GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Giving up two goals on a major power play might derail some teams, but not North Dakota Saturday night.
Carter Rowney had two goals for North Dakota (8-5-3, 5-2-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association), but it was a story of UND bending, not breaking, in a 6-3 victory over No. 6 Denver (9-5-2, 7-3-2 WCHA) in front of 11,899 at Ralph Engelstad Arena Friday night.
A Dan Senkbeil checking-from-behind major torpedoed nearly all of UND’s three-goal margin in the second period of this emotional Saturday night WCHA affair, but despite giving up back-to-back goals just 17 seconds apart, UND didn’t allow the Pioneers to complete a comeback. Instead, No. 9 North Dakota strung together a commanding final 20 minutes to capture the victory.
“Obviously that was a little bit of a bending for us, but we didn’t break,” said Grimaldi, named the game’s first star thanks to his first period goal and three assists. “Those guys in the locker room, we stick together through thick and thin.”
UND wanted to start better than it did Friday night, but Denver got on the board early when Grant Arnold intercepted an ill-advised pass from Joe Gleason. Arnold scooted around Clarke Saunders (20 saves) for his first career goal at 1:25, putting UND on its heels early.
UND’s second line, however, helped the offense storm forward for a 4-1 lead. Grimaldi made it 1-1 off a faceoff point shot at 17:10 of the first, and 5:57 into the second, Derek Forbort tapped in an easy rebound past Sam Brittain (27 saves) to put North Dakota ahead.
It was a start that Dave Hakstol nevertheless called better than the Friday night start that Hakstol pointed to as the culprit for not pulling out a victory.
“[Giving up the early goal]‘s not a very good way to start,” Hakstol said. “Obviously, that puts everybody back on their heels; it takes the energy out of the building. But we recovered from that. We had a decent first period, and we just moved forward from there.”
The Grimaldi-to-Rowney connection struck twice eight minutes apart to stretch the lead to 4-1. Rowney finished off a long rebound on a short-handed two-on-one with Grimaldi at 7:21, then tipped in a Grimaldi centering pass later at 15:29.
Rowney was able to quench his recent scoring drought thanks to a five-point weekend, punctuating that with his fifth career two-goal performance.
The line of Rowney, Grimaldi and freshman Drake Caggiula finished with three goals and seven assists and a combined plus-5.
“Those guys, they’ve shown good chemistry in practice and in games over the past couple weeks,” Hakstol said. “Tonight, they got it over the top where they had some payoffs on a consistent basis. I thought they were good in all three zones, and obviously offensive production was very important for us.”
“All of a sudden, things are clicking and hopefully that’s going to continue for the rest of the year here,” said Grimaldi.
Senkbeil’s checking-from-behind penalty 10 seconds later took all the wind out of UND’s sails, however. Denver took big advantage of the ensuing major, with goals from Ty Loney and Joey LaLeggia coming 17 seconds apart to make things quite interesting.
“That was a big momentum booster for us to get those goals,” LaLeggia said. “Our power play hasn’t been great lately, so it was really big to get those two for us.”
But Denver couldn’t find the equalizer, instead faltering at the hands of UND and a never-say-die mentality it showed coming out of the third period gates.
Danny Kristo added some cushion with a top-corner goal from the point at 16:53, and Corban Knight added an empty-net goal with one minute remaining to seal the victory.
The loss pushes Denver’s winless streak to six, and while the Pioneers haven’t been swept in a weekend yet, they know there’s much room for improvement. They now lead Minnesota in the WCHA by just one point.
“All you can do during these times is keep working hard and keep trying to simplify the game,” LaLeggia said.
For North Dakota, keeping the train rolling is the key as it heads into the final two games of 2012 next weekend in Houghton, Mich.
“Obviously, we didn’t get the full result we wanted, but we got a pretty good piece of the pie there,” Grimaldi said. “We’re looking to go to (Michigan) Tech next week and hopefully get four points and move into Christmas with the chip off our shoulder.”