GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Other than the fact that his team emerged with a 5-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff win over Michigan Tech tonight in the opener of a best-of-3 series, UND's Danny Kristo knew one thing for certain.
"Friday night is the biggest game of the series,'' said Kristo, who led UND to its 20th win of the season (20-10-7) with two goals and one assist.
It does give UND the early edge in the series that will determine which teams advances to the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul next weekend. UND is seeking its 11th straight trip to the Final Five, a mark achieved by only one other school (Minnesota) in league history.
Friday's victory also covers up a bit an uneven performance by UND, which was outshot 34-24 by the Huskies. UND also lost captain Andrew MacWilliam 12:30 into the game for a contact to the head major penalty that took him out for the rest of the night.
"I thought we played very average tonight,'' Kristo said. "We didn't do the things we need to do to keep playing this time of the year, but we're going to move on and forget about this one.''
Kristo was the anchor to steady an uneven performance.
Freshman goalie Zane Gothberg finished with 31 saves for UND, but gave up two soft goals, including one from center ice at 15:14 of the third period by Tech defenseman Riley Sweeney that chopped UND's lead to 4-3.
But Kristo, named all-WCHA first team earlier in the week, scored 58 seconds later to make it 5-3, banking in a rebound off a Tech player from a sharp angle for his team-leading 23rd goal of the season.
An unsung hero for UND certainly was sophomore wing Michael Parks. He had UND's first goal when his centering pass off right wing bounced off the skate of Tech defenseman Daniel Sova and in for a goal at 7:03 of the opening period.
After Tech tied it at 1-1 on Ryan Furne's one-timer on a power play on MacWilliam's major at 14:38, Parks figured in UND's second goal as well.
He set a perfect screen in front of Tech goalie Jamie Phillips to allow UND defenseman Dillon Simpson to thread his wrist shot by Phillips at 18:07 of the first period to make it 2-1 after one.
Later, Parks set a great screen again to block the vision of Phillips and allow Kristo to score his first goal of the game at 4:33 of the third period to put UND ahead to stay.
UND coach Dave Hakstol was pleased that UND overcame some major obstacles, including the big penalty on MacWilliam that set up Tech's opening power-play goal.
"We had a good start, the 5-minute major knocked us back,'' Hakstol said. "We survived it and recovered. I guess that was the story of the night. We hit a few bumps in the road but we found a way at the end of the night to get a win.''
Hakstol said it was a tough game for him to evaluate, since there was little flow to the game. There were 22 penalties for a total of 71 minutes called on the two teams.
"We need play better and we'll turn our focus to doing that tomorrow night,'' Hakstol said.
Gothberg was brilliant at times, but was plagued by two leaky goals as well.
"There's different concerns about different parts of the game,'' Hakstol said, "but I'm not going to pick out any one part.''
UND got a major lift late the second period when a wicked wrist shot from junior wing Derek Rodwell beat Phillips to the blocker side high for a 3-2 UND lead at 15:45 of the period.
It was just Rodwell's second goal of the season, both coming against Tech, and his first in the last 14 games.
"The Rodwell goal was a big one for us,'' Hakstol said. "It's a good time for him to get his second of the year.''
Simpson, who scored his fourth goal of the season and added an assist, said the goal by Rodwell was huge on several counts.
"That really boosted us, especially when he's been kind of snake-bitten lately,'' Simpson said. "It was a huge goal in the game. Kind of turned the tide and the momentum got the guys going.''
The victory was the 14th straight WCHA playoff victory for UND, which has gone on to win the last three Broadmoor Trophies as league playoff champions.
Game 2 is set for 7:07 p.m. Central on Saturday.
UND NOTES: Michigan Tech's David Johnstone suffered a broken collarbone on the hit by MacWilliam in the opening period that resulted in the major penalty to MacWilliam . . . UND is 3-0 against Tech this season, having beaten the Huskies 4-1 and 6-1 earlier in Houghton, Mich. . . . UND won the faceoff battle 39-24 led by Corban Knight (17 wins in 25 draws) ......Tech, with the nation's best power play (28.6 percent) since the start of January, was 1-for-3 on the power play with 7 shots, UND 2 of 5 with 10 shots. . . Kristo's 6 shots on goal led UND, followed by Carter Rowney with 4 . . . The game drew an announced attendance of 10,571 to Ralph Engelstad with many area roads in tough shape after a snow storm moved through the area Friday...The win gave Dave Hakstol 20 victories in each of his 20 seasons behind the bench.
Virg Foss covered UND hockey for 35 seasons for the Grand Forks Herald until his retirement in 2005. He now reports on UND home games exclusively for UNDsports.com.