Sioux top Bemidji State for 9th straight winGRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota men’s hockey team is a step closer to making it a decade in St. Paul.
By: Brad Schlossman, Forum Communications Co.
GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota men’s hockey team is a step closer to making it a decade in St. Paul.
The Sioux won their ninth straight Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff game on Friday night, topping Bemidji State 4-1 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The two-time Broadmoor Trophy champions can punch a ticket to their 10th straight WCHA Final Five with a win in the series finale at 6:07 p.m. tonight.
“We got a win in Game 1 of the series, playing against a good hockey team that played awfully hard tonight,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “We look at our performance. There was a lot of good to it. But it was much too sporadic for playoff time. We need to challenge ourselves to be at a higher level on a more consistent basis throughout the game.”
UND used 28 saves by junior goaltender Aaron Dell and goals from Connor Gaarder, Corban Knight, Mark MacMillan and an empty-netter by Ben Blood to seal the victory. Carter Rowney tallied three assists and Michael Parks notched a pair of helpers for the Sioux, who improved to 21-12-3 overall.
The Sioux also bumped their post-Thanksgiving record to 17-5-2, which ranks second-best in the nation during that timeframe.
Bemidji State, which swept Nebraska-Omaha out of the playoffs a year ago, dropped to 17-17-3. Its season is on the line tonight.
“I thought we played 60 minutes of pretty good hockey,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “There were a lot of good chances for both teams. Both goaltenders made some saves. It was a good hockey game. Hopefully, tomorrow can be a better game. Hopefully it will be a little closer for us. We made some mistakes and they made us pay. Hopefully, we won’t make those mistakes tomorrow.”
The Sioux continued to get strong goaltending play.
This time, it was Dell shutting the door on the opponent. He allowed just one goal — a power-play tally to Aaron McLeod with 6:55 left in regulation that cut UND’s lead to 2-1.
But just 1:03 later, Rowney set up MacMillan for a doorstep goal to extend the lead back to two goals. Blood finished it off at 19:05 with an empty-netter from the red line.
“It was a good win,” Blood said. “We need to be better tomorrow. We were a little inconsistent at times taking care of pucks and not getting pucks deep and having a few turnovers on our blue line. But it was a good win. Deller played great.”
The Sioux were able to play with a lead most of the game.
UND took advantage of the game’s first power play to take a 1-0 lead at 17:10 of the opening frame. During a cycle, the puck popped out to the left side of the net and Gaarder used quick hands to stuff it home before Bemidji State goalie Dan Bakala (19 saves) could find the puck. The goal snapped a 15-game goal drought for the Edina, Minn., product, dating back to New Year’s Eve.
The Sioux extended that lead in the second on a similar play. Brock Nelson won a battle with a Beaver defenseman behind the net and sent a pass to Knight, who was at the side of the net. Knight moved the puck to his backhand in front of the net and scored on the far side at 13:47.
The Sioux took that lead into the third, where the held off a strong charge from the ninth-seeded Beavers.
“It was a close game,” Hakstol said. “Scoring chances were probably close to even if not dead even. Aaron did a good job, as he’s done the past few weeks.”
It’s not clear who will play in net for the Sioux in Game 2 of the series, but they weren’t shy about discussing the game’s importance.
“It’s huge, it’s our biggest game of the year,” Dell said. “The hardest thing to do is end a team’s season. They’re going to come out as hard as they can. We have to come out and make sure we’re playing at our best.”
Schlossman is a sports reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.