ST. PAUL, Minn. — The first of two Brock Nelson goals for North Dakota broke a second-period period tie with St. Cloud State and propelled the Fighting Sioux to a 4-1 win over the Huskies in front of 15,133 rowdy spectators at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday night.
“We had a little bit of a slow start,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “But a lot of the credit goes to St. Cloud State for that and I thought we worked our way into playing our style of hockey somewhere in the early part of the second period.
“We were able to carry that through and ride a very good goaltending performance from Aaron Dell and a lot of good, hard play from everybody in our lineup.”
With the score tied 1-1 late in a mostly forgettable second period in which carelessness and imprecision was the norm on both ends of the ice, Nelson’s individual effort put North Dakota on top to stay.
Nelson, the league’s goal-scoring leader this season with 20 tallies, took Ben Blood’s short pass along the right side boards at the red line, entered the Huskies’ zone and cut right to left across the slot before picking his corner high to Lee’s stick side at the 15:51 mark.
“Ben Blood made a great play there at the red line; he kind of fought a guy off there and made a nice, short pass,” said Nelson. “I think I maybe had Danny [Kristo] driving wide there so that kind of pulled the [defensemen] and I was just lucky to get a shot on net and, fortunately, it went in.”
“I think that’s the player in our league that we’re going to watch play in the NHL for a long time,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said of Nelson.
Nelson’s linemates Corban Knight and Danny Kristo also scored for UND — Kristo’s, like Nelson’s second, was into an empty net — and Dell made 29 saves to post the victory.
Huskies captain and leading scorer Ben Hanowski scored St. Cloud State’s lone goal while goaltender Mike Lee, despite his 0-5-1 record vs. the Sioux, played well and gave his team a chance to win in allowing just two goals on 28 North Dakota shots.
“I thought it was an extremely hard-fought hockey game,” said Motzko. “It was tough, it was grinding, and it was a great game down on the bench. I don’t know if there was a ton of plays being made at times but we definitely were in a good position.
“They were selling out and they were blocking shots. They went down at the end, and, you know, we just couldn’t get the equalizer.”
With the exception of a few energy-filled shifts from North Dakota’s top line of Nelson, Knight and Kristo, the Huskies carried the play for the most part in the early going and jumped out to a 6-3 shots advantage.
But it was the Fighting Sioux who seized the game’s first lead when Knight, from behind the goal line to Lee’s right, attempted to set up Dan Senkbeil for his first career goal. But the puck was inadvertently redirected behind Lee off the stick of St. Cloud State senior defenseman Sam Zabkowicz at 7:40 of the first period.
“I guess it was kind of one of those greasy [goals], but I’ll take it,” said Knight.
Violence erupted later in the period near the Huskies bench but not, initially, on the ice. A brawl broke out in the stands near ice level between fans from both teams and a Minnesota supporter.
As order was beginning to be restored, the action on the ice got physical and, ultimately, UND’s Knight was whistled for charging at 15:06.
On the ensuing power play, Hanowski tied it for the Huskies at 16:14 when he received a cross-ice feed from Nic Dowd and fired a laser from the right circle over Dell’s left shoulder, a shot that left the Sioux goaltender’s water bottle dangling across the goal mouth.
But the goal was just one of two shots the Huskies mustered on their three man advantages in the game, totaling more than five minutes. Hanowski chalked the problem up to North Dakota’s aggressive forecheck.
“We didn’t get many clean break-ins,” said Hanowski. “We had to dump a lot of pucks and we knew coming in that when we’d dump pucks on the power play they were going to be aggressive and come after us and they just did a good job winning battles.”
North Dakota’s win earns the Sioux a semifinal date with top seeded Minnesota at 7:07 p.m. CDT on Friday for the right to play for the Broadmoor Trophy.
“We have an opportunity to play a rival tomorrow night,” said Hakstol. “If you like competition I think you’ll love the game tomorrow.”
Video: North Dakota’s Brock Nelson and Corban Knight:
Video: St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko: