GRAND FORKS, N.D. - 5-2 anyone?
That hockey score works just fine for the North Dakota Fighting Sioux men, especially when it comes to playing Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) opponent Bemidji State.
The Fighting Sioux scored three times on the power play and had two-goal games from senior Matt Frattin (Edmonton, Alberta) and junior Jason Gregoire (Winnipeg, Manitoba) to beat the Beavers by the 5-2 score for the third time in three tries this season.
More importantly, another win over BSU on Sunday, couple with a Denver win or tie tonight at UNO, would clinch at least a share of the MacNaughton Cup for the Sioux as WCHA regular season champions.
Frattin pushed his season goal total to 26. Six of them have come in the three games he's played against the Beavers.
"It could happen against any team, it's not just because it's Bemidji," Frattin said of his goal barrage.
The Sioux limited BSU to 15 shots on goal and just 27 shot attempts. UND attempted 63 shots, putting 33 of them on net and ripping five of them past BSU goalie Dan Bakala, who came in allowing an average of 2.17 goals per game.
The MacNaughton Cup is not the chief focus of the Sioux.
"It's in the the back of our minds, I guess," Frattin said. "Biggest thing is just playing 60 minutes for us. We've got to play 60 minutes now, because NCAA time or playoff time, take a minute off, a shift off, it could end your season."
The Sioux, who moved into the No. 1 spot in the national polls this week for the first time this season, had strong contributions from most of the lineup.
Senior Brett Davidson (Morden, Manitoba) scored on a deflection for his second goal of the season in the first period to join Frattin and Gregoire as a goal scorer.
Brett Hextall (Jr., Manhattan Beach, Calif.) Derrick LaPoint (Sr., Eau Claire, Wis.) and Brock Nelson (Fr., Warroad, Minn.) had two-assist games with Evan Trupp (Sr., Anchorage, Alaska), Corban Knight (So., High River, Alberta), Mario Lamoureux (Jr., Grand Forks, N.D.) and Dillon Simpson (Fr., Edmonton, Alberta) adding an assist each.
UND coach Dave Hakstol seconded Frattin's view of the approach the Sioux are taking coming down the stretch of the season with a possible league title looming.
"This is playoff time, one game builds towards the next step of the season," Hakstol said. "There's not a whole lot left right now. You take things one foot in front of the other, and that's what we're trying to do."
The Sioux finish WCHA regular season play next weekend in Houghton, Mich., against last-place Michigan Tech. If the Sioux are to win the MacNaughton Cup outright, it'll be done in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where the MacNaughton Cup originated.
The Sioux pushed their unbeaten streak to 5-0-1 over the last six games and snapped BSU's five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2).
"They were just so much stronger than us," BSU coach Tom Serratore said. "We had a hard time penetrating. We just struggled with any type of sustained pressure. Their big, physical defensive corps, their big, strong centermen, really neutralized us."
UND's three power-play goals ties the season best. "We've been able to convert on some power-play opportunities, and that helps get the team going," Nelson said.
Nelson's alert pass from behind the net at 9:14 of the first period found Gregoire alone in front for the game's first goal. Eight minutes later, Davidson tipped a shot through Bakala's legs for a 2-0 lead after one period.
"We didn't have a whole lot going on (early), but we found a way to score that first goal," Hakstol said. "We've been talking about that fourth line all year, and they chipped in. Great tip by Davidson for a goal. I thought we ground it out pretty well for 60 minutes."
Aaron Dell (So., Airdrie, Alberta) finished with 13 saves for the Sioux in running his season record to 22-6-2.
The Sioux moved to 23-8-3 overall and 18-6-1 in the WCHA. BSU dropped to 12-15-4 overall and 8-13-4 in league play.
SIOUX NOTES: The three stars as voted by the media were Frattin, Gregoire and Nelson, in that order ... Gregoire extended his career-best point streak to nine games ... Gregoire led with six shots on net, followed by Frattin with five ... Hextall extended his point streak to six games ... Ryan Cramer (his 2nd) and Matt Read (17th) scored BSU's goals ... The game drew 12,114, the second-largest crowd in UND hockey history ... The Sioux won the faceoff battle 34-27, led by Brad Malone (12-8) ... UND held BSU without a shot on net on its three power plays.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or at (701) 772-9272.