GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Once again, North Dakota’s opponent scored first. And, once again, the Fighting Sioux didn’t fret.
For the 13th time this season, the No. 14 Fighting Sioux found themselves down, 1-0, early in the friendly confines of Ralph Engelstad Arena, but a three-goal first period outburst erased all that.
Danny Kristo’s two goals paced the Fighting Sioux (19-12-3, 15-11-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) to a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota State Mavericks (12-21-2, 8-17-2 WCHA) in front of a sellout Ralph crowd of 11,651.
The Fighting Sioux improved to 8-3-2 when giving up the first goal at home, but much more importantly, they locked themselves into fourth place in the WCHA with the win.
Shots were tight (27-24 Minnesota State), and so too were shot attempts (53-48 North Dakota), but on this night, the bounces and opportunities went in for the Sioux.
Matt Leitner’s early rebound goal made it 1-0 Mavericks, but UND seemed all-too-accustomed to the early adversity.
The answering tally came just under two minutes later, when Kristo picked up a loose puck at neutral ice, then rocketed past a Mavericks defenseman en route to scoring five-hole on Phil Cook (20 saves) for his 16th of the year.
That was the answer goaltender Aaron Dell (25 saves) and the Sioux needed.
Dell said giving up the early goal is “always tough. It’s kind of a weird play to happen, but we battled back and got one right away.”
Then the Sioux scored a fluky goal to take the lead at 7:44. A loose puck bounced up off the body of Michael Parks and fluttered just past Cook’s glove just as the net came off the moorings. Originally ruled no goal, referees Derek Shepherd and Marco Hunt reviewed it and overturned the call, giving Parks his eighth goal of the year.
“It was a real close, tough play live,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “I couldn’t have told you whether it was a good goal or not live. But video shows that it was and it’s pretty distinct; even though it was pretty close, video shows that it was.”
Stephane Pattyn picked up his fourth of the year at 15:04 of the first, finishing a rebound off of an Andrew Panzarella point shot to put the Sioux up. 3-1. after the first stanza. Pattyn’s goal stood as the game-winner, his third game-winning goal of the year.
“I thought our ability to answer back after giving up the first one early in the game was very important,” said Hakstol. “We got a couple of grinding goals that were low in the crease after that.”
Minnesota State hung around, keeping Aaron Dell and the Sioux defense busy. Dell made 17 of his 25 saves in the final 40 minutes, and was also the beneficiary of two shots that rang off the pipe.
In his first start in three weekends after missing time due to an undisclosed injury, Dell felt comfortable once again between the pipes.
“I felt great,” he said. “Lots of support from the guys, they played really well. They made it easy to come back in.”
Josh Nelson sniped a point shot for his first career goal at 12:03 to pull the Mavericks to within one, but Kristo’s speed got the best of the Mavericks defense again a few minutes later. This time, the junior right winger sped past a defenseman in time to collect a feed from Corban Knight and backhand one past Cook at 15:46 of the third.
“Once they made it a one-goal game in the third period, we had a couple of guys that made a big play for us to extend it to a two-goal game again,” Hakstol said.
Cook was pulled with 2:28 left for the extra attacker, but the Mavericks were unable to get any closer, despite outshooting UND 8-4 in the final frame.
“Against a team the quality of North Dakota, you gotta score when you get your chances,” MSU coach Troy Jutting said. “We hit a couple posts tonight; we need those to go in. We had a couple of other good opportunities that we didn’t make really good plays on for opportunities to score as well. I think we got better as the game went along, but we got some areas that we need to get better at.”
Friday night, Jutting said he thought the opportunities were there for his team to stick with the Sioux, but the Mavericks missed on several of those chances and couldn’t come away with the victory.
“What did we give up, 11 shots in the last two periods against? So I think we did some good things that way against a pretty good hockey team. [But] you have to score more than the two goals that we got.”
UND did not climb any higher in the PairWise rankings (it remains at 14th), and there will be no resting in tomorrow’s regular season finale, even though the WCHA playoff seeding is set for the Sioux.
“Fourth place — it’s good to lock that up, but you still got the PairWise still to think about,” Kristo said. “I’m not sure where we sit right now, 14 or whatever it is, but we still have to climb that ladder as much as we can before the playoffs, and continuing in the playoffs, to guarantee that national playoff spot.”