OMAHA, Neb. – Following Saturay’s 4-2 loss to Nebraska Omaha, a loss that gave North Dakota its first 4-game losing streak in seven years, freshman defenseman Troy Stecher said UND simply needed to “find a way to win a 60-minute hockey game.”
In tonight’s series finale, No. 11 UND did just that in overcoming seemingly every obstacle imaginable on its way to a 3-2 victory over the Mavericks.
Already without three key forwards coming into the series, UND was without senior defenseman Dillon Simpson in the third period due to illness, and several more forwards were unavailable in the final minutes due to injuries.
UND was also forced to kill a 5-on-3 UNO power play late in the third period, as well as an additional power play in the final minute, and received a bit of good fortune when Michael Young’s bid for the game-tying goal rang off the crossbar with less than 10 seconds remaining.
“It didn’t come easy but we battled hard and we fought for 60 minutes and we got the win,” said freshman defenseman Paul LaDue, who played a key role in the 5-on-3 PK in the absence of Simpson. “(Dillon) is a huge part of our ‘D,’ if not our best defenseman. We just had to come together and battle for him.”
Senior Clarke Saunders, making his first start since the season opener Oct. 11 against Vermont, sparkled with 36 saves including a critical toe save on the doorstep with 15 seconds remaining.
“He’s a veteran, well-respected guy,” said UND head coach Dave Hakstol of Saunders. “He’s hasn’t seen a lot of minutes this year but he’s a battler. From start to finish, right through the end of this one, maybe his best battle level came in the last five minutes of the hockey game. He did a great job for his teammates.”
The two teams traded goals in the first period, with senior Derek Rodwell opening the scoring with his first of the season just 2:26 into the game.
UNO’s Ian Brady tied the game with a power-play goal late in the frame, beating Saunders through a screen and ending UND’s streak of 32 consecutive penalty kills.
UND regained the lead 6:11 into the second period on a Michael Parks shorthanded goal that nearly didn’t happen. Parks gathered the puck in the neutral zone and turned the rush into a 2-on-0 when Young lost his footing at center ice. With another Maverick defender attempting to angle him off from behind, Parks was unable to slide a pass to Luke Johnson and nearly skated himself out of a scoring chance. But the St. Louis, Mo., native was able to deke netminder Kirk Thompson while at a complete standstill for his first goal in five games.
Drake Caggiula potted the game-winner just under three minutes later when he re-directed a Rocco Grimaldi feed while driving to the net. UNO’s Josh Archibald pulled the Mavericks to within a goal while on the power-play with 12 seconds left in the second period, but that’s as close as UNO would get with Saunders slamming the door the rest of the way.
“It’s a full on dance party in there right now,” junior defenseman Nick Mattson said of the locker room after the game. “It feels like it’s been years since we had a win. Now we can finally start building on it and push out those negative vibes that have been surrounding us for the past couple of weeks.”
Hakstol, who avoided the first 5-game losing streak of his 10-year tenure at UND, said the win brought a feeling of satisfaction rather than relief. “It just feels good. A gutsy team win,” said Hakstol. “It’s good to see some smiles on the faces of the guys in there. We seem to have all kinds of things happening right now, from guys throwing up on the bench to other guys not available. But sometimes it’s a game like this that gets you headed in the right direction -- face a bit of adversity and compete right through it.”
UND returns home to host Minnesota Duluth next weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Notes: UNO outshot UND by a 38-28 margin … The Mavericks scored both of their goals on the power-play against the nation’s top-ranked penalty killing team. UND had entered the game having not allowed a power-play goal since the season opener against Vermont on Oct. 11 … Sophomore forward Coltyn Sanderson collected his first collegiate point with an assist on Rodwell’s goal … Caggiula and Saunders were named the game’s first two stars. UNO’s Brady was the third star. ---XXX