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By Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published February 25 2012

Special teams lift Denver past Sioux

DENVER – The Univeristy of North Dakota men’s hockey team entered Saturday with a chance to pull off a rare feat – sweep the University of Denver.

No Western Collegiate Hockey Association has done that since Nov. 15, 2008 – a span of 1,197 days and almost four years. But thanks to special teams, the streak will live on.

Denver scored three times on the power play, once shorthanded and once just a second after a power play expired en route to a 5-3 win in front of 6,168 fans in Magness Arena.

Nick Shore had a goal and two assists, Chris Knowlton scored twice and Jason Zucker had a goal and an assist to help the Pioneers salvage a series split against UND, which could have clinched home ice for the first round of the playoffs with a win or tie.

Instead, the Sioux (18-12-3, 14-11-1 WCHA) will have to gun for that next weekend at home against Minnesota State-Mankato.

“Everything’s in our hands,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “It’s not easy. Look around our league. Everyone is splitting points all over the place. We gained some points on the teams closest to us. We hold our fate in our hands as we go home next weekend.

“We came in and got a split on the road. We battled really hard. The guys worked for each other. We came up short tonight. You leave that in the review mirror and move on to next weekend against Minnesota State.”

UND will enter the final weekend of the regular season alone in fourth place with 29 points – two ahead of Colorado College and Nebraska-Omaha and three ahead of seventh-place Michigan Tech. A win or tie against the Mavericks or a Tech loss or tie against Colorado College will clinch home ice for a 10th straight year.

A night after beating the Pioneers 4-3, the Sioux struggled with special teams against a Denver squad that leads the WCHA in power play percent. The Pioneers (19-11-4, 14-8-4) converted three-of-seven chances and shut UND out on its three power plays.

Two of those three were extended power plays because of major penalties on the Pioneers. In the first five-minute advantage, UND mustered three shots and didn’t score. The Sioux had three minutes of power-play time to start the third period and didn’t get a shot.

“I think the difference was special teams,” Hakstol said. “Their power play converted and that was the difference in the game. Five-on-five, it was a pretty tight-checking, hard-fought game.”

Brock Nelson scored two goals – his 21st and 22nd of the season – and Carter Rowney added his 16th for UND. But every time UND threatened, the Pioneers had an answer.

Rowney tied the game 1-1 at 12:24 of the second, but the Sioux promptly gave up a shorthanded goal to go back down 2-1. Moments after Nelson pulled the Sioux to within 3-2 later in the period, defenseman Scott Mayfield scored a power-play goal to extend the lead back to 4-2.

“To me, those were two pretty significant turning points,” Hakstol said.

Brad Eidsness started in goal and played the opening two periods, but was replaced by Aaron Dell in the third. Dell missed last week with an undisclosed injury and was dressed as a backup Friday night, but was sharp in his 20 minutes against the Pioneers.

Hakstol said they didn’t feel Dell was quite back to 100 percent.

FIRST PERIOD: No scoring.

SECOND PERIOD: 1, DU, N. Shore (D. Shore, Zucker), 9:23. 2, UND, Rowney (MacMillian, Parks), 12:24. 3, DU, Knowlton, 13:34 (sh). 4, DU, Zucker (D. Shore, N. Shore), 15:30 (pp). 5, UND, Nelson (Simpson, Knight), 15:37. 6, DU, Mayfield (N. Shore, LaLeggia), 17:57.

THIRD PERIOD: No scoring. 7, DU, Knowlton (Lee, Salazar), 17:35 (pp). 8, UND, Nelson (Kristo, Blood) 18:43 (sh).

SAVES: DU, Oikinuora 9-14-7–30. UND, Eidsness 8-15-x–23. UND, Dell x-x-12–12.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald