GRAND FORKS, N.D. –Early in the third period Saturday night, North Dakota’s Bryan Lundbohm broke out of Minnesota’s zone and darted up the ice with the puck.
Gophers defenseman Mark Nenovich drew the unenviable task of slowing Lundbohm, but fell to the ice in a vain attempt to move with the speedy forward.
Lundbohm side-stepped the beaten Nenovich, then beat Minnesota goaltender Adam Hauser to knot the game at three.
Nenovich, like defensemen from both teams, were rendered helpless in the face of a streaky scoring barrage.
The Gophers skated to a 7-5 loss and 5-5 tie at Ralph Engelstad Arena, a series featuring eight lead changes and best summed up by Fighting Sioux coach Dean Blais, who eulogized, “Both teams have a lot of character and played with a lot of speed and skill this weekend.”
Minnesota played with character on Saturday, but without many supporting characters.
Defenseman Ben Tharp (shoulder sprain) and forwards Erik Wendell (knee sprain) and Nick Anthony (concussion) were injured Friday and lost for the weekend.
And after allowing four third period goals Friday, the Gophers were both undermanned and without momentum.
Unable to change the former, the team worked to generate the latter.
“We got together as a group and decided we couldn’t let this weekend slide away from us,” defenseman Jordan Leopold said.
Minnesota got on the board first Saturday when Grand Forks native Grant Potulny tipped in Erik Westrum’s shot from the high slot.
North Dakota responded with a pair of second period goals to take a short-lived lead. The Gophers Jeff Taffe swooped across the slot and beat goalie Karl Goehring to put Minnesota in front again.
The two teams traded leads three times in the third stanza, twice in the first 3:37 alone.
“We were a little disappointed,” Fighting Sioux forward Jeff Panzer said. “We had a couple leads in the third period, we just couldn’t hang on to them.”
Minnesota’s resiliency forced a tentatively played overtime which ended in stalemate.
“Considering everything we had to battle tonight, I’m very proud of our guys,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said.
The Fighting Sioux jumped out to a two goal lead Friday, playing what Blais called the team’s, “best first period of the year. We didn’t give them any room to operate at all. But in the second, once they started rolling it was scary.”
Minnesota came back with a flurry, blasting five goals past stopper Andy Kollar in the second period, three in 77 seconds.
“The way the game was going, I thought we were going to give up four or five in the third and get a real ass-kicking,” Blais said.
Instead, North Dakota roared back. A voracious forecheck led by Panzer, Ryan Bayda and Travis Roche circumvented the Gophers defense, boring in on Hauser like a squadron of bombers and pounding in four goals.
Roche tied a North Dakota team record with six assists.
In the aftermath, Minnesota was left with its 11th loss in the last 13 games in Grand Forks.
“Its the jinx of the arena for Minnesota, I guess,” Blais said. “They can’t seem to get a good third period in here.”
The Gophers carried the United States College Hockey Online No. 1 ranking into the weekend, then were forced to compete without many of the players who aided their cause.
A loss and a tie will likely cost Minnesota its top-ranking, but Johnny Pohl took solace in his team’s resolve.
“We were playing every third shift, but nobody quit even when we were down,” Pohl said. “And that’s a good sign.”
David La Vaque cover’s men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]