GRAND FORKS, N.D. – After watching its two-goal lead quickly fade away within 20 seconds during the third period, No. 13 North Dakota relied on continued persistence from Clarke Saunders in between the pipes.
Saunders blocked 34 shots en route to a 4-2 North Dakota (4-4-1, 3-4-0-0 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) victory over No. 20 Minnesota Duluth (4-4-1, 1-2-0-0 NCHC) on Friday evening in front of 11,810 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“It feels good not necessarily getting the starts,” Saunders said. “It just feels good to win. No one wanted (the losing streak) so it feels good to be on the other side of it.”
Rocco Grimaldi gave North Dakota a 1-0 lead at 17:59 of the first period that held until the beginning of the third period, when Michael Parks’ scored a wrap-around goal that slipped past Aaron Crandall (19 saves). After lengthy review, officials counted the goal.
“Bottom line is we want to get the call right, and that was the right call,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said.
Duluth fought back from the two-goal deficit, as Alex Iafallo picked up the puck and shot it in an empty North Dakota net at 6:37 of the third when Saunders stepped out to make a save.
Just 20 seconds later, Duluth’s Adam Krause tied the game after slipping it in the net through traffic.
“Everybody’s human,” Saunders said. “I went ‘Oh crap,’ for about 10 seconds and it happens. It happens in hockey. It happens in any sport. You’ve just got to shrug it off, and I think the whole team did a really good job of that.”
While North Dakota lost its scoring advantage, its response proved to be a turning point.
“Tough way to give away a two-goal lead in 20-some seconds,” Hakstol said. “But I really liked our response. I thought the key shift in the hockey game was the Connor Gaarder line shift after Duluth tied the game 2-2. For us, that was the shift of the game.”
Jordan Schmaltz erased the 2-2 tie at 10:05 of the third, firing a point shot after picking the puck out of mid-air and holding it in the zone.
“I thought we played good,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “I thought we played a great game; we had chances to take the lead. I thought their goalie was really good. Obviously, they got a couple power-play goals, which ended up really being the difference.
“They outscored us 2-1 on the power play. I thought we took a couple undisciplined penalties in the third period when we got back to tie the game, and that was the difference in the game. That’s how fine of a line it is.
Stephane Pattyn fired a shot in an empty net at 19:04 of the final frame to seal the 4-2 victory.
Despite nearly even shot attempts at 59 and 56 in favor of North Dakota, Saunders efforts were enough for UND.
“He’s been really good,” Schmaltz said. “He’s battling, he’s seeing pucks and he’s making the big saves when we need. He’s keeping us in the game and doing everything he can to help us win.”