NCAA: Minnesota – North Dakota series review

By DJ Powers





NCAA: Minnesota – North Dakota Weekend Series Review

Sophomore Ryan
Potulny
(PHI) continues to be hot as a pistol, leading the Minnesota Golden
Gophers to earn a split with North Dakota in one of the NCAA’s best annual
grudge matches up at Ralph Englestad Arena in Grand Forks, ND this weekend. The
series featured just about everything, including a fight in the Saturday night
game.

 

Potulny, who currently leads Minnesota in goal scoring,
finished the weekend with three goals and an assist. All of Potulny’s goals
came on the power play. Along with Potulny, Minnesota junior forward Tyler Hirsch was also stellar, notching
four points that all came on assists. Minnesota defenseman Alex Goligoski (PIT) continues to be one of the WCHA’s most
impressive freshmen this early season as he notched three assists in the weekend
series. Freshman forward Travis Zajac
(NJ) was outstanding in North Dakota’s 4-2 win on Friday night, notching two
power play goals to lead the Fighting Sioux.

 

Both games saw Minnesota stake out to early leads but the
games would end very differently. The Friday night game saw a plethora of
penalties being assessed, particularly to North Dakota. Minnesota dominated the
game early, applying good pressure in the North Dakota zone. Neither team was
able to capitalize on their power play chances until roughly the midway through
the first period. Towering North Dakota sophomore defenseman Matt Smaby (TB) would be sent off at
the 11:18 mark, putting Minnesota on their third power play of the game. Less
than one minute later at the 12:16 mark, Potulny got Minnesota on the board
with a nice wrist-shot that beat North Dakota sophomore goaltender Jordan Parise. In the latter half of
the period, the parade to the penalty box for North Dakota was almost constant
as the Fighting Sioux found themselves taking six of the seven penalties that
were assessed in the last few minutes of the period.

 

The second period began with Minnesota on a five-on-three
power play. At the 1:59 mark, sophomore Danny
Irmen
(MIN) extended Minnesota’s lead to 2-0. That would be all that Minnesota
would get in the game. The Fighting Sioux began to slowly shift the momentum in
their favor. With Minnesota freshman defenseman Derek Peltier (COL) off for a slash, the North Dakota power play
went to work. It didn’t take long for them to score. Just 15 seconds into the
power play at the 7:38 mark, freshman Travis
Zajac
(NJ) beat Minnesota sophomore goaltender Kellen Briggs just inside the far post to get North Dakota on the
board. Later in the period, senior Colby
Genoway
, arguably North Dakota’s best player in this particular game did a
nice job of drawing a penalty against Minnesota junior forward Andy Sertich (PIT) in a good battle for
puck possession. With Sertich off for holding at 15:34, the Fighting Sioux
power play again went to work. At the 16:05 mark, Zajac would get the equalizer
that began with a great play by sophomore Brady
Murray
(LA) to bring the puck into the Minnesota zone.

 

In the third period, freshman sensation Rastislav Spirko would get the eventual game-winning goal for North
Dakota at the 5:30 mark. Spirko was knocked down in front of the Minnesota net
by freshman Mike Howe, just as North
Dakota’s sophomore defenseman Matt Smaby
(TB) launches a slapshot from the blueline. Spirko somehow managed to get his
stick on the shot to redirect it past Briggs for the score. The fourth and
final goal of the game came at the 12:08 mark of the third period. It was an
excellent individual effort by North Dakota senior forward Colby Genoway. After assisting on North Dakota’s previous goals,
Genoway bagged the final goal himself. Genoway, along with Spirko, created an
odd-man rush into the Minnesota zone. Genoway showed great patience with the
puck and finally got Minnesota freshman defenseman Derek Peltier (COL) to commit first before beating Briggs for the
tally. If Genoway continues to play like he has in this game, he is certain to
garner the attention of NHL scouts as a possible free agent acquisition at
season’s end.

 

After a great come-from-behind victory over Minnesota the
previous evening, the second game on Saturday night would prove to be very,
very different for the Fighting Sioux. While North Dakota kept their lines
pretty much intact, specifically the top line combination of sophomores Brady Murray (LA) and Drew Stafford (BUF) and freshman Travis Zajac (NJ) that worked so well
in the Friday night game, it wasn’t the case for the Golden Gophers.
Minnesota’s lines were shaken up a bit by head coach Don Lucia. Freshman Kris Chucko (CGY) was taken off of the
top line and inserted into the second line with junior Gino Guyer (DAL) and senior Barry
Tallackson
(NJ). Meanwhile, Potulny and Irmen got a new linemate in
freshman Mike Howe.

 

The changes would pay almost immediate dividends for
Minnesota on Saturday night. Just 21 seconds in, Tallackson got Minnesota on
the board first. Minnesota freshman defenseman Alex Goligoski (PIT) flung a
shot at the North Dakota net. Thanks to a missed defensive assignment by North
Dakota, Tallackson was left all alone in the slot area and was able to re-direct
Goligoski’s shot past Parise for the score. Unlike Friday night’s game, few
penalties overall were assessed in this game. After staking themselves out to
an early 1-0 lead, Minnesota would continue to win both the puck and
territorial battles. The Fighting Sioux lacked the jump and energy that
propelled them to a victory over their arch rivals. North Dakota managed a
couple of odd-man rushes in the first half of the opening period but ended up
either being beaten by Briggs or simply not being able to finish the play.

 

Minnesota would extend its lead in the latter half of the
first period. With North Dakota freshman forward Rylan Kaip (ATL) off for slashing the Gophers power play went to
work. Just under a minute into the power play at the 16:13 mark, Potulny once
again cashed in for Minnesota. Less than a minute after Potulny’s goal at the
17:06 mark, freshman defenseman Nate
Hagemo
would make it 3-0 Minnesota. Hagemo, a 2005 NHL Draft eligible
player, was outstanding in this series. He notched his first collegiate goal
thanks to a great play by senior forward Garrett
Smaagaard
to spot him open after leading the rush into the North Dakota
zone.

 

With the score 3-0 Minnesota, North Dakota head coach Dave
Hakstol decided to make a change in goal, inserting senior Jake Brandt. The outcome for North Dakota wouldn’t get any better.
With North Dakota junior forward Mike
Prpich
off for high-sticking, the Gophers power play was once again at work
and once again it was Potulny there for the score. The tally came about a
minute into the power play at the 6:45 mark. This was perhaps Potulny’s best
goal score of the series and one for the highlight reels. Teammate Tyler Hirsch beats North Dakota senior
defenseman Matt Jones (PHX) to the
front of the net, Hirsch managed to get a nice shot off that Brandt makes a
save on. North Dakota sophomore Brady
Murray
(LA) was unable to corral the loose puck that eventually got to
Potulny. He turned then pulled the puck back and kept it until he found an open
lane to the net. When it opened up, he fired the shot that beat Brandt just
inside the far post for the score. North Dakota made the mistake of not having
anyone go after Potulny nor the puck, therefore allowing Potulny the time
necessary to retain puck possession and wait for a clear shot at the net. North
Dakota was plagued by this problem throughout the game.

 

It would be evident again on Minnesota’s fifth goal at the
7:16 mark of the second period. Smaby, who had actually played quite well in
this game, lost his puck battle along the boards to freshman Brent Borgen.
After getting possession behind the goal line, Borgen passes off to an
untouched Garrett Smaagaard in front
of the North Dakota net. Smaagaard simply tipped the pass by Brandt for the
score. North Dakota senior defenseman Nick
Fuher,
who was responsible for covering Smaagaard, had failed to take his
man out of the slot area. For the remainder of the period, Minnesota had
outplayed and outhustled North Dakota.

 

At the buzzer to end the period, tempers began to boil over
along the corner boards in the North Dakota end. It would also be the only time
in the entire course of the game that the Fighting Sioux fans had something to
cheer about. Minnesota sophomore defenseman Michael Vannelli (ATL) was trying to hold off North Dakota senior
forward Rory McMahon when a shoving
match ensued between the two players. It didn’t take long before the incident
escalated into an all-out fight. Vannelli, who is not known for getting into
physical battles, had the choice of backing down or standing up for himself. He
chose to do the latter and in the process likely earned some respect from his
teammates and the Golden Gophers fans. He, along with McMahon, each earned a
five-minute major and a game disqualification as well. The game disqualification
under NCAA rules carries an automatic one-game suspension. Both players would
be suspended for their respective teams’ next game.

 

After the Vannelli-McMahon fight ended, another fight was
about to flare up between North Dakota freshman forward Rylan Kaip (ATL) and Minnesota senior forward Garrett Smaagaard. The officials got in just in time to break it up
and send all the players to their respective dressing rooms. When it was
finally all sorted out, Vannelli and McMahon were ejected while Smaagaard,
Kaip, Goligoski and North Dakota senior forward Quinn Fylling were all assessed roughing minors to start the third
period.

 

While things did calm down in the third period, the
situation didn’t change for North Dakota. Minnesota continued to apply the
pressure on North Dakota wherever and whenever possible. The Golden Gophers did
an excellent job of breaking up passes and relentless going after the Fighting
Sioux puck carriers. The Minnesota forwards really excelled in helping out in
defensive situations as well. The sixth and final goal of the game came at the
15:31 mark of the third. Irmen would get the goal from Potulny after making a
nice play to not only strip the puck away from North Dakota defenseman Matt Jones (PHX) but also getting away
to join Potulny in the ensuing rush to the North Dakota net. When the final
buzzer sounded, sophomore goaltender Kellen
Briggs
earned Minnesota’s first shutout at North Dakota since 1975. Both
Briggs and Parise, despite a loss each in the series, played remarkably well.
Briggs stopped 42 of 46 shots faced in the weekend series while Parise stopped
50 of 55 shots. Perhaps the more telling number was the power play capitalized
upon. Minnesota scored four power play goals on 13 chances, while North Dakota
scored two on 14 chances.

 

Nineteen of the 20 combined NHL prospects for these teams
played in this series. Minnesota junior defenseman P. J. Atherton (TB) was the lone prospect not playing in this
weekend. In addition, all 2005 NHL draft eligible players saw playing time in
this series. Minnesota freshman defenseman Nate
Hagemo
and North Dakota freshman defenseman Kyle Radke both participated in this series and played quite well.
Minnesota freshman forwards Ben Gordon
and Brent Borgen saw playing in one
game. Gordon played in Friday’s game and while Borgen played in Saturday’s
game.

 

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editorial staff.