GRAND FORKS, ND– It was the first time I personally experienced the rivalry between the University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota in hockey. The hype coming this week after a six-year absence from Grand Forks brought about plenty of great reads from the Grand Forks Herald‘s Brad Schlossman and after the Friday game and the atmosphere that came with it, I get what it was all about.
While the outcome wasn’t what the 11,862 wanted, the game brought about all the emotions of the past and brought some into the present. From blocker punches to the head to scraps after whistles to dead gophers being thrown onto the ice after Rhett Gardner’s goal in the third– this had the makings of something great to come for Saturday night.
However, Friday night was a different tone for the home squad. Despite the hype from the home crowd, Minnesota got on the board first when Casey Mittelstadt dished off to Rem Pitlick, who split the North Dakota defense and put it high blocker on Cam Johnson 11 minutes into the first period.
It was a stalemate for most of the game after that, though UND did keep the pace up in the offensive zone, but Eric Schierhorn was equal to the task, especially with the help of the defense clogging the lanes and blocking shots to the tune of 29 for the game to the Gophers’ stats.
“Can’t take credit away from them for blocking shots,” said Christain Wolanin post-game. “They bring not just one, but two and sometimes three layers of blocking. But we gotta work around it and adjust in order to get through it.”
While the second period yielded no goals, Minnesota took a two-goal lead after Rem Pitlick set up Steve Johnson to go far on the blocker side of Johnson. When a team could have gotten down after a goal like that late, UND kept pushing and finally broke through on their power play after a set face-off play where Gardner got the face-off win to Wolanin with a touch pass to Grant Mismash who ripped it from the point, as Gardner crashed the net and picked up the rebound Schierhorn left to cut the Gophers’ lead in half and got the Ralph Engelstad Arena back into it.
Yet, despite having the energy from the crowd, the Fighting Hawks couldn’t get the equalizer, despite having numerous chances with an extra-skater as coach Brad Berry took out Johnson with two minutes left in the third. It didn’t come without chance after chance by UND, down to the last second when freshman Gabe Bast ripped a one-timer, but it got blocked by Jack Ramsey’s ankle as time expired to give the Gophers the 2-1 victory.
“Our effort was there tonight,” said coach Berry. “We took penalties and gave them momentum. They’re opportunistic, when they got chances they buried them. We were relentless tonight. We pushed the pace and playing in the other team’s zone. I liked the pace of our play and not spending a lot of time in our end of the rink, but we didn’t finish plays.”
“They’re a team that takes advantage of opportunity,” mentioned Gardner. “We are trying to stay positive. We knew they block in their own zone, we just gotta work on some more things. Loss is a loss and we gotta regroup. If we keep the crowd in it in for the full 60 it will help us.”
“The crowd was awesome,” Wolanin added, “But we did a good job of being even keel. Good energy on the bench. When we got down, guys were saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get it back’ and it got us through a lot.”
One can only hope the crowd can stay behind UND with better results on Saturday, as UND tries to even the score and come out of the weekend with a split series, though they would have wanted those two wins.