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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published March 09 2012

UND tops Bemidji State in first game of WCHA playoff series

GRAND FORKS – The University of North Dakota is a step closer to making it a decade in St. Paul.

The Sioux won their ninth straight Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff game on Friday night, topping Bemidji State 4-1 in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

The two-time Broadmoor Trophy champions can punch a ticket to their 10th straight WCHA Final Five with a win in the series finale at 7:07 p.m. tonight.

“We got a win in Game 1 of the series, playing against a good hockey team that played awfully hard tonight,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “We look at our performance. There was a lot of good to it. But it was much too sporadic for playoff time. We need to challenge ourselves to be at a higher level on a more consistent basis throughout the game.”

UND used 28 saves by junior goaltender Aaron Dell and goals from Connor Gaarder, Corban Knight, Mark MacMillan and an empty-netter by Ben Blood to seal the victory. Carter Rowney tallied three assists and Michael Parks notched a pair of helpers for the Sioux, who improved to 21-12-3 overall.

The Sioux also bumped their post-Thanksgiving record to 17-5-2, which ranks second best in the nation during that timeframe.

Bemidji State, which swept Nebraska-Omaha out of the playoffs a year ago, dropped to 17-17-3. Its season is on the line tonight.

“I thought we played 60 minutes of pretty good hockey,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “There were a lot of good chances for both teams. Both goaltenders made some saves. It was a good hockey game. Hopefully, tomorrow can be a better game. Hopefully it will be a little closer for us. We made some mistakes and they made us pay. Hopefully, we won’t make those mistakes tomorrow.”

The Sioux continued to get strong goaltending play. This time, it was Dell shutting the door on the opponent. He allowed just one goal – a power-play tally to Aaron McLeod with 6:55 left in regulation that cut UND’s lead to 2-1.

But just 1:03 later, Rowney set up MacMillan for a doorstep goal to extend the lead back to two goals. Blood finished it off at 19:05 with an empty-netter from the red line.

“It was a good win,” Blood said. “We need to be better tomorrow. We were a little inconsistent at times taking care of pucks and not getting pucks deep and having a few turnovers on our blue line. But it was a good win. Deller played great.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, UND, Gaarder (Parks, Rowney), 17:10, (pp).

SECOND PERIOD: 2, UND, Knight (Nelson), 13:47.

THIRD PERIOD: 3, B, McLeod (Mattson, Wacker), 13:05, (pp). 4, UND, MacMillan (Rowney, Parks), 14:08. 5, UND, Blood (Rowney), 19:05, (pp).

SAVES: UND, Dell 8-13-7 28. B, Bakala 10-4-5 19.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald