GRAND FORKS, N.D. - A couple of milestones were accomplished by the UND Fighting Sioux men's hockey team tonight, but hold off on the celebration party.
UND's 3-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association victory over Alaska Anchorage moved the Fighting Sioux all alone into first place in the WCHA and clinched home ice for the league playoffs in mid-March.
But don't order the balloons and cake. It's no time for celebration, in the eyes of the Sioux.
"We worked awful hard this weekend," UND coach Dave Hakstol said, "so it's nice to see we have something to show for it in terms of the standings. But I don't think anyone is going into tomorrow, Monday or Tuesday looking at the standings. We're going to concentrate on ourselves, concentrate on our game and try to get better."
Still, the Sioux knew early into their game that league-leading Denver had lost to Minnesota and that a Sioux win to sweep the series from Anchorage would move the Sioux one point ahead of Denver in the standings.
"A lot of us saw the Minnesota score before our game started." UND junior wing Jason Gregoire said. "We knew Saturday night in our rink is huge for us down the stretch. With one more home weekend (left), we needed this one, and the guys came out playing."
Gregoire was among those who stepped up. He assisted on Brett Hextall's fifth goal of the season at 19:59.2 of the first period, his buzzer-beating goal on the power play snapping a scoreless tie.
Gregoire then knocked in a loose puck on a scramble around the net at 5:45 of the third period. His 14th goal of the season capped a big night in which Gregoire had a team-high eight shots on goal.
Gregoire said he had no idea his rebound effort ended up in the net. "It was an ugly one, but those are the kind of goals you need to score against a team like that to win a game," Gregoire said.
Hextall's goal came in much the same fashion, a scramble in front of the net and a quick shot through heavy traffic.
UND senior Evan Trupp, from Anchorage, scored his second goal in two nights against his hometown team to throw some prettiness into the goal scoring.
He had a partial breakaway to open the second period, drilling a slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle 52 seconds into the period for a 2-0 lead and Trupp's 13th goal of the season.
The Seawolves, who tried to use their size advantage as an asset in Friday's 6-1 loss only to be outhit and outskated, changed strategy and often kept four skaters back through the neutral zone.
Still, UND outshot the Seawolves 43-18, the 43 shots tying the season high for the Sioux.
It was a complete effort by the Sioux, with few lapses. "I think there were a couple shifts where we let up a bit, but we were able to get it back," Hextall said. "When you have no passengers, no guys watching waiting for other people to do, and you have guys taking upon themselves to have a good shift, then you can play a full weekend and get a sweep."
It's the first WCHA home sweep for the Sioux since beating St. Cloud State on Dec. 3-4. Interesting enough, the Sioux will try to maintain their WCHA lead next weekend in a series at St. Cloud State.
"It was a complete weekend," Hakstol said. "That's what you have to do this time of the year."
Sophomore Aaron Dell took a shutout into the third period for the second straight night only to give up one goal. Anchorage's Matt Bailey fired in a rebound at 16:57 of the third period to snap Dell's bid for his fifth shutout of the season. He finished with 17 saves to 40 for Anchorage goalie Rob Gunderson.
The game drew 12,090 to Ralph Engelstad Arena, the second largest crowd in arena history and just the second time the Sioux have drawn over 12,000.
SIOUX NOTES: UND had tied its season high of 43 shots with more than six minutes left in the third period, but didn't manage a shot on goal after that ... The Sioux were 1-6 on the power play with 11 shots with the man advantage. UAA was 0-5 with just one shot on the power plays ... UND had a 31-24 edge in faceoffs, led by freshman Brock Nelson (6-1) ... The three stars as voted by the media were Gregoire, Hextall and Matt Frattin, in that order. Frattin assisted on Trupp's goal and had five shots on net, second best for the Sioux ... In three career starts against UAA, Dell is 3-0-0 with a 0.67 goals against average and .964 save percentage ... Gregoire extended his point streak to six games and has 12 points (8g, 4a) in eight games since returning to the lineup.
Virg Foss, who covered Fighting Sioux hockey for 35 years for the Grand Forks Herald until his retirement, now reports on UND home games exclusively for FightingSioux.com. Contact him at email@example.com or at (701) 772-9272.