GRAND FORKS, ND – The University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota have had some epic battles over the years, and the opening game of this series was no different as UND gutted out a 2-1 win. The second game of the series would turn out to be a one that the UND Hockey team will want to wipe from their memory bank as soon as possible.
Saturday night’s game was the last time that UND and UMN will play a regular season WCHA game in Ralph Englestad Arena. Due to the formation of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and the Big Ten Hockey Conference, both teams will leave the WCHA and go its separate ways. It’s unknown at this time when Minnesota will make a return trip to the Ralph Englestad Arena, and it could be some time before the two teams play in the Ralph again.
Due to the fact that this was the last regular season WCHA match-up at the Ralph Englestad Arena ever between North Dakota and Minnesota, tonight’s game should’ve had all of the makings of an instant classic. However, the game would turn out to be a stinker for the team from North Dakota.
Coming into tonight’s game, UND and UMN were teams going in different directions. Counting last night’s win against Minnesota, UND had gone 10-3-1 in the last 14 games since it was swept by the Gophers at Mariucci Arena back on Nov. 5, 2011. Even with the loss in tonight’s game, UND has still put together a pretty nice run of 10-4-1 in the last fifteen games.
Not all is lost for the team from Grand Forks.
The Minnesota Gophers had lost three games in a row coming into tonight’s game, and had gone an unimpressive 6-7-1 in the last 14 games since sweeping North Dakota.
Minnesota would break that three-game losing streak tonight with an impressive 6-2 win. What was more impressive with Minnesota’s win tonight was that it only scored one goal on the power play (four even strength goals and one short handed marker).
The Gophers came out during the first period with a lot of jump in their step. The Gophers were connecting on their passes and flying through the neutral zone with speed, usually uncontested, as the UND defenders didn’t have an answer for the Gophers speed. At times, UND appeared to be standing around flat-footed, watching the Gophers make plays.
The Gophers easily raced to a very comfortable 4-0 lead before the game was even 23 minutes old.
The Gophers’ top line of Kyle Rau, Nick Bjugstad and Zach Budish led the charge for the Golden Gophers. Rau and Bjugstad added two more points to their already impressive season stats totals before the first period was over. Budish was the only one on the top line to not get any points during tonight’s game.
“Budish played good, and I don’t know if he got any points, but he still played very well.” Bjugstad said.
The moral of the story is, if you don’t pay attention to the Rau-Bjugstad-Budish line, you could be in for a long night.
After getting beat to the puck and losing a lot of physical battles the night before, the Gophers appeared to be a different team on Saturday night.
“[The difference tonight was] that we played physical, we were blocking shots and doing all the things that we needed to do,” Bjugstad said.
“What a difference one day made,” North Dakota forward Corbin Knight said. “There were some holes in our game right now that were exposed tonight, so we need to work on that and improve on that and just go in with a positive attitude.“
If there is one positive to take out of tonight’s game, it’s UND’s penalty kill. During the regular season series between the two teams, UND killed 19 of 21 Minnesota power-play opportunities. Considering who the Gophers have in their lineup, that’s no small feat.
The UND bench called a timeout at the 18:51 mark of the second period to settle the young UND team down, and it appeared to work for a while as UND got two quick goals by Michael Parks and Danny Kristo.
However, shortly thereafter, Minnesota returned to dismantling UND, as the Gophers added four unanswered goals to the score sheet. Six Minnesota Gophers players would finish the night with at least two points.
All around, it was not a good night for North Dakota as they were beat to the loose pucks all night long and just seemed to be a step off. UND had no answer to the Gophers transition game.
After the game, UND head coach Dave Hakstol was asked what his team did differently today.
“I thought we were a step slow. I noticed that the way our team was playing, it was pretty evident early on,” Hakstol said. “We weren’t sharp with pucks in terms of completing passes and pushing pucks up ice, and the simple things, as far as even dumping pucks to good areas that we could forecheck.
“We just weren’t sharp.”
UND travels to St Cloud State next weekend to play the Huskies in a two-game WCHA series.