Saturday Game React: UND vs. Denver

North Dakota used a furious first period, great goaltending, and an outstanding penalty kill in a 4-1 victory over the Pioneers that completed the weekend sweep. A near-fight in the second period and a brawl at the conclusion of the middle frame punctuated the action and added another chapter to this storied rivalry.

The Fighting Sioux came out of the gate quickly, dominating puck possession and outshooting Denver 13-3 in the first twenty minutes. North Dakota’s first goal came at 13:04 of the first period, with the teams skating four on four. Chay Genoway’s blast from the point was turned aside by DU goaltender Peter Mannino, but Joe Finley’s slapshot found the back of the net.

UND has excelled in four on four situations all year long, outscoring opponents 7-2. It is critical for defensemen to move the puck and join the rush to create scoring chances while skating four on four, and North Dakota has plenty of blueliners who fit the bill. Robbie Bina (two assists), Chay Genoway (three assists), and Joe Finley (two goals), in particular, have been outstanding in 4 on 4 play.

UND’s second goal came less than two minutes later, a power play tally which stood as the eventual game-winner. Freshman Evan Trupp deflected Genoway’s blast past a helpless Mannino, and North Dakota led 2-0. Trupp has now collected 5 goals and 2 assists in his last ten games and leads all Sioux freshmen in scoring with 8 goals and 5 assists on the season.

After blowing a 4-1 lead and losing 5-4 the previous night, Gwozdecky admitted that North Dakota’s effort in the first period overwhelmed his Denver squad.

“Last night probably took more of an emotional toll on our team than I thought it did,” he said. “We really came out and struggled. We were very flat.”

Andrew Kozek and T.J. Oshie worked an offensive zone face-off play to perfection midway through the second period to give North Dakota a three goal cushion. Oshie won the draw forward to Kozek, who beat his man to the front of the goal crease and backhanded the puck past Mannino before the Denver netminder had time to react.

UND senior goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux was steady as usual, allowing only a second period goal by Brian Gifford and turning away 16 Denver shots. In addition to four shutouts on the season, Lamoureux has allowed a single goal in twelve games. Let me put this another way: North Dakota has played 29 games, and Lamoureux has allowed one goal or less 16 times.

Plenty has been written about the scuffle at the end of the second period. I will say only this: there are many teams in this league who like to start trouble; North Dakota players stand up for each other and know how to finish it. I agree that Radke should have received an additional game suspension for his actions in this game; I am somewhat surprised, however, that the suspension was levied for his earlier near-fight with Denver junior defenseman J.P. Testwuide. I would have been more ok with Radke serving an additional game for the flurry of punches once Brandon Vossberg hit the ice than I am with Radke serving a game suspension for a fight that barely took place and was not called a fighting major by Marco Hunt, the game referee.

T.J. Oshie completed the scoring with a tremendous individual effort. The Sioux junior raced down the puck carrier from behind, stole the puck, and backhanded it from his own blue line and into the center of the empty net. Oshie, who has season totals of 13 goals and 19 assists in 28 games, is among the frontrunners for league player of the year. Oshie and linemate Ryan Duncan have 27 points in WCHA games, and are tied with St. Cloud State sophomore forward Ryan Lasch in the race for the league scoring title.

Remarkably, North Dakota outscored Denver 8-1 in the final 81 minutes of the series after the Pioneers led UND 4-1 with one minute remaining in Friday’s contest.

UND’s penalty killers were spectacular yet again, killing off all four Denver power plays. The Sioux penalty kill is now clipping along at 88.9% (120 of 135). North Dakota’s power play percentage now stands at 18.0% (23 of 128).

Andrew Kozek has found a home on the top line with Duncan and Oshie, and has notched 6 goals and added 3 assists in the 8 games the three Sioux junior forwards have skated together.

North Dakota is now tied with Colorado College in the race for the McNaughton Cup. Both CC (16-5-1 WCHA) and UND (16-7-1) have collected 33 points in league play, and lead third-place Denver (13-8-1) by six points. The Tigers have six league games remaining (two at Duluth, two versus Mankato, home and home with Denver), while the Sioux have only four (two at Duluth, two versus St. Cloud State).

UND (19-8-2 overall, 16-7-1 WCHA) brings a six-game home winning streak into this weekend’s action against Bemidji State (14-13-3 overall, 11-4-3 CHA)

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