It’s amazing what a little open ice can do.
Junior forwards T.J. Oshie and Ryan Duncan and sophomore defenseman Chay Genoway led the way with two points each as UND downed visiting Michigan Tech 4-0 in the opening game of this best-of-three playoff series. The winner of the series advances to the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul next weekend.
A word about the “open ice”. Brian Thul and his assistants, Kile Bergren and Nathan Freeman, called nine obstruction penalties (tripping, hooking, holding, and interference) on the evening, and the result was an enjoyable, fast-paced contest. North Dakota’s skill players certainly took advantage of the open ice created by the officials simply calling penalties by the rulebook.
And lest you think I’m praising the officials because the calls went in UND’s favor, think again. The Sioux were whistled for five obstruction penalties to Michigan Tech’s four. Overall, North Dakota took seven minor penalties; MTU, six. I’m suggesting that the officiating we saw tonight was even-handed, and both teams adjusted to it.
Memo to the WCHA: Our league doesn’t need rule changes, we need officials who will enforce the rules which are already in place.
It was especially heartening to see Oshie (one goal, one assist) and Genoway (two assists) return from injury and perform well. Genoway’s skill on the power play and rushing the puck up the ice were both on display. The speedy defenseman leads all Sioux blueliners with 24 points (6 goals, 18 assists), despite playing in only 31 of 36 games.
It seemed to me that Oshie didn’t initiate contact like he normally does, but got stronger as the game wore on. “I felt great, maybe 95 to 100 percent,” said Oshie. “Obviously I wasn’t hitting as much.”
“Neither one was tremendously dynamic tonight, but they were both very good,” said Hakstol of Oshie and Genoway. “I thought they both did a real good, solid job.”
Senior goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux strengthened his case for a Hobey Baker nod with another fine performance. Lamoureux, who has started every game but one for the Fighting Sioux, stopped all 14 Michigan Tech shots and helped UND kill off all six Husky power play opportunities. Eight of MTU’s 14 shots came with the man-advantage.
“Phil continued what he’s done for us throughout the year,” Hakstol said. “I thought he had good focus tonight. When he needed to make a save, whether it was a routine save or one of the big saves he made, he was there.”
For the season, Lamoureux’s stat line now reads: 23-8-4 (.714), 1.61 GAA, .935 SV, 6 shutouts. His goals-against average and save percentage are tops in the country, and he is tied for first in shutouts. He has played the nation’s toughest schedule, and logged more minutes in net than any of the other goaltenders in the top ten. During North Dakota’s 18-game unbeaten streak (15-0-3), Lamoureux has started 17 games and allowed zero or one goal 13 times. Tonight’s game was the 104th of his career, tying him for third-place on UND’s all-time list with Peter Waselovich (1973-77).
UND’s team defense continues to thrive, blocking shots and limiting chances. For the season, the Fighting Sioux have allowed 1.72 goals per game, the lowest in Division I. North Dakota is scoring an average of 3.08 goals per game, good for 14th.
“They just do a great job of blocking out,” Husky captain Jimmy Kerr said of the Sioux defense. “It’s really hard to get in front of their net. They also do a really good job of blocking shots in front of their net.”
North Dakota’s special teams were impressive yet again. UND scored on two of six power play chances, and blanked MTU on all six man-advantage situations. For the season, the Fighting Sioux have converted 19.1% (31 of 162) of their power play chances and killed 88.8% (142 of 160) of opponents’ power plays. UND’s power play ranks 16th nationally; their penalty-kill is 4th.
Duncan’s goal, UND’s first, came 5:25 into the first period. His wrist shot from the “Duncan Circle” was too much for Teslak to handle, and the Sioux were up 1-0. Teslak stopped 27 of 31 shots on the night, but had some trouble controlling rebounds.
The key stretch in the hockey game was the middle of the second period. North Dakota was dominating in puck possession, shots on goal, and scoring chances, but led only 1-0. T.J. Oshie (from Duncan and VandeVelde) and Darcy Zajac (Jake Marto, Chay Genoway) scored even-strength goals 49 seconds apart, and UND would never look back.
“They scored two goals back-to-back, and playing on the road, the crowd gets going,” said Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell. “You can’t give up back-to-back goals like that, and that certainly was a backbreaker.”
Junior wing Andrew Kozek scored a highlight reel goal in the third period to close out the scoring. Kozek got the puck in the slot after nifty passing plays by Ryan Martens and Brad Miller and made no mistake, scoring five-hole after getting Teslak to commit. Kozek leads the team in goals with 16 (in 35 games) after scoring 12 in his first two seasons combined (87 games).
Zach Jones, who had gone 23 games without taking a penalty, was whistled for three minor penalties, one in each period.
North Dakota was the only host school to register a sell-out (11,572) in Game 1 of the first round series. Colorado College drew 5896 fans (80%), Denver drew 4693 (78%), MSU-Mankato drew 4228 (88%), and St. Cloud drew 4005 (70%). I find this very odd.
UND is 20-3-1 this year when scoring the first goal, and has outscored opponents 40-10 in the opening period. North Dakota has now won four of the five games between the two teams this season, outscoring the Huskies 19-5.
North Dakota (24-8-4) and Michigan Tech (13-19-5) will meet again at Ralph Engelstad Arena for Game 2 of the WCHA first-round series. Game time is 7:07 p.m.
Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions. For more on the matchup between the teams, click here. For reaction to Saturday’s Game 2, click here. Check back after Sunday’s series finale for more reaction, commentary, and analysis.