College Hockey:
North Dakota’s top line, Saunders the difference in win at Michigan Tech

— Looking for their fifth-straight strong effort on the road, No. 8 North Dakota got just that thanks to nine points from their top line of center Corban Knight and wingers Mark MacMillan and Danny Kristo as the trio helped lead North Dakota to a 6-1 victory over the host Michigan Tech Huskies at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

“The difference tonight was a couple of pucks going in for us,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “For us, it’s been about balance. We’ve had different players doing it all year long [and] those guys had a good night tonight.”

A full week of rest allowed the Huskies to get off to a better start against North Dakota (9-5-3 overall, 6-2-3 WCHA) than the previous weekend against Wisconsin. The Huskies skated stride-for-stride with the visitors throughout the early stages of the game and neither team had a scoring chance until MacMillan fired a slap shot at MTU goaltender Kevin Genoe almost six minutes in.

With the Huskies’ Dennis Rix off for tripping, North Dakota found a hole in Genoe when winger Rocco Grimaldi redirected a pass from Knight over his shoulder at 14:57 of the opening frame.

Before Grimaldi’s goal, it was the Huskies with the first good scoring chance on the North Dakota power play. Winger Blake Pietila shucked his defender and cut to the net, but couldn’t get a clean shot off at goaltender Clarke Saunders.

Huskies’ winger Milos Gordic had a golden opportunity to tie the game on the second MTU power play of the period as he got loose in close to Saunders. The junior tipped a shot that Saunders just got a piece of to maintain the lead.

Saunders finished the night with 34 saves.

While short-handed late in the period, Rix skated in on an two-on-one and fired a shot that appeared to sail off the crossbar and hit the netting above the glass. With no whistle blown, North Dakota pushed the puck up the ice. Kristo found Knight in the high slot. Knight’s shot beat Genoe with .01 seconds remaining in the period.

“Right now we can’t kill penalties,” said Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson. “I can’t tell what it is. I thought we turned the corner at Wisconsin a little bit.”

The Huskies (4-9-3 overall, 3-7-3 WCHA) started the second period with more jump and as the first minute ticked off the clock, they had three scoring chances in close to Saunders, who managed to preserve the lead.

Five minutes later, the Huskies broke through.

Huskies’ winger David Johnstone stole the puck from a North Dakota defender and found Pietila in the slot and Pietila wasted no time beating Saunders at 6:17.

“It’s no secret [that] defensively we were pitiful,” said Pietila. “Forwards, defense, everybody, just a terrible effort.”

On the next shift, winger Alex Petan nearly tied the game when he got behind the North Dakota defense, but his wrist shot sailed over Saunders’ shoulder and the crossbar.

Late in its first power play of the middle frame, North Dakota defenseman Joe Gleason got loose, took a pass and unloaded a slap shot that beat Genoe cleanly at 10:15.

Gleason finished his night with three points, equaling his season total coming into the game.

“I had an opportunity to play on our first power play and that will help a lot when you are playing with those guys,” said Gleason. “I just tried to be in the right places at the right times.”

The Huskies had a chance to cut into the lead again three minutes later when defenseman Brad Stebner fired a shot through traffic. His shot beat Saunders, but hit the right post instead of the netting.

Kristo and Knight combined for a pair of goals in the late stages of the period to extend the North Dakota lead to four. Kristo’s tally came off a perfect pass from MacMillan for a one-timer. MacMillan also assisted on Knight’s goal with 21 seconds left in the frame.

Michigan Tech freshman Jamie Phillips relieved Genoe to start the third period and he was tested early.

North Dakota winger Derek Rodwell picked up his first point of the year when he found the net behind Phillips 7:12 into the period when he pushed the puck through traffic past the netminder. Winger Dan Senkbeil also picked up his first point of the season, adding an assist on the goal.

Midway through the final frame, the Huskies found themselves short-handed, but had a golden opportunity to score when winger C.J. Eick forced a turnover deep in the North Dakota zone. Eick fed Rix in front of the net, but his one-timer was stopped.

Phillips and Genoe combined to make 32 saves in the loss.

Dave Hakstol

Joe Gleason

Mel Pearson

Blake Pietila

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