GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Northern Michigan held together as best it could to stop the North Dakota train from rolling right into the break on a five-game winning streak.
But in a game Dave Hakstol labeled “a street fight,” North Dakota (9-7-2) got all of the final punches, taking a 3-1 victory and the series sweep over Northern Michigan (6-10-2) in front of 11,536 at Ralph Engelstad Arena Saturday night.
It sure wasn’t pretty, but UND kept shaking up the Wildcats’ bottling defense that had found its foothold early. After 40 minutes, Northern Michigan was nursing a 1-0 lead on the strength of a Shane Sooth power-play goal. The Wildcats had been clogging up UND’s shooting lanes quite well, and had lulled the Ralph crowd seemingly to sleep.
Unfortunately for Walt Kyle’s Wildcats, the lid blew off midway through the third, allowing goals by Gage Ausmus and Drake Caggiula to right the ship for North Dakota. Derek Rodwell added the clinching empty-netter with 35 seconds left.
“It was exactly the kind of game we wanted to play,” Kyle said. “I didn’t think last night we played the way we were capable of, but tonight we were much better for 40 minutes.
“In the third period, (North Dakota) came out with a real purpose.”
UND’s first third period comeback win of the season was certainly not one for the highlight reel, but it demonstrated a new trait for this young team: resiliency.
“It showed the resiliency of the team coming back,” said Rocco Grimaldi, who assisted on the winning goal. “Earlier in the year, we would go down and just sit back on our heels and wouldn’t be able to get back in the game. But I think the team showed some resiliency, which is what the team needs the rest of the year.”
For two periods, Northern Michigan clung to its lead on Sooth’s power-play goal at 15:20 of the first period; Sooth’s shot snuck between the pad of Zane Gothberg (13 saves) and the right post. That goal immediately followed a capitulating major power play from UND that registered just one shot on goal.
Eight penalties in the second period prevented anybody from establishing much rhythm, sparking some urgency on the North Dakota bench in the third.
That urgency paid off. Michael Parks charged along the boards on the right side and, from behind the goal, saw Ausmus with lots of space to shoot at the top of the left circle. Parks found Ausmus, and the freshman fired his second goal of the year over Mathias Dahlstrom’s (28 saves) right shoulder to tie the game at 10:35.
“What we really needed was for somebody to go out and make a play,” Hakstol said. “Michael Parks and Gage Ausmus made a play. From there, we got the momentum.”
Less than three minutes later, Grimaldi found Caggiula crashing the net for the winning goal at 14:12.
“I think we just stuck to what we’re doing,” Grimaldi said.
It spoiled a promising night for the Wildcats, who are still winless (0-5-1) since losing senior C.J. Ludwig to a season-ending injury Nov. 29.
“They’re a good team and it’s healthy for us to play in this environment against a very good team,” Kyle said. “And we’ll grow from it. We had a lot of young kids in the lineup for us, and they played great.”
North Dakota heads into break needing to get healthy. Hakstol said countless players were dealing with some sort of injury. As a result, UND has needed its young players to step up, and getting a win in as rough of a way as it came Saturday night was just what the doctor ordered.
“As you grow up a little bit together, you become a team that finds way to win,” Hakstol said. “Tonight wasn’t a pretty game, we know that, but Northern Michigan is a hard team to play against. They don’t give up a lot of time and space, especially in the critical scoring areas. This was a little different win for us, but in a lot of ways it was one of our best wins. We were able to dig out of a hole where nothing came easy and make some plays in the last 10 minutes of the game.”