North Dakota sits atop NCHC

Men’s hockey team sweeps Duluth

With its name tied at the top of National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings, North Dakota inched closer to capturing the Penrose Cup in the league’s inaugural season after sweeping Minnesota-Duluth on the road last weekend.

UND blanked the Bulldogs 3-0 Friday and returned from a 2-1 deficit Saturday to post a 6-3 victory Saturday.

Though Friday’s game looked as if it could be a toss-up, it was Zane Gothberg that remained the difference — posting his first collegiate shutout and helping UND boost to the No. 1 spot in the conference.

The sophomore goaltender blocked 33 shots Saturday in his second game back after remaining out for nearly three weeks with an injury.

“He battled hard for (the shutout),” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “There were some key parts of the game where he had to be our best player, and he did that.”

Gothberg remains unbeaten his last 12 starts and boasts 1.66 goals against average with a .934 save percentage.

He also upped his career save percentage to .921 to tie him with former UND goaltender Jordan Parise for the best in program history.

While Gothberg thought he might collect the milestone in previous games, Friday was finally the night.

“There’s been a couple close calls, but I finally got the monkey off my back,” Gothberg said. “But hockey’s a team game. It wasn’t just one single guys — it was everybody that took part in this.”

Luke Johnson set his name alongside all three of North Dakota’s goals with two goals and an assist.

The freshman forward went 12 games without shooting a puck in the net and sees his uncovered success in accordance with the team’s second-half surge.

“From (Gothberg) out, I thought we played a pretty sound game defensively and offensively, taking care of pucks and taking care of the d-zone,” Johnson said. “It was a good win. The first half (of the season) was pretty shaky for us. From Christmas break on, we’ve been rolling. The guys are really pushing to make something happen here.”

But with eight points separating the first four teams in the NCHC, each comes at a premium.

“It’s so slippery,” Hakstol said. “We just keep looking forward. There’s no magic to it. You can sit and watch the computer rankings or you can just go and try to work hard and find ways to win games. Tonight is a good road win.”

It was after Saturday’s victory that UND clinched home ice for the playoffs for the 12th straight year, despite uncertainty in weeks prior.

The team has just two losses in the past 17 games, and Saturday’s performance followed the trend.

North Dakota posted 22 shots after the first period, but found itself behind 2-1 on the scoreboard.

That wasn’t the case for long.

Paul LaDue erupted for two goals in the second period, while Dillon Simpson and Michael Parks each tallied one before Colten St. Clair sealed the deal with UND’s sixth goal in the third period.

“Our mindset was really good,” Hakstol said. “If you’re not ready to play, if your mindset isn’t where it needs to be, then that can be a struggle if things don’t go your way early in a hockey game. We were mentally ready to play. Guys had good confidence after the first period.”

Elizabeth Erickson is the sports editor for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].