GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- A change in approach bought about a dramatic change in the outcome in the season opener for the UND Fighting Sioux men's hockey team tonight.
The Sioux rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the third period to beat the Air Force Academy 4-3 in the second game of the Ice Breaker Tournament.
The victory matches the Sioux against long-time rival Boston College in the championship game of the tournament Saturday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Eagles advanced earlier tonight with a 5-2 win over Michigan State.
The Sioux picked up the tempo in the third period by changing their approach, junior center Corban Knight (High River, Alberta) said.
"We were playing a little bit of pond hockey out there,'' Knight said. "We weren't really playing Sioux hockey. Some guys were running around. We just weren't moving our feet and playing Sioux tough.''
The turnaround came past the halfway mark of the final period just as the Falcons were killing a minor penalty and nursing a 3-2 lead.
Just three seconds after the penalty expired, Sioux sophomore left wing Brock Nelson (Warroad, Minn.) knocked in his own rebound at 13:48 of the period, tying the game at 3-3.
Just 87 seconds later, Nelson scored his second in a row when he knocked in a feed from linemate Danny Kristo (Jr., Eden Prairie, Minn.) at 15:15 for the game-winning goal.
An Air Force player dislodged the net just as Nelson's second goal was going into the net. Officials reviewed the goal, but determined that the puck was in the net before the cage came off its moorings.
Nelson said the message from Sioux coaches after the second period was to get more pucks to the net and drive to the net as well.
The message hit home. The Sioux had 13 shots on net in the third period, matching their total of the first two periods.
"We wanted to drive the net, get some pucks on net, create some chances,'' Nelson said. "We did that the last 10-15 minutes of the game and got some lucky breaks and were able to come back.''
Unranked Air Force, a smooth-skating team, kept the Sioux at bay until third-ranked UND found its game in the late going. "They're a great team, they play hard,'' Nelson said of the Falcons. "You've got to give them credit -- they took it to us for a bit.''
Nelson's two goals signal the potential for a big season after he had eight his rookie season. "He's going to be a guy to watch this year,'' Knight said. "He's one of the most talented players I've ever played with. Just watch, he's going to be a big-time player.''
Knight scored UND's first goal at 6:37 of the first period. He won the offensive zone faceoff, then batted a loose puck out of the air off his backhand.
"It's huge for us,'' Knight said of the win. "I think that was a character win for us, especially this early in the season, first game. It was a good character test for us. I'm just glad with the outcome.''
Air Force had single goals by Casey Kleisinger, Stephen Carew and George Michalke. Michalke's goal at 18:43 of the second period sent the Falcons into the third period with the lead and a chance of an upset.
UND's top line of Knight, Nelson and Kristo accounted for three goals and four assists in logging considerable ice time.
"We're going to see how many minutes that group can log,'' UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "That doesn't mean we're going to rely on one line to score. But I think that's a group that can play some pretty significant minutes for us.''
They did Friday night and delivered a big win in front of 8,699 fans, the smallest for a Sioux game in six years.
SIOUX NOTES: Junior Aaron Dell (Airdrie, Alberta) stopped 22 shots in earning the victory ... UND junior wing Carter Rowney (Sexsmith, Alberta) scored on a power play in the first period to give UND a 2-1 lead. The Sioux were 1-of-3 on the power play, the Falcons 0-of-3 ... Nelson and Rowney led the Sioux in shots on goal with 5 each ... Kyle De Laurell had six shots to lead the Falcons and also collected two assists ... UND is now 1-2-2 all-time in Ice Breaker games.
Virg Foss covered UND hockey for 35 seasons for the Grand Forks Herald until his retirement in 2005. He reports on Fighting Sioux home games for FightingSioux.com