GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Brad Eidsness made his Senior Night experience a memorable one.
The senior netminder stopped all 29 shots he faced to help No. 14 North Dakota (20-12-3, 15-11-1 WCHA) complete the sweep of the Minnesota State Mavericks (12-22-2, 8-18-2 WCHA) in a 3-0 shutout victory in front of 12,029 at Ralph Engelstad Arena Saturday night.
The only scoring came from underclassmen – freshmen Mark MacMillan and Nick Mattson and sophomore Brock Nelson – but the whole team chipped in to assist Eidsness in getting his fifth career shutout in his 103rd career game in net for the Sioux.
“Obviously, the team helped, but I think a lot of that was ‘Eids’ himself,” MacMillan said. “He made a lot of big saves. At times, I think we made a lot of big blocks, but that’s ‘Eidsy’ doing his job. He played a great game.”
A broken pane of glass in warmups delayed the start of the game about 20 minutes, but once the puck dropped, there was no delay of excitement. Both teams were able to set up odd-man rushes in that wild first period and the first score of the game came midway through the first period.
Derek Forbort set up MacMillan for a clean breakaway goal from deep in his own zone. MacMillan scored for the first time in 14 games at 11:01 to give UND the 1-0 lead.
The Fighting Sioux had several other breakaways in that first period, and had nine shots on goal on two power play chances, but could not get another tally in the first frame.
North Dakota got a big chance to build the lead when Eli Zuck got the early shower for a checking from behind major at 2:43. Mattson’s point shot almost four minutes into the power play at 6:32 made it 2-0 on just the second goal the Sioux have scored on a major penalty this year (Michael Parks vs. Minnesota-Duluth).
“It was in the last portion of that five-minute [power play],” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought we had our moments on that five-minute where we weren’t all that effective, but we also had some pretty good time spans there where we were doing good things. In that case, Nick Mattson made a play. That’s the bottom line.”
Much like Friday night, chances were equal, and Minnesota State had several opportunities to get back into the game. But Minnesota State wiped out two power-play opportunities in the first two periods with penalties of its own, taking away golden chances to get back in the game.
And after Minnesota State had put together the energy to try and mount a comeback, another penalty put out the fire for good at 15:55. Brock Nelson’s empty-net goal with 1:29 left sealed the sweep and the Sioux clamped down to get their senior goaltender the shutout.
“It’s pretty special,” Eidsness said. “It’s a good way to cap off a pretty good weekend and a good Senior Weekend. It’s kind of something that you look at and I think I’ll cherish it for a long time.”
Eidsness played well in Aaron Dell’s absence due to injury in the past few weeks, but now, both goaltenders are healthy and have their team’s utmost confidence heading into the WCHA playoffs.
To have two go-to goaltenders is “great for our hockey team,” Eidsness said. “Our hockey team is confident with whichever guy is in the net. Going into the playoffs, I think that’s a good way to be going.
“Certainly, both of us are ready to play and both will do whatever it takes to win.”
The shutout spoiled what Mavericks coach Troy Jutting thought was a good opportunity to finish off the regular season with a chance to win.
“I thought we created enough opportunities for ourselves, we just didn’t capitalize on them,” Jutting said. “Little disappointing in the first period in terms of the opportunities we gave up. It’s a 3-0 game with an empty-net goal [and] to hold them to two goals tonight is what we needed to do to win the hockey game. Unfortunately, we didn’t follow through on the offensive side.”
The Mavericks travel to Minnesota-Duluth for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. Despite the sweep, Jutting said it’s just what the team needed to get into playoff mode.
“Coming in, I knew it was going to get us ready for playoff hockey,” he said. “We were going to have to play hard and fast and have to move pucks quick and I thought it forced us to that this weekend. I really thought it helped prepare us for next weekend.”
The Fighting Sioux, who host a playoff series next weekend against either Bemidji State or Wisconsin, knew the win was big for them to continue controlling their own destiny as they sit perilously close to the national tournament bubble.
“We knew that with the PairWise, that was a must-win game,” said Mattson. “We’re pretty pumped about it.”