GRAND FORKS – With the winless streak at seven games against their bitter border rivals, No. 4 North Dakota seemed to need something extraordinary to happen.
While nothing extraordinary happened, they did take advantage of something unusual to come out on top of No. 8 Minnesota for the first time in over five and a half years.
The Fighting Hawks scored a whopping three goals during a five-minute power play in the first and second periods, providing more than enough offense as they defeated the Golden Gophers 4-0 on Saturday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena, gaining both a split and their first win over Minnesota since March 16, 2012.
“I thought our guys came out hard,” said North Dakota head coach Brad Berry. “They had a mentality to try to get the win tonight, and they did. Getting the early lead; that was part of the key to the game."
Since that 6-3 victory over the Gophers in the 2012 WCHA Final Five semifinals at Xcel Energy Center, UND had gone 0-5-2 in its last seven meetings with their former WCHA foe. Now the streak is over after their first series in Grand Forks in nearly six years, which was also when UND last beat Minnesota in the regular season, a 2-1 victory on January 13, 2012.
The rivalry’s return to Grand Forks didn’t disappoint, and Berry thought it couldn’t have gone any better for his team or the fans.
"I thought they [handled it well]. There's a lot of things that go into it, and I think for a group that really doesn't know a lot about the tradition and history [of the rivalry], they did a good job,” Berry said. “I think it's a rivalry that both sides would admit it's something that we have to keep doing, and it's great for college hockey. I thought the atmosphere was electric and was outstanding here at the Ralph this weekend."
Eric Schierhorn made 14 saves for Minnesota (3-3-0), which went 0-6 on the power play for the night and 0-for-11 on the weekend. They are now 3-for-31 on the man-advantage this season and they have lost three players to five-minute majors and game misconducts through six games, including defenseman Jack Glover on Saturday. An indignant Gophers head coach Don Lucia didn’t mince words.
“The penalties. Ongoing. Majors. You come out and this is a very difficult place to play and we had an opportunity tonight to win two,” Lucia said. “It’s hard enough to win one in a weekend, but you are going to come out and have a parade to the penalty box through two periods.
“We did some things better, but I mean our special team play was horrendous and there [were] undisciplined penalties.”
In front of a sold-out crowd of 11,890, which included North Dakota native actor Josh Duhamel, the Fighting Hawks (4-1-1) struck first when Grant Mismash made a beautiful no-look pass from behind the net to Nick Jones in the slot, who buried it.
Things got worse for the Gophers when defenseman Jack Glover checked UND forward Collin Adams from behind in front of the team benches near the end of the first period, which resulted in a five-minute major and game misconduct. Then Christian Wolanin quickly increased the North Dakota lead to 2-0 on a one-time blast from the top of the right circle.
With 3:45 left in the major after the first period, the Fighting Hawks needed 3:43 of it to score twice more. Colton Poolman let loose a seeing-eye blast from high in the slot to make it 3-0 and Wolanin’s second goal, a one-timer from the top of the left circle made it a four-goal lead.
"It's not about me, but that's what you play for,” Wolanin said when asked about his performance. “I kinda go into the showtime games and I look to kind of make my mark. The team win was more important and it was great to be a part of this rivalry on home ice."
According to Berry, good puck movement is crucial to UND’s success for this season, especially on the man advantage.
"We started moving the puck a little quicker. We started to get momentum that way,” Berry said when asked about the power play comparison as opposed to Friday night, when they went 1-for-6. “Hopefully it's a sign of the future as far as our puck-moving ability on the power play and getting [an early lead] in games."
And because they were moving the puck quicker, they were able to get clean shots off and not let Minnesota back in the game. The Gophers, meanwhile, didn’t really have any great chances all night.
“We didn’t put enough pressure on [North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson],” Minnesota forward Tyler Sheehy said. “We didn’t get in front of his eyes enough and we didn’t really test him a whole lot. He saw pretty much every puck.”
Johnson finished the night with 22 saves for the victorious Fighting Hawks, who have yet to allow more than two goals in a game through six games. It was Johnson’s 10th career shutout victory and his first of the season.
With 29 blocked shots during Friday night’s game, it wasn’t surprising that a handful of Gopher players were banged up going into the Saturday game. Freshman forward Casey Mittelstadt was one of them, and he was held out of the contest with Ryan Norman taking his place on the first line. Lucia stated after the game that Mittelstadt was scratched as a precaution.
North Dakota travels to Colorado Springs next week to take on the Colorado College Tigers in an NCHC series, while Minnesota heads back home to host the Clarkson Golden Knights in nonconference action.
UND goal at 4:59: Nick Jones (1). Assisted by Grant Mismash (3) and Hayden Shaw (1).
UND power play goal at 19:19: Christian Wolanin (2). Assisted by Gabe Bast (1) and Mismash (4).
UND PP goal at 2:12: Colton Poolman (1). Assisted by Ludvig Hoff (2) and Shaw (2).
UND PP goal at 3:43: Wolanin (3). Assisted by Collin Adams (1) and Jones (1).
Power plays: MINN 0-6, UND 3-9.
Shots on goal: MINN 22, UND 18.