GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Minnesota didn’t want to wait for a wrecking ball to chase the ghosts from the rafters of North Dakota’s storied Ralph Engelstad Arena.
So after a 1-0 defeat Friday night, the Gophers put together their best game of the year and dominated the third-ranked team in the country 5-2 in their own arena.
The win was the first for a Minnesota team at Grand Forks since Feb. 12, 1994, long before any current player was skating for the Maroon and Gold.
Minnesota executed coach Don Lucia’s game plan to perfection. The Gophers used their third forward in to shadow North Dakota’s off-side wing, clamping down on the high-scoring Sioux.
The win was the first for the Gophers in their last 12 attempts in Grand Forks, including several late-game collapses.
In fact, in their last three contests at North Dakota, the Gophers have led for 95:34, compared to 46:41 for the Sioux. But despite statistical dominance, Minnesota mustered only a 1-2 record in those games.
“I kept telling the guys that there’s no boogeyman up here. The crowd doesn’t play the game. It’s played between the boards,” Lucia said.
With leading goal scorer Erik Westrum returning to the lineup after serving a WCHA suspension, Minnesota solved Sioux netminder Karl Goehring early.
Just under five minutes into the contest, Westrum slid the puck across to freshman Jeff Taffe, who rifled a rising backhand off the crossbar and in — ending Goehring’s dominance from the previous evening.
North Dakota tied on a pretty connection when Wes Dorey one-timed a pass from Jeff Panzer through Gophers goaltender Adam Hauser’s five-hole.
Minnesota reeled off two consecutive goals to start the second; the first came when a falling John Pohl dished to a trailing Nick Angell, who beat Goehring low. Dave Spehar then deflected a Jordan Leopold shot from the point to put Minnesota up 3-1.
North Dakota clawed back with another goal from Dorey, who barely got wood on a shot from the slot. The puck trickled across the line before Hauser could cover.
With two goals from Dorey — who only made the lineup after Sioux forward Jason Notermann was disqualified for a check from behind on Minnesota’s Pat O’Leary — the capacity crowd was on its feet.
As the Sioux student section chanted “Golden Chokers,” the stage was set for another patented North Dakota comeback and another long bus ride home for Minnesota.
Instead, Minnesota played solid third-period defense and waited for an offensive break to ice the contest.
And when North Dakota turned the puck over at their blue line, Gophers captain Nate Miller saw the opening. Miller streaked ahead and dished across to Erik Wendell, who tapped the puck past a diving Goehring.
Sioux coach Dean Blais was extremely vocal after the play, protesting a close offsides call at the blue line. Television replays showed Wendell to be onside.
“I didn’t know how the heck we got a 2-on-0, but we’ll take it,” Lucia said.
“They were definitely offsides, but I don’t think it changed the outcome of the game,” Blais said.
Hauser took over from there, holding the Sioux off the scoreboard the rest of the game and finishing with 35 saves. Aaron Miskovich added an empty-netter with 1:29 to play.
Goehring set two records Friday. He became North Dakota’s all-time winningest goaltender while recording his 8th career shutout, also a team record.
Minnesota was never out of the game, however, and nearly tied it when Matt Leimbek rang the crossbar at the end of a five-minute power play after Notermann’s disqualification.
“There was a big scrum in front, and I saw I had to get it over a stick in front. I let it go, and it just hit the crossbar,” Leimbek said.
Goehring saved the game with under five minutes to play for the Sioux, executing a well-timed poke check on John Pohl.
The puck squirted free in front of the North Dakota goal and somehow ended up on Pohl’s stick. As Pohl looked to shoot, Goehring came flying off his crease. Pohl attempted to pull the puck around, but a diving Goehring poked it away with his stick.
“Yeah, I’d like to have that one back,” Pohl said. “It happened so fast, I tried to deke, but he got it with his stick. It was a great play by him.”
“We had a turnover, and it was just kind of an instinctual thing. I’m kind of thankful I got the puck, actually,” Goehring said.
With a win and a loss under his belt, Lucia was extremely pleased with his team’s effort on the weekend.
“We wouldn’t have won up here without a great effort. We knew they’d bring it, but we left it all out there. I don’t think our guys left much in the tank,” Lucia said.
Josh Linehan covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]