Seawolves goalie Jon Olthuis was a little over two minutes away from a milestone that no Alaska Anchorage goalie had ever accomplished: a shutout of North Dakota.
After dominating the Fighting Sioux for most of the game, Olthuis was happy to settle for a 3-2 victory in front of 11,772 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
â€œA win is good. The bottom line is the two points,â€ he said. â€œBut when the clock is running down and thereâ€™s still a zero on our side, you kind of hope for it (a shutout).â€
Until Sioux forward Ryan Duncan scored on the power play with 2:04 left, it appeared that UAA defenseman Nils Backstromâ€™s goal just 1:07 into the game would stand as the game winner.
When Sioux freshman forward Brett Hextall scored an extra-attacker goal with 43 seconds left to make it a one-goal game, UND fans who stayed after UAA built a 3-0 lead suddenly had reason to cheer.
â€œAs soon as they got one goal, you could just see a change on their bench,â€ Olthuis said. â€œThey got a lot more life. Theyâ€™ve been down that road before, making comebacks. We just had to keep our composure.â€
They did and the Sioux rally proved too little, too late. Olthuis and the Seawolves survived intense UND pressure as the clock wound down and held on for a key WCHA road victory.
â€œComing into this building and getting two points is a tremendous boost to our team and our program,â€ said UAA coach Dave Shyiak. â€œWinning a tight game like that was obviously a positive.â€
The Seawolves jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead. After UND defenseman Jake Marto gave the puck away behind the net, senior goalie Aaron Walski stopped UAAâ€™s Kevin Clark on the doorstep.
Seawolves forward Nick Haddad then sent the puck back to defenseman Trevor Hunt who passed across to Backstrom at the right point. He one-timed the pass to beat Walski high to the short side for his first goal of the season.
Although the Sioux kept UAAâ€™s potent power play off the ice, they couldnâ€™t capitalize on their two power plays of the period and were outshot 9-6. Olthuis was sharp, turning back Evan Trupp and Brad Malone on breakaways.
â€œThatâ€™s what they expect out of you, to make those timely saves,â€ Olthuis said. â€œThatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve tried to do and it worked out tonight.â€
UND coach Dave Hakstol said his teamâ€™s failure to capitalize on their scoring opportunities to answer UAAâ€™s early goal was key.
â€œI thought that was real critical in the game,â€ he said. â€œWe had two or three empty nets. We didnâ€™t make the plays. We didnâ€™t answer.â€
UAA had just four shots on net in the second period, but struck for two goals to take a 3-0 lead. At 6:58, freshman defenseman Curtis Leinweber fired a wrist shot through traffic from high in the slot that beat Walski, who appeared to be screened.
Sophomore forward Sean Wiles picked up his fourth goal of the season at 14:01. He and center Paul Crowder jumped on a mistake in the UND zone and came in two-on-one. Crowder passed to Wiles, all alone in front of Walski, who fired the puck past the goalie.
Walski was then replaced by Sioux freshman Brad Eidsness. UND didnâ€™t register a shot on goal until more than 15 minutes of the period had elapsed. The Sioux had an opportunity to get back in the game with 31 seconds of 5-on-3 power play, but the Seawolves wouldnâ€™t allow UND to control the puck in the zone.
UND let another opportunity slip away in the third period when UAA freshman forward Jade Portwood was given a 5-minute major for checking from behind and ejected from the game. But the Sioux managed only two shots on goal during the power play. The best scoring opportunity for either team came when Eidsness stopped Crowder on a shorthanded breakaway.
Neither Hakstol nor his players could explain why the Sioux came out flat.
â€œWe need to play with some more desperation right off the start,â€ Hextall said. â€œIn the last few minutes, we were really playing with desperation. We have to do that from the beginning of the game.â€
â€œI think they outworked us for 57 minutes in our own building.â€ said Duncan, the Sioux captain.
Hakstol disagreed, saying, â€œIâ€™d go 58. We didnâ€™t have a whole lot of energy or a lot of jump in our legs until the last two minutes of the hockey game.â€
The UND coach described his teamâ€™s performance as â€œcomfortable.â€
â€œComfortable is not a good word to associate with a hockey team, especially when we need to be scratching and clawing to get ourselves back to where we want to be,â€ Hakstol said.
Although the strong finish made up for some of the lackluster performance, Duncan said the teamâ€™s overall effort was unacceptable.
â€œThereâ€™s no moral victories,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™re a 3-6 team right now. I think weâ€™re much better than that. We have to turn it around quickly, otherwise our season will be ending early.â€
UAA improves to 6-3-2 overall and 3-2-2 in the WCHA. UND is now 3-6-0 overall and 3-4-0 in league play. The two teams meet at 7:05 p.m. Saturday night in Engelstad Arena for the second game of the series.