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North Dakota overcame a sluggish first period to roll past Michigan Tech 5-1 on the way to its sixth straight victory before a sellout crowd of 11,743 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Fighting Sioux center and assistant captain Darcy Zajac — one of three seniors on UNDâ€™s roster — notched two goals and an assist. His first goal at 10:49 of the second period stood as the game winner.
â€œIâ€™ve got limited games left in this place, and itâ€™s one of a kind,â€ Zajac said. â€œYou want to soak in every moment you can and just give it everything you got.â€
With UND senior captain Chay Genoway out of action since being injured last November, Sioux coach Dave Hakstol credited the leadership of Zajac and senior alternate captain Chris VandeVelde with turning the game around.
â€œIt was not a great start the first 20 minutes, but probably most importantly, I thought that Darcy and Vandy changed the tone in our locker room after the first period,â€ he said. â€œThey definitely changed the tone on the ice for us. They both went out, and, I thought, kind of took the team on their backs, and everybody followed suit.â€
The first period ended with the Huskies leading 1-0 on a goal by senior forward Malcolm Gilliam at the 17:02 mark. When freshman defenseman Joe Gleason attempted to pass across the front of the UND goal to his defensive partner, Gwilliam got his stick on the puck and fired it past Sioux sophomore goalie Brad Eidsness to give MTU the lead.
But the second period was a different story. UND freshman forward Danny Kristoâ€™s goal at 10:22 was quickly followed by Zajacâ€™s first tally 27 seconds later and defenseman Ben Bloodâ€™s goal at 11:41. In a span of 79 seconds, UND went from trailing 1-0 to leading 3-1.
â€œSometimes, when youâ€™re playing a team like that, you just need to get one and then they come in like bunches of bananas,â€ Kristo said.
Just as a Sioux power play expired, forward Corban Knight made a centering pass to Evan Trupp in front of the net. MTU freshman goalie Kevin Genoe stopped Truppâ€™s point-blank shot, but Kristo swooped in from the left side and knocked in the loose puck.
Although it appeared MTU defenseman Steven Seigo might have stopped the puck from crossing the goal line, a video review showed that it had just gone over.
â€œWe got a bounce there to the net,â€ Kristo said. â€œIt hopped on my stick and I just slammed her in there. Everyone asked if it went across. I was pretty nervous on the bench, but luckily, it went in.â€
Zajac put the Sioux up 2-1 at 10:49 when he rifled in David Toews’ centering pass from behind the MTU net. Blood gave UND a two-goal lead with a slap shot through traffic beat Genoe.
MTU coach Jamie Russell then called a timeout, but the Huskies, would get no closer. They had eight shots on goal in the first period, but only six for the remainder of the game. In contrast, 38 of UNDâ€™s 48 shots on goal came in the last two periods.
â€œI think we came out and just played a little simpler hockey,â€ Zajac said of UNDâ€™s turnaround. â€œWe were connecting on our passes and supporting each other out there. In the first period, we were sloppy; we just werenâ€™t making plays.â€
In the third period, Zajac put UND up 4-1 with a goal at 7:34. Entering the MTU zone on an odd-man rush, he took a pass from forward Brett Hextall, skated into the slot and let go a wrist shot that beat Genoe. A power play goal by UNDâ€™s Jason Gregoire at 18:59 closed out the scoring and gave the Sioux a 5-1 win.
â€œItâ€™s the time of the year that we want to start rolling, start playing better as a team and just keep that going,â€ Zajac said.
UND improves to 19-11-5 overall and 14-10-3 in the WCHA. MTU falls to 5-27-1 overall and 4-23-0 in league play. The two teams will meet at Engelstad Arena at 7:05 p.m. Saturday for the second game of the series.