In the two games between Minnesota State and North Dakota this weekend, Yogi Berra’s famous quote of “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” was most fitting.
On Friday, the Mavericks saw their three-goal third-period lead disappear as the Fighting Sioux came from behind for a 6-6 tie. On Saturday, it was the Sioux who found themselves struggling to hold on to a three-goal lead in the third.
The difference Saturday was that in spite of some last-minute heroics by the Mavericks, the Sioux managed to hang on to a 5-4 victory.
“In this series, it seems like over the last three or four years, you better play all 60 minutes and you better play until the horn sounds at the end of the game,” said Maverick coach Troy Jutting.
The win improved UND to 12-1-1 overall (6-1-1 WCHA) and moved the Sioux into a tie for second place in the conference, one point behind league-leading Colorado College. MSU falls to 3-6-3 (2-4-2 WCHA).
The two games were almost reverse copies of each other. Rather than allowing the Mavericks get off to a fast start as they did Friday, the Sioux scored three goals in the first period to take a 3-1 lead.
UND opened the scoring at 2:39 when senior forward Kevin Spiewak jammed in the rebound of James Massen’s shot. The Mavericks answered with Grant Stevenson’s power-play goal at 8:06.
Sioux freshman forward Mike Prpich scored his second goal of the weekend at 16:15 to give UND a 2-1 lead. North Dakota’s third goal of the period came when defenseman Andy Schneider capitalized on a 5-on-3 power play, blasting David Lundbohm’s feed past MSU freshman goalie Kyle Nixon.
In the second period, UND outscored MSU 2-1 to take a commanding 5-2 lead into the final 20 minutes. The first Sioux score of the period was Massen’s unassisted goal at 6:22.
“After I took the shot, the rebound popped right off his pad right to me. I had a lot of time and just cut around the net and stuffed it in,” Massen said.
The Mavericks got back within two when Jeff Marler scored on the power play at 11:05. Then, with just under a minute left in the period, Sioux sophomore forward Brandon Bochenski scored a power-play goal on a wicked wrist shot from just inside the blue line. His 13th goal of the season proved to be the game-winner.
“That one hurt,” said Jutting. “You have to count on your goalie to make that save.”
Jutting replaced Nixon in the third period with junior goalie Jason Jensen, and unlike Friday’s game, it was the Sioux who had to withstand a furious rally.
The key play of the game was UND sophomore goalie Josh Siembida’s save on an MSU 2-on-1 rush with just under seven minutes left. Maverick center Grant Stevenson walked in on Siembida, then dished the puck to his wide-open wing, Shane Joseph. But Siembida dove across the crease, stoned Joseph and preserved UND’s three-goal lead.
“It was an unbelievable save,” Jutting said. “Had we converted on that, I know that it would have added a lot of life to our bench.”
Siembida’s save would loom large when the Mavericks went on to score two goals in the game’s final three minutes.
North Dakota’s lead was cut to 5-3 at 17:01 when Maverick senior defenseman Peter Runkel blew a slapshot past Siembida. At 19:03, with the Mavericks on the power play and Jensen pulled for an extra attacker, Joseph split the North Dakota defense and made it a 5-4 game.
“I just got the puck, saw an opening, took off full speed and beat the goalie,” Joseph said. “I waited for him to go down. He went one way, I went the other and put it over top of him.”
UND was called for too many men on the ice with 21 seconds left, putting the Mavericks right back on the power play. Jensen was pulled once again to give MSU a 6-on-4 advantage, but the Mavericks were unable to get the game-tying goal.
“I do give our kids credit,” Jutting said. “They’ve showed character all year long and have battled and battled. I thought we came back and played an excellent hockey team pretty darn hard.”
North Dakota plays a two-game series Friday and Saturday at home against St. Cloud State, while MSU hosts Alaska-Anchorage that weekend.