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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published February 20 2011

Men's hockey: UND edges SCSU

ST. CLOUD, Minn. – Moments after the University of North Dakota beat St. Cloud State 3-2 on Saturday night, the local television station requested an interview with Brett Hextall, who scored twice.

Before going on camera, the UND forward skated across the ice, went into the locker room, grabbed his straight-billed “Give Blood, Play Hockey,” hat and put it on. Then he returned for the interview.

The old Brett Hextall is back.

He is no longer carrying his clean-cut, professional look. Not after a first half of the season that produced just three goals in 23 games.

“I’ve got the beard, the hair is getting longer and now the hat is back,” said Hextall, who never did interviews without it during his first two seasons at UND. “I joke about it, but it symbolizes for me that I need to get back to my game, which is playing gritty, moving my feet, playing physical and being an in-your-face player. I think maybe I got away from that.

“With this look, I have to look in the mirror and see my ugly face and it reminds me of what I need to do.”

Hextall accomplished plenty this weekend. He scored twice on Saturday, including the winning goal 1 minute, 7 seconds into the third period. He now has five goals and seven points in the last five games.

“As important as the goals, he’s played complete hockey during the last four games,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “And it’s been a little bit longer than that. He’s played pretty well over the last three or four weeks. Pucks are starting to go in for him and he’s scoring the kind of goals that he has to score.”

UND needed all of them against a pesky Husky team this weekend.

The Sioux earned a 3-3 tie Friday – a game in which Hextall opened the scoring – then held off 12-15-5 St. Cloud State in the series finale.

The win kept UND in the driver’s seat in the chase for the MacNaughton Cup. The Sioux, 22-8-3 and 17-6-1 in Western Collegiate Hockey Association play, have 35 points – two more than second-place Denver.

UND closes the season at home against Bemidji State and at Michigan Tech.

The St. Cloud State series prepared UND well for the stretch run and the playoffs.

“There weren’t a lot of lulls in the action,” Hakstol said. “There certainly weren’t any lulls in intensity. There were parts of the game tonight that we didn’t like some of the things we were doing. I thought we got a little sloppy with the puck in the second period and we gave up a few too many opportunities in transition. But that’s partly them playing hard and making plays, too.

“These were highly intense games.”

Sioux goalie Aaron Dell was named the second star of the game for making 26 of 28 saves. He made several key leg saves during the early part of the third period.

FIRST PERIOD: 1, UND, Simpson (Gregoire, Nelson), 9:53 (pp). 2, SCSU, Barta (Reid, Festler), 17:16 (pp).

SECOND PERIOD: 3, UND, Hextall (Gregoire), 15:25. 4, SCSU, Eddy (Roe, LeBlanc), 17:57 (pp).

THIRD PERIOD: 5, UND, Hextall (Frattin, Forbort), 1:07 (pp).

SAVES: UND, Dell 8-11-7–26. SCSU, Lee 12-8-9–29.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald