UND takes win over Wildcats
GRAND FORKS — After most of Ralph Engelstad Arena cleared out Saturday night, a large man in the suites proceeded to take off his shirt, twirl it around his head and yell loudly.
Revelers in other suites cheered him on.
Finally, they’re having fun in Ralph Engelstad Arena again.
Thanks to the University of North Dakota’s 3-1 comeback win over Northern Michigan, the team, its coaches and its fans were able to leave the rink for Christmas break in a good mood after the team’s first home sweep of the season and fifth win in a row.
Gage Ausmus scored the game-tying goal with 9:25 left in the third period, Drake Caggiula had the game-winner with 5:48 left and Derek Rodwell iced it with an empty-net goal in front of a 11,536 fans.
It wasn’t a pretty win — none of them have been in this streak — but as Rocco Grimaldi said a week early, “Nobody is going to ask how we did it.”
“This was a little different win for us,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “But in a lot of ways, it was one of our best wins. We were able to dig out of a hole, where nothing came easy, and make some plays in the last 10 minutes of the game.”
With the win, UND will be able to head to break at 9-7-2 overall — a considerably better position than three weeks ago when it was sitting at 4-7-2 and trying to figure out how to right the ship.
“Every guy in the room was feeling the same way I was, in terms of knowing that we needed to have a better effort,” said Grimaldi, who set up Caggiula’s winner. “Tonight showed the resiliency of our team. Kind of like our year: We had a rough start and we came back. That’s exactly what we want to do the rest of the year.”
UND struggled to get anything going against the Wildcats (6-10-2) for 50 minutes and trailed the game 1-0 on a first-period, power-play tally by Shane Sooth.
But as the game wore on, UND began to generate more chances and finally got one to go at 10:35. Paul LaDue started the play by pinching to hold a puck in the zone. Then, Parks took the puck, skated below the goal line and found Ausmus cutting down the circle. The East Grand Forks product one-timed it perfectly in the corner of the net to tie it.
After that, it was all UND.
The winning goal came when Grimaldi made a pass off the end wall to Caggiula, who was cutting down the slot. Caggiula snapped it by Mathias Dahlstrom’s blocker for the go-ahead goal.
After the game, Hakstol said that, as of Friday morning, the coaching staff didn’t think Cagguila would be able to play this weekend.
“He’s hobbling around off the ice, but he looked pretty darn good on the ice this weekend,” Hakstol said.
The break comes at a good time for UND. Several players have missed time with injuries and even more, who have been in the lineup, are struggling with injuries.
“I can’t go through the list,” Hakstol said. “There are probably seven or eight guys that these next two or three weeks will be really important for. We haven’t been healthy for over seven weeks. That’s something you can overcome for a short period of time, but it gets mentally pretty draining for as long as we’ve been dealing with it.
“Hopefully, we can get pretty close to healthy by the time we get back after Christmas.”
UND will hold practices this week, then players will go home for Christmas. The team next plays two exhibition games in Burnaby, B.C., on Jan. 3-4. Its next regular-season games are on Jan. 10-11 at home against Colorado College.
“It’s been an up-and-down first half of the year,” Ausmus said. “We knew we needed a character win to finish off this first half of the year and we got the job done.”
Notes: UND goalie Zane Gothberg made 13 saves to get the win. He’s 5-0 with a 1.60 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage during UND’s win streak. . . UND allowed only 14 shots on goal – the best since Oct. 15, 2010 against Bemidji State. . . UND inserted Brendan O’Donnell into the lineup for Colten St. Clair up front and Gage Ausmus for Keaton Thompson on defense. . . Northern Michigan made major shakeups to its roster. Dominik Shine and Shane Sooth, who had been on the same line every game this season, were split up. Reed Seckel and Stephan Vigier, who also had been on the same line for all 12 of Seckel’s games, were split up.