GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The No. 5 Minnesota Golden Gophers might have stumbled down the national rankings since their 6-0 start to the season, but on this Saturday night, the energy and opportunism that fueled that hot start returned.
The Golden Gophers ended a three-game losing streak in a big way by toppling No. 17 North Dakota, 6-2, in front of 11,964 at Ralph Engelstad Arena, scoring more than five goals for only the second time since October.
One night after suffering a 2-1 defeat to bruising North Dakota, Minnesota rode pairs of goals from both Nick Bjugstad and Nate Condon to bury UND in their own building.
“We really played fast tempo and more physical tonight,” Condon said. “Last night, they kind of dictated the game to us, but I felt like tonight we just brought out our ‘A’ game and took it to them tonight.”
Minnesota struck first early in this one, with Kyle Rau setting up Bjugstad for a highlight-reel goal at 2:37 of the first period. Bjugstad took the pass and deked before tapping in a backhand shot passed UND goaltender Aaron Dell (19 saves).
Bjugstad added his second of the period with 19 seconds left, collecting a rebound in the slot and burying it.
Bjugstad’s two goals were just what the doctor ordered, allowing Minnesota to dictate the tempo while also quieting the raucous Ralph Engelstad Arena crowd that all weekend was fully loaded with volume, along with the occasional Gopher pelt.
“That’s a big thing,” Bjugstad said. “In this stadium, you have to get the crowd out of it. They’re into it, and they’re really loud, so it was good to get a couple goals right away. Last night, we got the first goal but really didn’t build off of it.”
The Gophers kept flying, adding two more goals in the second. Seth Ambroz finished off an odd-man rush with a weak shot from the right slot that caromed in off of Dell. Then Nate Schmidt’s rocket shot from the point seconds after a UND penalty made it 4-0 just shy of 23 minutes into the game.
“It was just a case of us not being prepared,” said Corban Knight. “Our preparation wasn’t there all day and it showed. We made some mistakes, and they were able to capitalize right away on them.”
North Dakota got on the board a few minutes later when Andrew MacWilliam’s point shot was deflected in by Michael Parks from right in front of Kent Patterson (24 saves) at 9:47 of the second.
Then, emerging from the penalty box after a minor penalty, Stephane Pattyn took a feed from Corban Knight and had a clean breakaway. He drew a penalty but hit the post on his shot attempt.
Danny Kristo capitalized on the ensuing power play anyway, making a game of it with a great individual effort. He brought the puck in, then asserted himself to center ice and wristed one off the crossbar and in, cutting the lead to 4-2 at 13:31.
That got the crowd back into it, but Minnesota responded. Condon finished a two-on-one with Ambroz, pushing the Gophers back out in front by three goals with 39 seconds to go in the second.
One night after capturing momentum in the final minute of the second, UND seemed to lose all hope of a comeback in giving up that goal heading into the second intermission.
“Making it 5-2 before the end of the second killed us,” said Kristo.
“We can’t have that against a team like Minnesota.”
Condon’s short-handed goal four minutes into the third rounded out the scoring. Condon took a neutral zone feed from Taylor Matson and fired one past Brad Eidsness — who had replaced Dell for the final stanza — for his second of the night and eighth of the year.
North Dakota did bring out their physical game once again Saturday, but Minnesota wasn’t intimidated. Instead, the offensive attack that propelled them to one of the best starts in program history allowed them to return to Minneapolis with a split and a fresh supply of confidence for the weeks to come.
In Saturday’s team meeting, Lucia said he compared the Gophers’ three-game losing streak to that of national runner-up Michigan, which spiraled into a seven-game winless streak earlier this year. Needless to say, the Gophers won’t have to worry about matching that anytime soon.
“We talked about how that’s happened to a lot of good teams this year, but we have to bounce back and find our way of playing again,” said Condon. “We just have to get back to the team we were at the beginning of the year.”
Bjugstad agreed. “We were playing physical, we were blocking shots and we were doing all the little things we needed to do.”