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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service , Published February 28 2014

UND men's hockey team earns critical victory on road

ST. CLOUD, Minn. – The Penrose Cup has followed the University of North Dakota the last few weeks – from Grand Forks to Duluth to St. Cloud – making its pre-planned tour of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

All the while, UND has been giving itself a chance to bring it home for good.

UND beat St. Cloud State 5-2 on Friday night in the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, giving UND an opportunity to clinch a share of the men’s hockey league title and the No. 1 seed in the NCHC tournament if it wins tonight’s series finale (7:07 p.m.) in regulation or overtime.

On Friday, UND exploded for five goals in the second period – two by Connor Gaarder and one each by Luke Johnson, Mark MacMillan and Drake Caggiula – to send most of the 5,120 in St. Cloud home early.

By the end of the game, ‘Let’s go Sioux’ chants were ringing out from the UND faithful in the newly renovated building as their team improved to 15-2-1 in the last 18 games.

“We just got on them, we were relentless,” UND junior Nick Mattson said. “We scored one and we weren’t satisfied. We just kept stepping on the throat. I know I’ve been on the other side of that. It’s tough when a team is relentless like that and keeps coming in waves.”

With the win, UND (19-9-3, 14-7 NCHC) surged into first place alone in the NCHC standings with 42 points – three ahead of St. Cloud State (18-8-5, 12-6-3). UND also moved up one spot in the Pairwise Rankings to No. 9.

In November, St. Cloud State swept UND in Ralph Engelstad Arena, holding UND to just three goals all weekend.

But UND is a different team at the moment.

It has won five games in a row, outscoring its opponent 23-6 in the last four.

“When you’re doing the right things, you’re going to have success,” MacMillan said. “We’ve got to keep it going.”

Things actually started well for St. Cloud State in front of a revved-up crowd as the Huskies scored a power-play goal midway through the first. Joey Benik found some space between the pads of UND goalie Zane Gothberg and scored from the inside of the circle at 10:43.

From there, it was all UND.

UND outshot St. Cloud State 17-3 in the second period and blew the game open with five goals.

Gaarder started the rally by rocketing a slap shot off the back bar at 5:10, finishing off a feed from Brendan O’Donnell, who had three assists.

UND took the lead for good at the 9:27 mark after Johnson forced a turnover in the neutral zone and started a rush the other way. Johnson dished it to O’Donnell, who made a nice touch pass to Rocco Grimaldi entering the zone. Grimaldi fired a shot far pad and Johnson jumped on the rebound.

Less than a minute later, UND tacked on another goal on an identical play. Jordan Schmaltz entered the zone and shot far pad from the right circle and MacMillan was there to jump on the rebound.

“After we scored the first goal, it ignited us a little bit,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “There are not a lot of holes defensively in St. Cloud. You’ve got to put pucks there. You’ve got to go to those hard areas. We got a couple of good hops there. We were there, though, driving to that area to get those rebounds.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, SCSU, Benik (Kossila, Brodzinski) 10:43 (pp).

SECOND PERIOD: 2, UND, Gaarder (O’Donnell, LaDue) 5:10. 3, UND, Johnson (Grimaldi, O’Donnell) 9:27. 4, UND, MacMillan (Schmaltz, Simpson) 10:17. 5, UND, Gaarder (Mattson, O’Donnell) 13:54. 6, UND, Caggiula (MacMillan, Parks).

THIRD PERIOD: 7, SCSU, Gravel (Thorson, Daly) 15:25.

SAVES: UND, Gothberg 6-3-13–22. SCSU, Faragher 9-12-x–21, Lindgren x-x-8–8.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald