GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Like a tussle between brothers, there was no clear winner early on in Friday night’s sluggish WCHA affair between North Dakota and Bemidji State.
It took a pair of brothers to win the fight for North Dakota.
Mitch MacMillan set up his brother, Mark, in the second period and then Mark returned the favor in the third in UND’s otherwise-uninteresting 4-2 defeat of the Beavers in front of 11,944 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The brothers MacMillan combined for five points, helping UND (18-9-6, 13-6-6 WCHA) get its fifth win in six games.
“We played the type of game that we had to against a good team and we generated a win,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol.
Reunited in January after two seasons apart at different schools (partially including a season-long sequester for Mitch due to transfer rules), the two brothers have been paired together frequently since Mitch joined the team two months ago. And finally, it appears that the chemistry that sparked the brothers to big numbers at Alberni Valley (BCHL) in 2009-2010 may have returned to help UND in its stretch run.
“It seemed to work out well tonight,” Mark MacMillan said. “The chemistry between us slowly starting to come back. Obviously, the college game is a little different than juniors, but that was a good game for us tonight and hopefully, that will continue.”
They’re two quite different players, but the line — augmented with right wing Connor Gaarder — has the balance and grit that a third line needs.
“I think Mark’s played two real good sound games, both directions, two games in a row,” Hakstol said. “Saturday night in Denver, he had a different pace to his game and he had that again tonight. Mitch is a part of that, as is Connor Gaarder.”
Fifteen seconds after Cory Ward took advantage of a UND turnover in its own zone five minutes into the second period to score his sixth of the year, Mark MacMillan used his speed to jet past the Beavers’ defense and create a chance. His initial shot went wide, but he didn’t miss his second one, burying a one-time pass from brother Mitch over the head of Andrew Walsh (24 saves) to even the score at 1-1 at the 5:54 mark.
Then Mitch’s goal, finishing a rush and a feed from Mark, made it 2-1 2:42 into the third, erasing any good feelings BSU coach Tom Serratore had with his Beavers holding serve with No. 6 North Dakota for 40 minutes.
“You go into the third period in this building tied 1-1, it was where we wanted them at that particular time,” Serratore said. “Obviously, the second and third goals were killers.”
Joe Gleason’s point shot found twine at the 14:39 mark after it appeared to hit a defender’s skate, making it 3-1.
Mark MacMillan added an empty-net goal at 18:22, which proved to be a useful insurance goal when Radoslav Illo’s fluky shot on net banked off a defender and fooled Clarke Saunders (17 saves) with 36 seconds remaining.
The win puts UND firmly into second place in the WCHA, on the cusp of securing home ice despite wins from Denver and Wisconsin. There was admittedly some scoreboard watching by players during and after the game, but the win allowed UND to remain in control of its own destiny.
“Obviously that’s big, but that’s not what we’re focused on,” Gleason said. “We’re focused on ourselves.”
The defeat dropped Bemidji State to tenth in the WCHA (5-14-6). The Beavers fell to 6-18-7 overall, but Serratore saw good signs from a game that really never opened up offensively and had just three power plays (Bemidji State had two, North Dakota just one).
“When we play North Dakota, this is kind of how the flow goes,” Serratore said. “People want to watch five-on-five hockey and quite honestly, I want to play five-on-five hockey. I thought we defended well. There wasn’t any easy ice out there. There wasn’t. It was pretty much a turf war.”