GRAND FORKS, ND - In the first-ever meeting between #6/8 North Dakota and the Merrimack hockey team, the Fighting Sioux scored the game's final three goals, defeating the Warriors in the season opener, 5-2 at the Ralph Englestad Arena.
With the loss, Merrimack falls to 0-1 on the season, while the Fighting Sioux are 1-0. The teams will take the ice again Saturday night at 8 p.m. EST. It will be televised on Fox College Sports Central (Channel 263 on Comcast, 617 on DirectTV).
The Fighting Sioux wasted no time as Jason Gregoire redirected a Chay Genoway shot just 39 seconds in to give the defending WCHA regular season champs the early 1-0 lead. They doubled their lead at 12:31 of the first when David Toews broke in down the right side and wristed a shot high over the blocker of goaltender Joe Cannata.
But Merrimack fought back as senior Justin Bonitatibus got the Warriors on the board with his first tally in almost two years. Joe Cucci started the play, firing a shot at the net that was blocked but went right to Francois Ouimet. Ouimet's shot was stopped by Brad Eidsness, but the rebound went right to Bonitatibus, who backhanded it into the net at 15:20 of the first.
Then, with 24.5 seconds remaining, junior captain Chris Barton took a feed from Cucci and broke in on a breakaway, beating Eidsness on a backhand between the legs to even the score at two at the end of one period. Senior captain Pat Bowen also earned an assist, as he started the play, getting the puck out of the Warriors' zone and to Cucci at center ice.
The score remained deadlocked until 10:16 of the second as Chris VandeVelde buried a rebound off a four-on-two rush, and Corban Knight doubled the lead 41 seconds later taking a feed from Toews and beating Cannata along the ice to give the Sioux the 4-2 advantage.
Cannata kept the Warriors in the game in the third, stopping 16 shots, including a incredible, sprawling save, getting a piece of the puck with the blade of his stick off a Brett Hextall shot midway through the third. But North Dakota, on its third power play of the period, put the game away as Hextall put a one-timer past Cannata on the Fighting Sioux's 37th shot of the night.
Cannata finished with 36 saves and only got better as the game progressed. Eidsness stopped 15 shots, five in each period.
Toews tallied a goal and an assist, while Michael Cichy tallied two helpers for the hosts, who were 1-for-6 on the power play.