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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published March 24 2012

Sioux prevail to set up game with Gophers

ST. PAUL – The jerseys may have been different Saturday afternoon, but the same old University of North Dakota men’s hockey team showed up at the NCAA tournament.

In typical fashion for this team, the Sioux grinded their way to an eighth straight win, a 3-1 decision over Western Michigan in a first-round NCAA West Regional game in front of 9,386 in the Xcel Energy Center.

Michael Parks threw a wraparound off of a defenseman’s skate in the first period, Corban Knight banged home a rebound off of Danny Kristo’s body in the second and Brock Nelson put Sioux fans at ease with an empty-netter in the third.

It all sets up a showdown between UND and rival Minnesota at 4:30 p.m. today with a trip to Tampa, Fla., and the Frozen Four on the line.

“It was a very hard-fought game, as everyone expected coming into this one,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol, who has led his team to the Frozen Four in five of his seven years at the helm. “We had a great degree of respect coming in for Western Michigan and probably added respect coming out of it. It was a tight, hard-fought game. I’m proud of our team for the way we handled the ups and downs of this hockey game. The critical end point is that we have an opportunity to turn the page real quickly and prepare for a hockey game tomorrow.”

The Sioux, wearing jerseys that simply say “North Dakota” on the front due to NCAA sanctions, continued their stunning second-half run against the Broncos, despite not having enough players to fill out a full lineup for the 13th time this season and the eighth game in a row.

UND is now 14-2-1 in the last 17 games, 22-5-2 since Thanksgiving and 26-12-3 overall.

“They still have an opportunity to be national champions this year,” Western Michigan coach Andy Murray said. “Their coaching staff has done a tremendous job. They’ve had some key injuries and persevered. It’s a typical North Dakota team – difficult to play against.”

The Sioux held the Broncos to one goal – a clean breakaway by Kyle O’Kane midway through the second period that ended Aaron Dell’s shutout streak at 122 minutes and 56 seconds. Other than that, they made Western Michigan earn every scoring chance on Saturday.

“I thought we had a few jitters in practice yesterday,” Hakstol said. “Halfway through practice, we seemed to settle in a little bit. Overall, today, nervousness and jitters weren’t real factors for us. We were happy with our first period. Everyone contributed and did their job.”

UND led the game throughout.

At 6:04 of the opening frame, Mark MacMillan sent Parks up the right wing with speed. Parks curled behind the net and threw a wraparound off of the skate of Broncos defenseman Garrett Haar and in the net.

Early in the second period, Danny Kristo fed Nelson in the right circle. Nelson’s shot was deflected by a defenseman, went off of Kristo’s body and into the crease area, where Knight easily knocked it home.

O’Kane gave the Broncos some life after he scored his breakaway goal at 12:57 of the second, but Western Michigan couldn’t get the equalizer past Dell, despite a couple of goal-mouth scrambles later in the period.

“The break was good for us,” Hakstol said of the second intermission. “Guys talked about all the right things in the locker room. We came out with a good, positive mindset. The key to it all was a little mental toughness and moving the feet. We did that well in the last 25 minutes.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, UND, Parks (MacMillan, Blood) 6:04.

SECOND PERIOD: 2, UND, Knight (Kristo, Nelson) 3:16. 3, WM, O’Kane (Roehl, DeKeyser) 12:57.

THIRD PERIOD: 4, UND, Nelson 19:35 (en).

SAVES: WM, Slubowski 9-9-7–25. UND, Dell 7-12-5–24.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald