North Dakota appears to have found the recipe for success after sweeping the Minnesota Golden Gophers this weekend in Grand Forks. For the second night in a row, the Fighting Sioux played a smart, physical game and got contributions from all four lines. Freshman goaltender Brad Eidsness made some key saves early, and UND chased sophomore Alex Kangas from the net for the second straight night.
Early on, Minnesota played with much more intensity than they had on Friday night. Despite an early Sioux goal by Chris Vandevelde, the Gophers were very much in the hockey game. Eidsness made a couple of key saves to keep Minnesota off the scoreboard, and on the ensuing rush, Duncan scored a fairly soft goal off of Kangas’ glove.
It’s easy to overlook goaltending in a twelve goal weekend, but Eidsness maintained his focus throughout the weekend and is a key reason the Fighting Sioux are poised for another second-half run. The freshman has been in net for all 13 of UND’s victories, and his numbers since becoming the full-time starter are even more impressive. Since replacing Aaron Walksi midway through a November 14th game against Alaska-Anchorage, Eidsness is 10-4-1 with a 2.27 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. Three of his four losses have come by a score of 2-1.
On the other hand, Alex Kangas came into the weekend as the best goaltender in WCHA play. Overall, his record stood at 10-3-5 with a goals-against average of 2.19 and a save percentage of .921. The Fighting Sioux torched the sophomore for 11 goals and raised his GAA to 2.59. For the weekend, Kangas stopped 49 of 60 North Dakota shots he faced.
Looking back on Saturday’s game, it’s difficult to remember that this game was still 2-0 midway through the second period. Andrew Kozek scored a huge third goal with under nine minutes to play in the middle frame, and the rout was on. Within four minutes of Kozek’s goal, freshmen Jason Gregoire and David Toews scored to put the game out of reach and chase Kangas for the second straight night.
Freshmen Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall were factors all weekend long, playing as wings with Ryan Duncan at center. The two combined for three goals and four assists in the weekend sweep.
UND senior defenseman Joe Finley played his best series since returning from injury. Finley was a force in front of the net and moved the puck effectively while paired with Chay Genoway on the number-one unit.
A key theme all weekend was North Dakota momentum. The Fighting Sioux sustained pressure, had an answer for every Minnesota goal, and never trailed in either game. It was impressive that UND was able to roll all four lines and attack consistently.
In the national picture, UND is still on the outside looking in (#18 in the pairwise), but they are in a much better position than they were two days ago. In the WCHA, the Fighting Sioux are now tied with Minnesota for 4th place in the league, but have played two fewer games than the three teams above them in the standings.
UND travels to Houghton, Michigan for a two-game WCHA series with the Michigan Tech Huskies, a team which defeated the Fighting Sioux 2-1 in the consolation game at the Great Lakes Invitational.