In the WCHA race between the new-and-improved Michigan Tech Huskies and the once all-but-out-of-it North Dakota Fighting Sioux, UND came out on top with a 4-2 win behind Carter Rowney's (Sexsmith, Alberta) two second-period goals.
The Sioux entered the contest with the Huskies nipping at their heels, just one point behind sixth-place UND in the WCHA standings and hoping to close the gap for home ice in the playoffs. But with the Friday night win before 11,694 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena, UND moved into fifth place and made certain that MTU will get no closer.
The Sioux improved to 17-11-2 overall and 13-10-0 in the WCHA. They continued they torrid second-half pace, going 13-4-1 since Thanksgiving. The Huskies fell to seventh place in the league at 13-15-3 overall and 10-10-3 in conference play.
After a sluggish first period that saw the Sioux fall behind 2-1, Rowney, a junior center, continued to have the hot hand for UND, notching the game-tying and game-winning goals -- both on the power play in the second period. Sioux junior center Corban Knight (High River, Alberta) also picked up a pair of goals, including the insurance marker with 1:37 left in the game to ice the win.
Senior Brad Eidsness (Chestermere, Alberta) started in goal for the Sioux and stopped 19 of 21 shots he faced, also helping to hold MTU 0-3 on the power play. He made several big saves on Grade A scoring chances, including one late in the third period that would have tied the game. He is now 9-1-1 against the Huskies during his career.
"That's what we need from him," Rowney said of Eidsness' performance. "They had a lot of Grade A scoring chances, and 'Eids' was able to shut the door. He may have stolen that game for us."
UND coach Dave Hakstol didn't disagree.
"I thought he was our game star," he said of Eidsness. "I thought Brad Eidsness was the difference for us tonight. We had some holes defensively and he made a lot of key saves at key times, especially in the third period."
Rowney, who netted his career-high 13th and 14th goals of the season, has four two-goal games in the past six weeks. His quest for his first hat trick in a Sioux jersey continued to elude him.
"The boys in the locker room are giving me a lot of heck on that one, but I'll just keep working hard," he said. "Maybe it will come one day, and maybe it won't."
The Huskies got on the board first just 1:59 into the game. MTU forward Jacob Johnstone re-directed a centering pass from a sharp angle and beat Eidsness short side. Knight made it a 1-1 game at 7:34 when sophomore defenseman Dillion Simpson's (Edmonton, Alberta) shot bounced in off his leg.
"I guess that's what happens when you get in front of the net," Knight said. "That was probably one of the greasiest goals I've ever gotten."
The Huskies retook the lead with eight seconds left in the opening stanza when Johnstone notched his second on an odd-man rush.
Enter Rowney for Act II.
"We regrouped in the locker room and came out at another level," Rowney said of the team's second period.
With UND on the power play, Rowney carried the puck into MTU's zone, split the defense, got goalie Josh Robinson down and flipped in a backhander to make it 2-2 at 1:37. Rowney put UND ahead for good when the Sioux cashed in on a two-man advantage at 10:19, firing in a rebound off sophomore forward Brock Nelson's (Warroad, Minn.) point-blank shot.
"I don't know what he's doing or what he's drinking, but I have to get on that," Knight said of Rowney's scoring streak. "He's been amazing for us, not only the goals and the points, but also at both ends of the ice, he's just been dominant."
The third period saw the Huskies apply some intense pressure, at times keeping the Sioux bottled up in their own end. Eidsness continued to hold strong, stopping all eight shots he faced.
"We survived probably three or four minutes there where they really turned it on," Eidsness said. "There are going to be moments there were we just have to survive. That's kind of the way we play as a team."
Seconds after the Sioux goalie made his biggest save of the game, junior forward Danny Kristo (Eden Prairie, Minn.) fed Knight in the slot. He one-timed the puck past Robinson at the 18:23 mark to give UND the 4-2 victory.
Although Eidsness has spent most of the past two seasons playing behind junior goalie Aaron Dell (Airdrie, Alberta) who was not dressed because of an injury, he doesn't consider himself a reserve player.
"I try not to look at myself as a backup goalie," he explained. "For the last couple years, I've always had confidence in my abilities. It certainly is nice to get in there are play a little bit more and maybe prove to everybody else a little bit that I can still play and help the team win."