GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Corban Knight laughed when asked to describe the play of teammate Carter Rowney over the last few weeks.
“I don’t know what he’s doing or what he’s drinking, but I got to get on that,” he said.
Rowney, a junior forward from Sexsmith, Alta., has put on quite a show in the second half of the season, a show that continued with another two-goal performance Friday night.
Rowney’s two goals lifted the North Dakota Fighting Sioux (17-11-2, 13-10 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) to a 4-2 victory over the Michigan Tech Huskies (13-15-3, 10-10-3 WCHA) in front of 11,694 at Ralph Engelstad Arena Friday night.
Knight had a pair of goals too, but it was the little-known second line center Rowney that stole the show Friday, and for good reason.
“He’s been amazing for us,” Knight said. “Not only the goals and the points, but at both ends of the ice he’s just been dominant. If you watch him in the defensive zone, he just takes over. He’s been our best player the last little while here, and I don’t see him stopping anytime soon at the rate he’s going.”
Rowney’s two goals came after Michigan Tech, which hasn’t won in Grand Forks since 2008, took a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
Michigan Tech’s Jacob Johnstone got the Huskies on the board first with a tip-in of an Alex MacLeod centering pass just 1:59 into the contest.
After being held without a shot for the game’s first seven minutes, North Dakota finally clicked and its top line put the pressure on Josh Robinson. At the 7:34 mark, Dillon Simpson cleaned up a loose puck in the crease and his shot caromed off the leg of Knight and past Huskies goaltender Josh Robinson (31 saves) to tie the game at one.
UND kept pounding away, but couldn’t get a second goal past Robinson in the first. Instead, the Huskies took momentum into the first intermission thanks to another goal from Johnstone with seven seconds remaining.
“We didn’t have our best start tonight in the first period,” Rowney said. “We knew what we had to do, we needed to regroup and come back with a better compete level out there.”
Rowney was the catalyst of that, tallying a pair of goals in the second to allow the Sioux to take over. He scored a highlight reel power-play goal in slipping past two defenders and planting a goal top shelf to tie it at three at 1:37. The junior center then tapped in a rebound on a five-on-three at 10:19 to give the Sioux the lead.
Michigan Tech certainly made it interesting, stringing together shift after shift of desperate hockey, but senior goaltender Brad Eidsness and the Sioux defense didn’t relent.
Eidsness played instead of Aaron Dell, who was day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Eidsness made just 19 saves in his 99th career appearance in net for the Sioux, but he made several difficult saves down the stretch to hold the lead.
“He played amazing for us tonight,” Knight said. “I think we all knew coming in after the week of practice that he was going to be stellar. We had a lot of confidence in him that he would shut the door back there, so we just knew we needed to do our job to help get that win.”
Knight added his second of the night late in the third period, capitalizing on a great drop pass from Danny Kristo on a rush to make it 4-2 at 18:23.
Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson said he saw some good things out of what he called his team’s best period in the final stanza.
“We actually had zone time in their zone in controlling the puck,” he said. “We had a couple of real good shifts there. Hopefully that’ll help our confidence a little bit more, realizing the things we need to do and can do to be more effective than we were in the first two periods.”
Some of Pearson’s players no doubt have some dark memories in this building, but their mentality coming in was to put their past behind them.
“We’ve talked about North Dakota being a different team than they were last year and obviously we’re a different team than we were last year too,” Pearson said. “We can’t change what’s happened in the past at Michigan Tech, but we have something to say about the future and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Nonetheless, from the goaltending to special teams — UND was 2-for-5 on the power play while Michigan Tech went 0-for-3 — Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said it all added up to a crucial win over a good team.
“This is playoff hockey,” he said. “Specialty teams, goaltending and a lot of little things make big differences.”