With playoff seeding on the line, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux rode their high-powered offense to a 5-2 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers Friday night.
Kevin Spiewak notched two goals for the Sioux (23-9-5, 13-9-5 WCHA) while Quinn Fylling picked up assists on all but one of North Dakota’s goals.
UND’s best defense was a good offense. The Sioux attack registered 40 shots to the Badgers’ 15 and kept the puck in the Wisconsin zone.
“One of the reasons the shots were the way they were had to do with the fact that they [North Dakota] were very good in the neutral zone,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “We never really got the puck in deep and never got any end-zone offense going. So where’s the puck? The puck is on their stick in our zone.”
The first period put the scorekeepers to work as Wisconsin (13-20-4, 7-16-4 WCHA) took their first and only lead at 12:28 of the stanza. The lead turned into a deficit before long, though, as Rory McMahon scored the first of three Sioux goals in a four-minute span.
North Dakota’s offense overwhelmed Wisconsin in the first period, outshooting the Badgers 14-2. The performance of the defense did little to support touted UW goalie Bernd Bruckler, who was subjected to a furious Sioux assault for much of the first.
“Their forwards do a really nice job of getting to the net, crashing the net,” Bruckler said. “At times it was tough to see the puck. They were getting shots in the grade-A scoring area and that’s where they do a good job.”
The Badgers gained some momentum in the second period when Pete Talafous narrowed the Sioux lead to one goal. On one of the more unorthodox plays of the season, UND defender Matt Jones received a pass behind the Sioux net and, attempting to steady the puck with his skate, deflected it to the point. Talafous reached the puck, went on a breakaway and flicked the puck over sliding UND goaltender Marc Ranfranz. That goal would be enough to send the Badgers to the second intermission trailing 3-2.
Ranfranz, who had two goals against and only four saves, was called to the bench and replaced after Talafous’ score. Jake Brandt took over goaltending duties for North Dakota and shut out Wisconsin for the second half of the game.
The second period did not treat the power-play units well, as each team was ineffective on its stints. Though North Dakota’s offense lost none of its potency, puckhandling issues plagued its scoring chances. Wisconsin’s one power play saw more shots from the Sioux than the Badgers.
“We didn’t support each other very well on the power play,” Eaves said.
Though Wisconsin scored no more goals, the Sioux added two more in the third period. North Dakota’s fourth goal, scored by Zach Parise, came only 20 seconds into the period. Spiewak would notch his second goal at 12:43.
“We weren’t getting in deep,” Eaves said. “We were going this way, the puck was going back the other way.”
The physicality of the two teams was obvious throughout the night. A plethora of open-ice checks and contact along the boards permeated the three periods and reminded Kohl Center fans of the intense rivalry between these two teams.
“Whenever we play a team like North Dakota we’re looking for a physical type game,” Badger defenseman Brian Fahey said. “But its not so much their physical play as the speed they bring with it that catches us and many other teams off guard.”
Wisconsin’s opening score came on the man advantage courtesy of freshman Tom Gilbert. The Badgers were held without a shot for almost the entire power play due to a furious Sioux penalty kill, but made due on their one chance. North Dakota’s attempt at clearing the puck was intercepted by Gilbert, who fired a shot past Ranfranz to give Wisconsin a 1-0 lead.
North Dakota immediately struck back and put Bruckler under a heavy offensive barrage. Though the sophomore goalie handled these threats for much of the first period, the Sioux eventually found their scoring niche.
Rory McMahon tallied UND’s first score at 7:51 of the period. After going on a power play thanks to a roughing penalty on Badger Andy Wozniewski, North Dakota was able to stretch the defense enough to set up the tying goal. McMahon rebounded a blocked shot from teammate Quinn Fylling and backhanded the puck through Bruckler’s five-hole.
Kevin Spiewak and David Lundbohm sent North Dakota into the first intermission with a 3-1 lead. Each player scored in similar fashion, speeding towards the goalie’s left and sending a blistering shot top shelf.
Any momentum in Wisconsin’s favor vanished in the opening seconds of the third period due to a quick score from UND freshman Parise. A slapshot from defenseman Andy Schneider bounced off of Bruckler’s stick and landed on the opposite side of the crease, where Parise punched it in with a sweeping backhander.
The final goal of the night would come from Spiewak on a power play. The senior took advantage of heavy traffic in front of the Wisconsin goal to shoot a long-range wrister that found the back of the net.
The victory by the Sioux breaks their seven-game winless streak and clinches home ice in next week’s WCHA first-round playoffs. Wisconsin, which suffered its first loss in five games tonight, holds a one-point lead for eighth place.
North Dakota and Wisconsin will wrap up their series and the regular season Saturday night at the Kohl Center.