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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service, Published December 07 2013

UND hockey secures first sweep of season

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Inside the University of North Dakota locker room, the music blared.

Outside, players smiled, laughed and joked.

“We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs,” senior captain Dillon Simpson explained.

That’s why Saturday night’s 3-2 victory over Western Michigan was so rewarding for the UND men’s hockey team.

It finally earned its first sweep of the season. It finally got back to .500 overall and in National Collegiate Hockey Conference play. And it was finally able to board a charter flight home feeling good.

Dillon Simpson, Paul LaDue and Rocco Grimaldi scored the goals, while goalie Zane Gothberg made a highlight-reel leg save in the final 30 seconds to preserve the sweep.

“It means a lot, especially with the year we’ve had,” Grimaldi said. “We’ve kind of been up and down, not finishing series off on Saturdays ... it’s been a tough year. But with this sweep, I think we’re getting on track, especially going to Christmas break. It’s a good thing for our team right now. It’s definitely a confidence booster.”

UND has been outshot in each of the last three games, but has found a way to win all of them by the score of 3-2. In the latest edition, UND mustered only seven shots on goal in the final 40 minutes, but made it nearly impossible for the Broncos to generate offense the other way.

“If that’s how the games are going to go, we’ve got to be blocking shots and getting ugly, greasy wins,” Grimaldi said. “Nobody’s going to ask how we did it or if we got outshot. Who cares, as long as we get the win?”

UND is now 7-7-2 overall and 5-5 in NCHC play, reaching the .500 mark for the first time in almost a month. The team has one series left before Christmas break – a nonconference matchup against Northern Michigan in Ralph Engelstad Arena next weekend.

When UND returns to action, it will bring a steady ahnd confident goaltender with it.

Gothberg stopped 23 of 25 shots on Saturday night, allowing two power-play goals. The biggest save came with 28 seconds left with the Broncos pushing for the tying goal.

A loose puck ended up on the stick of defenseman Dennis Brown off to the side of the net. It appeared as if he had an open net to score the tying goal, but Gothberg extended his leg and shut it down. UND then chipped the puck out of the zone and held on for the win.

“Just kind of a desperation save,” Gothberg said. “Just trying to get whatever I could over there, whether it was my body, whether it was my leg pad ... fortunately it hit my leg pad.”

With the loss, Western Michigan dropped to 6-7-3 overall and 2-4 in NCHC play. The Broncos’ offensive struggles also continued. They’ve been held to six goals in the last four games.

Western Michigan coach Andy Murray, a 10-year NHL coaching veteran, said UND is difficult to play against.

“They are a team that just hangs around,” Murray said. “They battle you. They’ve played this way for a long, long time. Their program is based on having one outstanding offensive unit, puck-moving defensemen and a bunch of other guys who just battle you all night. We were not good enough to get the job done here.”

For the second straight night, UND fell behind early.

FIRST PERIOD: 1, WMU, Morrison (Balisy, LaPorte), 4:44 (pp). 2, UND, Simpson (Johnson, Schmaltz), 8:24 (pp). 3, UND, Chyzyk (LaDue, Thompson), 16:45.

SECOND PERIOD: 4, UND, Grimaldi (Caggiula, Johnson), 6:55.

THIRD PERIOD: 5, WMU, Kovacs (LaPorte, Brown), 16:34.

SAVES: UND, Gothberg 12-6-5—23. WMU, Slubowski 7-3-x—10; Hafner x-1-2—3.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald