as the game went on,” Clarkson coach Casey Jones said. “We didn’t show the poise that we needed to later in the game. It’s just one of those situations where I thought we had a chance early to stretch that lead a little bit.”
UND woke up from a first period slumber of sorts to pressure Paul Karpowich (32 saves) and the Golden Knights throughout the second. Rowney then broke through with a wraparound goal at 9:14 to turn the momentum squarely in North Dakota’s direction.
Rowney added a second goal when Nick Mattson’s point shot rebounded off Karpowich and directly to him. From just outside the crease, Rowney roofed it for his second of the night.
Karpowich returned from a three-game absence for the Golden Knights, stopping 32 shots and seemingly keeping Clarkson within reach of climbing back.
But Jones didn’t necessarily think Karpowich played his best game.
“He fought the puck a little more tonight than he had,” Jones said. “It was his first game back and it was important to get him back before league play. Generally, he’s got great rebound control, but I thought he was a step off his game tonight. That’s the first time I’ve said that all year long.”
MacMillan tallied a late third period goal to round out the scoring, burying a wraparound attempt by Nelson that came straight to him in the left slot.
For North Dakota, the victory was a crucial one. Amidst struggles against non-conference foes in the WCHA, Dave Hakstol’s UND squad finished off their 2011-12 non-conference slate with a win that acts as a bit of a warm-up for the neutral sites and unfamiliar arenas that a potential playoff run requires.
“These are the types of games that at the end of the season we have to be prepared for,” said Hakstol. “As we go into the national tournament, you go into buildings you’ve never played in before against teams you’re relatively unfamiliar with. This is a good test run for us.”
Hakstol, a native of Alberta, knows firsthand how important western Canada is to UND’s history and he hopes that UND returns to play once again at the MTS Centre someday.
“I certainly don’t want this to be the last time we have a chance to come back to this building,” said Hakstol. “Whether it’s two or three years down the road, I’d sure like to get together with all the parties involved and see if we can make it happen, use it as a baseline and build a great event.”