Grand Forks, ND – Minnesota State University came into this series as one of the hotter teams in the WCHA. Coming into the game the Mavericks had gone an impressive 6-3-1 in their last ten games.
While they started the season with a dismal 3-13 record and are currently the 11th-placed team in the WCHA standings. But the Mavericks aren’t as bad as their record shows as the start of their season was decimated by a rash of injuries. Those players have returned and the Mavericks have improved as the season has gone along, going 9-8-1 in their last 18 games.
The North Dakota Fighting Sioux have been hot themselves 6-3-1 in the last 10 games, making tonight’s game a contest of two in-form teams.
The Mavericks are led offensively by a pair of prolific freshman players in Jean-Paul Lafontaine (Oxford, MI) and Matt Leitner (Los Alamities, CA). This dynamic duo lead the team in points, but tonight the duo would be held to just a single point.
The Mavericks came out of the gates fast and were on the scoreboard early, with Leitner scoring the first goal at the 01:37 mark of the first period.
The early marker against didn’t rattle the Fighting Sioux.
As the season has progressed, this year’s Fighting Sioux hockey team have become accustomed to giving up the first goal of the game. If anything it’s been a recurring theme.
The Fighting Sioux have given up the first goal in 20 out of 33 games that they have played this season. But by the same token, the Fighting Sioux have a record of 8-3-2 at Ralph Englestad Arena when giving up the first goal of the game.
“It’s not the first time that we have given up the first goal in the first five minutes or so of the game,” UND forward Michael Parks said. “A couple months ago we wouldn’t have responded the way we did tonight, but we have matured quite a bit as a group, and we came out and responded really well to giving that first one early.”
After the Maverick’s first goal, the Fighting Sioux would score three unanswered goals of their own, and would not surrender the lead the rest of the game.
The second period was a little less dramatic than the first period as both teams had some good chances and the Mavericks appeared to have more jump in their step. Both goalies played well and gave neither team anything.
The Mavericks would outshoot the Fighting Sioux 9-7 in the second period and would get many great chances that were repelled by Fighting Sioux junior goalie Aaron Dell. With the win tonight, Dell was able to record his 44th win of his career tying him for 10th all-time at UND.
“He [Dell] played great,” junior forward Danny Kristo said of his goalie’s performance. “He made three or four saves that could have been goals.
“Awesome for him. He has been sick and battling injuries for the last two weeks, so he came in to night and played good. Everyone is happy for him.”
The third period was more action packed, as both teams were able to light the lamp and give the home team fans something to cheer about and the Fighting Sioux were able to gut out a 4-2 win.
Fighting Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol was pleased with his team’s effort.
“I thought our ability to answer back after giving up the first one early in the game was very important,” Hakstol said.
“We got a couple of grinding goals down low on the crease, after that. Once they [Mavericks] made it a one-goal game in the third period, we had a couple of guys that made a big play to extend it to a two goal lead again.”
With the loss tonight, the Mavericks dropped to 12-21-2, 8-17-2 WCHA record. The Mavericks remain in 11th place of the WCHA standings and they travel to Minnesota Duluth for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
With the win, the Fighting Sioux secured fourth place in the WCHA standings and will play the ninth-placed team in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, the Fighting Sioux improve to 19-12-3, 15-11-1 WCHA.
The same two teams play tomorrow night.