GRAND FORKS, N.D. — It was a game of firsts for North Dakota.
Eligible in his first WCHA series at North Dakota after transferring, Mitch MacMillan earned his first points in a green and white jersey in the form of a goal and an assist.
What began as a reflection of a heated Friday night battle quickly shifted to a game in favor of UND as MacMillan’s goal reflected the momentum in North Dakota’s 5-3 victory Saturday night over Colorado College in front of 11,915 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“Coming here and getting the opportunity with these guys is something special,” MacMillan said. “I had quite a bit of opportunities and I just shot it for once and didn’t try to pick a corner or anything and I guess it just worked out for me.”
Also scoring his first career goal and the resulting game-winner past Josh Thorimbert (26 saves) in the third period was sophomore forward Dan Senkbeil, much to his team’s exhilaration.
“It was great timing for [Senkbeil] to find a way to get one for us,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “One of our guys that we don’t normally count on to score a goal went out and did that.”
After struggling to find a system for the majority of the first period due to rearranging of the lines in response to a Friday night loss, North Dakota was finally able to find its rhythm.
“We were trying hard in the first period, but not a lot was happening or going our direction,” Hakstol said. “It was really hard to create any energy.
“I thought in the second period, it was nothing major. In terms of a major change, it was just one good shift after the next and slowly, we built momentum. Maybe some of the chemistry was part of that, but I think it was more the guys’ determination.”
With 15 shots on the net, North Dakota kept control of the puck for much of the second period, allowing just one shot from the Tigers.
“I thought the second period was a turning point,” CC coach Scott Owens said. “We got off to a great start and I really liked the way we played. Just the second period got away from us for a little bit.”
But it was Colorado College that held the edge in the first period and showed up on the scoreboard first as many skaters in front of the net caused a bouncing puck to be put in by Scott Winkler past Zane Gothberg (21 saves).
With additional goals from Danny Kristo and Winkler, the Tigers were able to sustain a 3-2 lead as the first period ended.
North Dakota held Colorado College to a tighter game in the second period. Handling the puck at a tough angle at the side of the net, Joe Gleason was able to shoot the puck in the net to tie the game at 8:02 of the second period.
Shortly after, as he skated hard down the ice, Kristo sent a pass to MacMillan, allowing the junior transfer from St. Cloud State to score his first goal while playing for North Dakota.
“He’s worked awful hard and obviously, he’s gone 400-plus days since he’s had a chance to score a goal, so good for him individually,” Hakstol said. “He’s had some good opportunities in his first four games.”
The Tigers showed they were still in the game with an early goal in the third period by Rylan Schwartz, but Senkbeil found himself in front of the net in traffic to tip the puck in for his first career goal and a 4-3 lead.
“It was pretty exciting,” Senkbeil said. “My eyes kind of lit up when the puck was in the crease and just tried to pound it home.”
With his game-winning goal, Senkbeil turned around what proved to be a slow start for UND.
“We weren’t really ready when the puck dropped and we had a sluggish start,” Senkbeil said. “We have great leadership in the locker room and lot of words of encouragement to the guys, so we picked it up as the game went on.”
With time at a premium, an empty Colorado College net late in the third period allowed Kristo’s shot from down the ice seal a 5-3 victory over the Tigers.
“It could have gone either way,” Owens said. “I thought we competed pretty well. I thought our third period was very good and then they get kind of the garbage goal and that’s tough. We had a battle down the stretch, but they get the empty-netter.”