North Dakota headed into the Christmas break on a good note, sweeping the St. Cloud State Huskies 3-2 and 7-4 in a pair of WCHA games at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Sioux goaltender Brad Eidsness notched both victories to run his season record to 9-5-1.
With the sweep, North Dakota (9-8-1, 6-5-1 WCHA) found itself above .500 for the first time all season and returned to the top 20 in the national rankings. UND entered the weekend in ninth place in the conference and found themselves all alone in sixth place after downing the Huskies. The Fighting Sioux are actually in good position for an upper division finish in the league, as they have played two fewer games than most of the teams above them in the standings.
In short, a 6-2-1 stretch has righted the ship after a 3-6-0 start had the green and white in an early hole.
There are many reasons why North Dakota has found more success lately, but I will point to two:
Goaltending. Since replacing Aaron Walksi midway through a November 14th game against Alaska-Anchorage, SIoux freshman Brad Eidsness has played every minute. In that ten game stretch, Eidsness is 6-2-1 with a goals-against average of 2.22 and a save percentage of .926.
Balanced scoring. During that same stretch of games, North Dakota has outscored opponents 40-21. Eighteen Sioux skaters have scored a goal in the past ten games, including nine players with multiple goals. The key to UND’s success has been scoring across all four lines and contributions from defensemen. Of course, North Dakota relies on their top line of Ryan Duncan, Andrew Kozek, and Chris VandeVelde, particularily on the power play. But those three players have potted 6 goals in the past ten games, while Brett Hextall (4 goals), Matt Frattin (7 goals), David Toews (3 goals), and Ryan Martens (5 goals) have led the recent surge.
Senior forward Ryan Martens has collected 5 goals and 5 assists in the past ten games after notching just 4 goals and 15 assists in his first three seasons at North Dakota (58 games played).
The top two offensive defenseman, Chay Genoway and Brad Miller, have combined for 4 goals and 24 assists in the past 10 games. It is perhaps even more encouraging to see contributions from sophomore blueliners Derrick Lapoint and Jake Marto, who have notched 2 goals and 4 assists in the past four games.
The scoring hasn’t just been balanced, it has been timely. North Dakota never trailed in last weekend’s series against St. Cloud, and had an answer every time the Huskies got close.
In Saturday’s finale, Jake Marto scored a first period goal less than a minute after SCSU had tied the score at one. In the second period, Brett Hextall notched the eventual game-winner less than four minutes after the Huskies had pulled to within 4-3. And most importantly, David Toews potted a huge sixth goal just 42 seconds after St. Cloud had scored to make it 5-4.
Great goaltending, contributions from all parts of the lineup, and timely scoring are a recipe for a weekend sweep and continued success in the second half.
Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.