GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Mark MacMillan was the third different forward that Dave Hakstol has tried alongside Danny Kristo and Corban Knight on North Dakota’s top line this season.
So far, so good.
Mark MacMillan’s overtime goal — after the sophomore left winger tied it with 14:07 left in regulation — gave UND (5-3-2, 3-1-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) a 4-3 overtime win over the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (2-6-2, 0-4-2 WCHA) in front of 11,918 at Ralph Engelstad Arena Saturday night.
UND hadn’t won on Saturday night since March; the Kelly green and white were 0-3-1 to begin this season. UND also hadn’t won a home overtime game since March 1, 2009.
However, MacMillan’s goal sent both of those statistics to the scrap heap.
“Yeah, we needed it,” MacMillan said.
MacMillan’s fourth and fifth goals of the season made quite the case for this new line combination, which Hakstol certainly seemed to like.
“Chemistry is hard to explain,” Hakstol said. “I’ll say that they showed they have a little bit tonight. The plays that they made, the goals that they scored, they were good solid hockey plays.”
“It was fun teaming up with those guys,” MacMillan said. “It’s pretty easy to produce when you’re playing with guys like Knight and Kristo. Both of them are incredible hockey players, and it was nice to jump with them. I was glad it worked out.”
UND’s victory looked improbable at times in another back-and-forth and penalty-filled (66 total minutes) affair between these two WCHA rivals.
The odds of a North Dakota Saturday night win grew long after Minnesota Duluth jumped out to a 3-1 first period lead on the strength of goals from Jake Hendrickson, Mike Seidel and Tony Cameranesi.
Hendrickson’s rebound goal was matched by a Danny Kristo rebound goal 13 seconds later, but Seidel gave the Bulldogs the lead right back 22 seconds later, and Cameranesi’s patient power-play goal from in front of Zane Gothberg (28 saves) put UND on its heels early.
“We didn’t get a lot of pucks deep and when we did, we didn’t have any speed to get in on them and create a cycle and create a forecheck,” said Hakstol.
Derek Forbort’s point shot got North Dakota to within 3-2 at 6:38 of the second, but despite getting a two-minute five-on-three after a brawl in front of the Minnesota-Duluth bench, UND couldn’t capitalize.
That is, until Kristo and MacMillan connected. Kristo fooled Matt McNeely (26 saves) by feigning a shot before dishing it to the waiting stick of MacMillan. MacMillan easily beat a sprawled-out McNeely to tie it at three 5:53 into the third.
Just like Friday night, 60 minutes wasn’t enough to break the tie.
UMD sustained heavy pressure, preventing UND from establishing anything in the zone until late. North Dakota’s odds again looked bleak, but with one last shift left before having to call it a tie for the second straight night, Kristo, Knight, and MacMillan gained the zone and captured that elusive overtime win.
An errant defensive pass behind the net fell into the hands of Kristo along the left boards, and he stepped up to the slot and tossed the puck across to a waiting MacMillan, who crushed a top-shelf goal to win it for UND at 4:26 of the overtime.
“I’m just extremely proud of the whole team,” Kristo said. “Down 3-1 at the first period — not too much life there at the end of the first. Everyone just battled all the way back, one goal at a time. One goal in the second, one goal in the third and we got it done in overtime.”
Minnesota-Duluth played tough enough to force two straight overtimes, but the Bulldogs will be forced to leave behind missed opportunities to try and crawl back from a rough start to the season.
“Overall, it was a good step forward for our team, but at some point you need to be rewarded,” Scott Sandelin said.
North Dakota’s first Saturday win of the season was crucial, with harrowing series at Notre Dame and Colorado College on the doorstep for a team in search of consistency.
“To be a great hockey team in this league we have to learn to win on Saturday night and I think that’s going to be a big turning point in our season,” MacMillan said.