GRAND FORKS, N.D. — For North Dakota, Saturday evening was about more than winning a hockey game.
The United States Under-18 team (8-2-1) fell to North Dakota (2-1-1, 1-1-1 NCHC) in a 4-1 battle that took a UND skater out of the game in front of 10,576 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
After a scoreless first period, North Dakota’s focus was shifted as a critical collision minutes into the second period injured UND forward Drake Caggiula.
“It puts everything secondary,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought our guys did a good job of just going back to work and closing out a pretty good second period. A lot of credit to them, it’s not the easiest thing to do as you’re going through that experience, so a lot of credit to the young guys on our bench.”
Caggiula was released form the hospital following the game as all tests came back negative, but the team’s focus throughout the game remained with him.
“When you see a fellow teammate go down like that, we’re obviously pretty upset,” UND forward Rocco Grimaldi said. “But we just wanted to play the rest of the game for him and give him our all because he does everything for our team.”
It wasn’t until the second period that the deficit on the scoreboard was erased.
Mitch MacMillan’s shot from the corner at 6:04 of the first slipped in the net past Edwin Minney (26 saves) to put North Dakota on the board.
UND responded again just minutes later at 7:59 of the second as Grimaldi’s pass along the end wall was picked up by Mark MacMillan, who passed to Brendan O’Donnell in the slot for a quick goal.
“It took a little wind out of us and got them fired up, so we were back on our heels,” Team USA coach Danton Cole said. “You never know how guys react to things, but you learn from that and I thought we played a really good third period. I was happy with that.”
North Dakota’s goaltender change from Zane Gothberg (eight saves) to Clarke Saunders (10 saves) at 6:16 of the second didn’t instigate any action from the U.S. Under-18 team as it remained scoreless for the duration of the second period. But UND tallied a goal as just seconds remained on the clock from a tip by Jordan Schmaltz at 19:57 of the second to send the teams to the locker room, North Dakota leading 3-0.
Team USA’s momentum was revealed at 10:46 of the third as it secured a goal when Sonny Milano tipped the puck in the net and it slowly slipped in past Saunders.
With an empty net and an extra skater late in the game, Team USA couldn’t clinch another goal. North Dakota struck one last time as Coltyn Sanderson shot the puck in the empty net at 19:59 of the third period for the 4-1 victory.
“I thought for the most part we played pretty well,” Cole said. “The forechecking and backchecking were pretty good. I thought for about 10 or 15 minutes in the second period, we stood around quite a bit, which isn’t a good idea. Overall, I liked the way our guys competed and they did a good job.”
Although North Dakota skated away with the win, Hakstol saw positives from both ends of the ice.
“Real good second period [for us],” Hakstol said. “A lot of positives there. Up and down first and second period. We got to the third period and it was a matter of just running out the 20 minutes, from our standpoint, and certainly, we give them a lot of credit. They played a game last night. They played good hockey in the third period, which was their sixth period of the weekend, so a lot of credit to those young guys over there.”
Team USA wasn’t able to pull through for a win, but its strength in competing against UND proved to be a good test for the team.
“We’re skating and moving the puck and playing the game the right way,” Cole said. “I thought we kind of showed it to ourselves in the third period and when we do that, we can play the some of the best college teams in the country. Even if we don’t come on the right end of it, positive things can happen.”