KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- The script was eerily identical to Friday night. Trail 1-0 early, patiently turn it into a 3-1 lead and use timely penalty killing and stellar goaltending to close out another road victory.
That’s exactly what North Dakota did tonight in defeating Western Michigan 3-2 to pick up its first sweep of the season. It also gave UND, now 7-7-2 overall and 5-5-0 in NCHC play, its first 3-game winning streak since last February.
Goals by Dillon Simpson (PPG), Paul LaDue and Rocco Grimaldi provided the offense, while sophomore Zane Gothberg was brilliant between the pipes once again, making 23 saves for his third straight win.
Gothberg’s biggest save came with 28 seconds remaining and the Broncos pressuring furiously for the tying goal. During a wild scramble in front of the UND net, a loose puck squirted to WMU defenseman Dennis Brown, who had an open net staring at him. But Gothberg kicked his right pad across the goalmouth at the last second and denied Brown’s one-timer to preserve the win and the sweep.
“That was huge by him. He was unbelievable,” said UND senior captain Dillon Simpson.
Said UND head coach Dave Hakstol of Gothberg: “He was good all the way through. The save at the end was a game-saver, but he was real solid all the way through back to back games.”
Indeed, Gothberg finished the series with 59 saves on 63 shots, enabling UND to reach the .500 mark in league play and overall. The Thief River Falls, Minn., native said he was able to visually locate Brown’s shot through traffic.
“Kind of a desperation save,” said Gothberg. “Just the mentality coach talked about – just try to get whatever I could over there, whether it’s my body, whether it’s my leg pad…and fortunately it hit my leg pad. I tried to push and get my whole body behind it and stick out my leg.”
Gothberg and his teammates were unfazed after WMU’s Kenney Morrison scored a power-play goal at 4:44 to open the scoring, the Broncos’ first goal in NCHC play all season with the man advantage.
Simpson knotted the game less than four minutes later when he pinched low on a power play and knocked home the rebound of a Luke Johnson shot that ricocheted off the end boards directly to Simpson.
A Paul LaDue point shot with 3:15 left in the opening frame then gave UND the lead, and Grimaldi made it a 2-goal game after dangling around three defenders in the Broncos’ zone before beating netminder Frank Slubowski through traffic.
That goal chased Slubowski – the reigning NCHC Goaltender of the Week – to the bench. The Broncos were able to pull within one on Justin Kovacs’ power-play goal with 3:26 remaining, but UND withstood the frantic final minutes.
“That’s three games in a row our team has played hard,” said Hakstol. “I thought we played with good pace with good contributions from everybody throughout the lineup, and that’s what we have to have.”
Grimaldi, whose game-winning goal was his team-leading sixth tally of the season, said the sweep was a long time coming for UND.
“It means a lot especially the year we’ve had, kind of up and down and not finishing series out. It’s been a tough year but with this sweep I think we’re getting on track,” said Grimaldi.
UND was outshot 25-16 but Grimaldi said it’s not about style points.
“If that’s how the game’s going to go, we’ve got to be blocking shots and getting ugly, greasy wins,” said Grimadli. “No one’s going to ask how we do it. If we got outshot, who cares as long as we got the win? If that’s what it’s going to take, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Gothberg said the final minute, played nearly entirely right in front of his crease, made for some frantic moments.
“It’s fun playing in those games, playing in those situations,” Said Gothberg. “You’re battling not only the other team but the emotions that come with the game. It’s hard to be disciplined in a building like this with their student section and everything going crazy but our team did a really good job tonight and took a step in the right direction.”
UND will close out the first half of the season next weekend when it hosts non-conference opponent Northern Michigan.
Notes: Simpson, Gothberg and WMU’s Chase Balisy were named the game’s three stars … UND gave up a pair of power-play goals on six chances, but killed a 95-second two-man advantage in the second period … Freshman forward Luke Johnson, who had two goals on Friday, picked up a pair of assists Saturday for a four-point weekend. He had entered the weekend with five points in his first 14 games … Junior Andrew Panzarella assisted on LaDue’s goal for his first point since the final game of his freshman season … Connor Gaarder’s career-best 4-game point streak came to an end.