GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- A three-goal second period helped the University of North Dakota women's hockey team take down top-ranked Minnesota, 4-3, on Friday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena, in front of a crowd of 3,361-strong.
After dropping the first game, the series split improves UND to 6-2-2 (4-2-2-1 WCHA), and handed the Gophers their first loss of the year. Minnesota now stands at 9-1-0 (7-1-0-0 WCHA).
“After that first period (in Thursday’s game), I thought we were pretty good with them all weekend,” head coach Brian Idalski said. “And it was a character win, honestly, so many times they’ve smacked us around and we’ve been able to respond the next day and still play well and shake it off, so that’s a credit to our kids.”
The top line of Dufault, Menke, and Becca Kohler played a critical role in the win for UND. The trio finished the night with a six points, scoring all four goals.
“I thought that line was dynamic,” Idalski said of the lineup. “We told them, when we put them together, that you’re going to have to be the best line on the ice if we’re going to do that; and to their credit they responded and they made plays, and I thought they were the best line on the ice.”
After falling behind 1-0 in the first period, North Dakota found a response quickly, scoring just over a minute into the second period. Amy Menke scored her first goal of the night by banging in a loose puck in the crease to tie it up for UND.
North Dakota continued to pressure the Gophers, and Meghan Dufault scored back-to-back goals within nine seconds of eachother. She buried a well-placed wrister to the far corner from out high to give UND a 2-1 lead.
Immediately after that first goal from Dufault, Menke and the Gophers’ Milica McMillen were given matching minors for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct, respectively. With both teams at four skaters, it took North Dakota just nine seconds to net another goal, as Dufault scored again to make it a 3-1 game. She buried another wrist shot again on the rush, this time to the near corner, for her second of the night.
In all, UND outshot the Gophers 17-5 in that second period, and took a two-goal lead and the momentum into the final 20 minutes.
“We probably saw more good looks this weekend, in both games, than we’ve probably seen in the first month,” Idalski said. “It’s just the style of play, up and down hockey, that’s a skating game. We haven’t played that all year, and we want to skate. The other games, that’s a grind, and I think most of the kids will tell you that’s not always the most fun to play, these games are fun to play.”
Goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie and the defense got to work in the third period to protect the lead. North Dakota had blocked 13 Minnesota shots through the first two periods, but more than doubled that total in the third, getting in front of 16 to slow the Gophers’ offense.
Amsley-Benzie made 13 of her 31 saves in the final period as well to help preserve the UND lead. The Gophers cut the lead to 3-2 about seven minutes in, but Menke soon doubled it again for North Dakota, when she scored five-hole on a breakaway less than two minutes later.
With under three minutes to go, Minnesota scored its third goal of the game to cut the lead in half once again. Looking for the equalizer, the Gophers pulled Leveille in favor of the extra attacker with 1:45 remaining. Amsley-Benzie shut the door in those final minutes, and North Dakota skated away with the 4-3 victory to earn the split.
UND set the tone early defensively, when defenseman Tanja Eisenschmid was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind a little more than three minutes into the game. The Gophers came into the game with a 50-percent success rate on the power play, but North Dakota shut them down, letting up just two shots during those five minutes. The team finished the night a perfect three-for-three on the penalty kill.
For the second-straight season, UND came out with the win during its Pack The Ralph game against Minnesota. Last season, the team took down the Gophers, 3-0, in front of another energized crowd on Feb. 6.
Defenseman Jordan Hampton posted the first multi-point outing of her career in the win, with assists on UND’s first and third goals.
North Dakota will have the weekend off next week before hosting Ohio State the weekend of Oct. 14-15 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Puck drop for the first game is set for 2:07 p.m. (CT).