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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published March 02 2012

Sioux clinch fourth place in WCHA men's standings after victory

GRAND FORKS – With a full beard going, Aaron Dell looks like he’s ready for the playoffs.

The junior goaltender is playing like it, too.

Dell stopped 25 of 27 shots and was spectacular on a number of them to help the University of North Dakota get a 4-2 win over Minnesota State-Mankato on Friday in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

With the win, UND clinched fourth place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings and will play host to either Wisconsin or Bemidji State in the first round of the playoffs next weekend.

Danny Kristo scored twice, while rookies Michael Parks and Stephane Pattyn each added one tally to pace UND’s offense, but the Sioux needed a big game from Dell, who started for the first time since Feb. 11.

The Mavericks, who fell to 12-21-2 overall and 8-17-2 in league play, had several Grade A chances and odd-man rushes in the second and third periods.

“He played great,” Kristo said. “He made three or four saves that could have been goals. That’s awesome for him. He’s been sick and battling injuries the last two or three weeks. He came back and played great. Everyone on the team is real happy for him.”

Dell got the hard hat for his performance, which was highlighted by a toe save on Eli Zuck in the third period. Zuck flew down the slot and made a move, but Dell did the splits and barely caught the puck with his pad.

“That might have been his best save all year,” Parks said. “Dell was really good.”

The Sioux improved to 19-12-3 overall and 15-11-1 in league play, but remained at No. 14 in the Pairwise Rankings, which mimic the system used by the NCAA to select its 16-team field.

The Mavericks, who haven’t won in Ralph Engelstad Arena since the 2006 WCHA playoffs, got off to a great start when a turnover behind the net led to an open look from the slot by Eriah Hayes. Dell made the initial save, but Mavericks rookie Matt Leitner swatted home the rebound at 1 minute, 37 seconds of the first period.

UND answered quickly, taking control of the game.

Kristo blew past Maverick defenseman Cameron Cooper and scored on a breakaway at 3:53; Michael Parks scored when a rebound went off his chest at 7:44; and Stephane Pattyn found a rebound on top of the crease at 15:04.

“I thought our ability to answer back after giving up the first one early in the game was very important,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “We got a couple of grinding goals down low in the crease after that. Once they made it a one-goal game in the third period, we had a couple guys make a big play for us to extend it to a two-goal game.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, MSU, Leitner (Hayes) 1;37. 2, UND, Kristo (Mattson, Knight) 3:53. 3, UND, Parks 7:44. 4, UND, Pattyn (Panzarella) 15:04.

SECOND PERIOD: No scoring.

THIRD PERIOD: 5, MSU, Nelson 12:03. 6, UND, Kristo (Knight, Senkbeil) 15:46.

SAVES: MSU, Cook 10-7-3–20. UND, Dell 9-9-7–25.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald