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Sioux win opener against Duluth

DULUTH -- Darcy Zajac saw the opposing goalie going to play the puck behind the net, so he skated to the end line along the boards.

The puck came right to the UND senior and he turned and fired it in the net from a sharp angle before the goaltender could get back in position.

It was a classic Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center goal, taking advantage of the small surface at the 43-year-old building, and it sparked the Sioux to a three-goal second period and a 4-2 win over Minnesota-Duluth on Friday night.

The Sioux improved to 9-4-2 overall and 6-4-1 in Western Collegiate Hockey Association. At 7:07 tonight, they'll go for the sweep in what will be the team's final game in the DECC. Duluth will open a new arena Dec. 30 next season.

"This building has tight spaces and things happen quick," said UND coach Dave Hakstol, who played here in the early 1990s. "When you're alert, you tend to get the benefits of it."

Zajac did just that. His goal at 4 minutes, 44 seconds of the middle frame tied the game at 1-1 and sparked a UND team that was on its heels for portions of the first period. The Sioux outshot Duluth 16-5 in the second and Ben Blood and Jason Gregoire followed Zajac with goals of their own.

"That was a great goal," Hakstol said of Zajac's play. "He got it and snapped it right away. The puck was probably only six inches above the goal line. That was probably the key play for us. That really started the momentum for us in that second period."

Zajac said: "It's a really small zone. I saw someone putting a forecheck on the goalie. He came out to play the puck and threw it right to me. I threw it on net. It might have even hit a guy's stick. But it went in and I'll take it."

Duluth has been very good in this building recently and displayed its renowned skill throughout the contest. But UND goalie Brad Eidsness (29 saves) and a gritty effort by the Sioux defensively helped to keep the Bulldogs' top scorers quiet.

Mike Connolly, Justin Fontaine and Rob Bordson, who entered the weekend as the WCHA's top three scorers, went without a point Friday and were a combined minus-6.

"They were pushing hard and we got on our heels a little bit," said Gregoire, who also had an empty-netter and leads the team with eight goals. "I'm proud of the boys, though. We pushed back and we were fighting hard for that empty-netter at the end."

The game was tense until the final moments.

Duluth's Kyle Schmidt scored a goal 3:53 into the third period to make it a 3-2 game and the Bulldogs brought an all-out attack at Eidsness for the next five minutes. The best chance, perhaps, came when defenseman Dylan Olsen pinched in from the point during a scramble.

Eidsness and the Sioux held, though, and Gregoire's empty-netter at 19:09 sealed the victory. It was significant for the Sioux to finish it off after letting a two-goal, third-period lead slip away last Saturday night against Miami.

"We didn't want it to happen again," Zajac said. "They came out with a lot of fire. They pushed us back. But I think in the last five or 10 minutes, we got back on our feet and got back to playing with some confidence and it paid off."

The Bulldogs, who are off to their best start in 14 years, dropped to 9-5-1 and 6-4-1 in WCHA play. They are in a three-way tie with UND and Wisconsin for third place in the league standings.

Duluth started sophomore Kenny Reiter in net and he made 32 saves. The Bulldogs are expected to go with sophomore Brady Hjelle in the series finale. If Friday night's game is any indication, he and Eidsness may have their hands full again.

"There were a bunch of momentum changes in that hockey game," Hakstol said. "We had good momentum for a good part of the second. They had momentum for good parts of the third. I just thought it was a heck of a hockey game. There were two pretty good teams playing entertaining hockey. A lot of plays were made both ways. Fortunately, we were able to close out the two points."

Notes: UND played its sixth straight game without captain Chay Genoway, who is out with an apparent concussion. He did not travel to Duluth. . . Tonight's game will be televised on Midcontinent Channel 23 in most of North Dakota.