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Tom Miller / Forum News Service, Published March 29 2013

Miller: Line maneuvers key UND's playoff win

Grand Rapids, Mich. - Was it a lineup change or an attitude adjustment?

Opinions may differ. Whatever you choose, though, the third period resulted in 20 minutes filled with 20 shots, two goals and an effort worth landing North Dakota in the NCAA West Regional men’s hockey championship game.

North Dakota’s final-frame dominance sparked a 2-1 victory over Niagara on Friday evening in front of a small, dull crowd at Van Andel Arena.

UND opened the third period with a change in its top line. Hobey Baker Award finalists Danny Kristo and Corban Knight started the third flanked by dynamic freshman Rocco Grimaldi, who moved up from the second line to replace Brendan O’Donnell.

After being shut out through two periods, North Dakota struck twice in the opening three minutes of the third. The game-winning goal came from Kristo, who perfected a wraparound score that had ESPN broadcaster John Buccigross tweeting that Kristo is “The State Senator of North Dangleota.”

In UND’s season-long search to find the perfect combination to play alongside Knight and Kristo on the top line, O’Donnell has been charged with that role down the stretch.

But the sophomore was one of only two UND players to register no shots against Niagara. Meanwhile, Knight and Kristo were primarily neutralized in the opening 40 minutes.

So with UND’s offense sputtering in the second period, UND coach Dave Hakstol made the change at the top of his lineup to kick-start the offense.

The change helped free up space for Kristo, who had five of his seven shots in the third period. Grimaldi also had three of his seven shots in the third.

The first line wasn’t the only grouping that found chemistry in the third period. Grimaldi’s elevation to the top line also regrouped Carter Rowney, Michael Parks and Mark MacMillan on the second line – a trio that clicked late last season to fuel UND’s run to the regional championship game.

After the game, Hakstol downplayed the moves, which also included a late scratch for Mitch MacMillan, who was injured during the team’s morning skate. The injury forced rarely used freshman Bryn Chyzyk into the lineup.

“It’s not about the line combinations,” Hakstol said. “It’s about the five guys on the ice, regardless of the combinations. The guys had the determination coming out of the locker room that was purely focused on giving our best effort.

“I don’t think it had a whole lot to do with line combos. It’s five guys and a goalie working in one direction, putting on the gas as hard as they could. That’s the real credit to our players.”

Some coach speak in there, perhaps?

Knight voiced both sides of the debate.

“I don’t think (the line combinations) really matter,” he said. “I think guys are pretty comfortable no matter who they play with. But I think it gave us a little bit of a spark that we needed. Guys reacted well. It gave us that little boost, so I think it was a good move by our coaches to do that.”

Miller writes for the Grand Forks Herald