The Michigan Tech Huskies showed why nobody in the WCHA should take them for granted, shocking North Dakota 5-2 and handing the No. 3 Sioux their first home loss of the season.
“It’s definitely our biggest win,” said MTU wing Colin Murphy, who scored two goals. “Since Christmas, we’ve been playing real good. We had a rough start to the season. We’re just sticking to the coach’s system and it’s been working for us.”
After the Sioux walloped the visiting Huskies 8-0 Friday, some of the 11,659 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena might have left wondering whether the two teams traded uniforms overnight. The secret to MTU’s dramatic turnaround?
“We talked about it this morning,” said Huskies goalie Cam Ellsworth. “We said, ‘Yesterday’s gone, today’s a new day and we have to do what we can with today.’ We went out and gave our best. It turned into a good win for us.”
On Saturday, it was North Dakota that paid the price for shaky goaltending, costly giveaways and defensive breakdowns.
“Tonight was a lack-of-character loss. It really was,” said Sioux coach Dean Blais. “There’s no reason at this time of the year to be questionable in any area.
“We did things tonight that we haven’t done in a while. Defensemen made ‘my-turn-your turn’ turnovers. I don’t know how many bad passes we made, but there were a ton of them between the defensemen and the forwards,” he said.
During the opening 10 minutes, it appeared the game might be a repeat of the previous night as North Dakota cycled the puck in MTU’s zone, aggressively forechecked and peppered Ellsworth with shots. But the Sioux couldn’t capitalize on their scoring opportunities.
At the 10-minute mark with UND enjoying a 9-1 advantage in shots on goal, the Huskies struck first.
Murphy led a 3-on-1 rush down the left side. Just after crossing the blue line, he cranked a slapshot that clanged in just under the crossbar in the far corner, beating Sioux goalie Josh Siembida glove-side.
The goal energized the Huskies, who began to generate more scoring opportunities. But with 1:59 left in the first period, MTU’s Chris Durno was called for spearing UND’s Andy Schneider. He received a five-minute major and game disqualification.
Forty-four seconds into the second period, Sioux sophomore forward Brandon Bochenski knocked in the rebound of his own shot, scoring his 30th goal of the season and knotting the score 1-1.
MTU regained the lead at 5:24 when forward Brett Engelhardt got around Sioux defenseman Chris Leinweber to put a point-blank shot on goal. Siembida stopped it, but defenseman Clay Wilson was in ideal position to put away the rebound.
The Sioux came back to tie the game 2-2 at 11:08 with their second power-play goal. Defenseman Nick Fuher’s low slapshot from above the left circle cleanly beat a screened Ellsworth.
North Dakota had just finished killing a penalty when freshman defenseman Matt Greene gave the puck away to MTU freshman forward Nick Anderson. He skated in alone on Siembida and beat him with a wrist shot from the slot. The goal at 13:39 put the Huskies up 3-2 and proved to be the game winner.
“Entering the third period one goal down was no big deal,” Blais said. “I thought we had enough gas and enough time left.”
But the Huskies went up 4-2 when Fuher fell and turned the puck over to junior forward Frank Werner, creating a 2-on-1 Huskies rush. Siembida appeared to stop Werner’s shot from the slot, but the puck trickled in through the five-hole. Blais then replaced Siembida with sophomore Jake Brandt.
With the Sioux pressing for a badly-needed goal, Murphy and fellow MTU forward Jon Pittis created a two-on-one rush. Their give-and-go culminated with Murphy burying a wrist shot from the slot to give the Huskies a 5-2 lead at 7:42.
UND’s attempted rally was plagued by penalties down the stretch, including a double minor to freshman Zach Parise for slashing Pittis. Although the Sioux killed the penalties and created several scoring chances while shorthanded, Ellsworth kept them off the board for the remainder of the game.
“There’s a lot of heart in this team,” Ellsworth said. “We think we can compete with anybody. We played our style. We didn’t worry about the crowd or who we were playing or where we were playing. We just worried about playing our game, and it translated into another big win.”
Blais said goaltending remains an issue for the Sioux.
“Josh played real well last night and not so well tonight. So here we are with eight games left and with an unsettling situation in that position.”
The loss not only ended UND’s unbeaten streak at home this season, it also prevented the Sioux from setting a new school record. Dating back to last season, the team was 15-0-3 at home, which tied the previous record set during the 1979-1080 and 1980-1981 seasons.
“We lost as a team,” said Sioux assistant captain Kevin Spiewak. “It was just a bad game for everyone, all around. It was just a whole team breakdown. You just take it right in the heart when you lose at home in front of a sold-out arena.”
North Dakota’s record is now 22-5-3 (12-5-3 WCHA). The Sioux travel to Denver next weekend to take on the Pioneers. MTU improves to 9-15-4 (6-11-3 WCHA). The Huskies will play Minnesota-Duluth at home next weekend.