Simply put, this was the most exciting, most thrilling regular season comeback ever witnessed at the new Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Sioux junior forward Andrew Kozek netted the game-winner at 15:15 of the third period and collected his first collegiate hat trick. Skating on a line with fellow juniors T.J. Oshie (one assist) and Ryan Duncan (one goal, three assists), Kozek displayed an NHL-caliber wrist shot on his first two goals and banged home the rebound of a T.J. Oshie wraparound attempt to complete the UND comeback.
North Dakota trailed 4-1 with a minute to play in the second period. Denver was opportunistic in the middle frame, capitalizing on turnovers and rebounds to score three goals on four shots in the first nine minutes of the second period after the teams traded power play goals in the first period.
Enter Chay Genoway. The sophomore defenseman, who has elevated his offensive game, banged home a deflection with exactly one minute remaining in the second period to cut the deficit to 4-2. Genoway now has 6 goals and 13 assists for the Sioux in 25 games played, and has already equaled his point total from all of last season (5-14-19 in 43 games)
But the Sioux would not head to the locker room before adding another tally. Denver once again failed to clear the zone, and Kozek fed the puck to a streaking Ryan Duncan, who tipped the puck past DU netminder Peter Mannino with 27 seconds left to bring the Sioux to within one.
Kozek, who finished with four points on the night, has now scored 12 goals and 2 assists in 27 games this season. In his first two seasons, Kozek tallied 12 goals and 12 assists in 87 games.
North Dakota Jean-Phillppe Lamoureux (18-8-2, 1.81 GAA, .930 SV) allowed four goals on eight shots in the first 30 minutes of the hockey game, but shut down the Pioneer attack the rest of the way and finished with 14 saves. Denver goaltender Peter Mannino (18-9-1, 2.25 GAA, .917 SV) was solid in the first period, stopping 10 of 11 shots. He stopped 14 of 18 shots in the final two periods.
Acting head coach Cary Eades and the rest of the staff did a solid job behind the bench. Two key moments in the hockey game stand out:
On the faceoff in the Denver zone which led to Kozek’s game winner, Eades noted that Denver had sent out their all-freshmen line of Kyle Ostrow, Jesse Martin, and Anthony Maiani. The Sioux head coach, noting a possible mismatch, countered with his top line of Duncan, Oshie, and Kozek along with defensemen Genoway and Finley. The Sioux won the draw, Oshie won two puck battles behind the net, and Kozek banged home the rebound. It is worthwhile to note that Kozek and Duncan were both camped out in front, behind the Denver defense. UND won all of the battles in this sequence, and netted the game-winning goal as a result.
A second key coaching moment occurred during the Sioux penalty kill in the final two minutes of the hockey game. UND attempted to clear the zone, but the puck hit a microphone on its way down the boards. Initially, the referee brought the face-off back in the North Dakota end. Denver coach George Gwozdecky pulled Mannino, and UND was about to face a 6 on 4 situation. But Eades, correctly noting the rules, sent his captains to lobby for a face-off outside the zone. The drop of the puck was moved outside the Sioux blue line, Mannino went back to his goal crease, and it would be another 40 seconds before Denver could pull Mannino for the extra attacker.
These are items that will never appear in the box score, but were instrumental in the final outcome.
UND brings a ten-game unbeaten streak (9-0-1) into tonight’s rematch after beginning the year 9-8-1. Denver, on the other hand, is 2-5-1 in their last eight games after opening the season with a 17-4-0 record.
Thank you for reading. For more on the matchup between the two teams, click here. Check back after Saturday’s game for more reaction, commentary,and analysis.