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t02.21.2014 -- Steve Kuchera --North Dakota’s Troy Stecher (2) and Rocco Grimaldi (19) bring the puck up the ice during the first period of Friday’s game in Duluth. Grimaldi scored North Dakota second goal. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

MEN'S HOCKEY: UND downs Duluth, 3-0

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DULUTH — Zane Gothberg earned his first-career shutout Friday night, but he didn’t have much to say about it.

There was a bigger picture to look at.

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After a trying first half of the season, UND surged into a first-place tie in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings thanks to a 3-0 victory over Minnesota Duluth in AmsOil Arena.

Luke Johnson scored twice and had an assist, while Rocco Grimaldi added a goal to help UND improve to 13-2-1 in the last 16 games.

Left for dead after a 4-7-2 start, UND has the second-best record in the nation since Nov. 30 and has climbed into a tie with St. Cloud State (36 points) in the chase for the inaugural Penrose Cup, which was in the building Friday night.

On the national scene, UND has vaulted to No. 11 in the Pairwise Rankings, which would be high enough to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament if the season ended today.

“It’s so slippery right now,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “Just keep looking forward. There’s no magic to it. You can sit and watch the computer rankings or you can go and work hard and find ways to win games. We’ve got to win a lot of hockey games coming up here if we want to put ourselves in a good position. Tonight was a good win. Now, we’ve got to look forward to tomorrow night and what’s going to be a real tough battle. They are a real good hockey team.

“It’s a good win. We need more.”

The victory started with an outstanding performance by Gothberg, who stopped all 33 Bulldog shots. The most notable saves came off of the stick of Bulldog forward Justin Crandall (10 goals on the season), who had three Grade A opportunities.

He also got a little help from his posts. Both Andy Welinski and Crandall rang shots off the iron.

“I finally got the monkey off my back,” said Gothberg, who was in his second game back from a lower-body injury that sidelined him for a month. “But hockey’s a team game. It wasn’t one single guy. It was everyone who took part in this.

“I have confidence in what I’m doing and confidence in what our training staff is doing. I’ve just got to take care of myself and my body now.”

UND scored once in each period and Johnson, a freshman from Grand Forks, played a big role in all three goals.

In the first period, he got the puck at the top of the left circle, walked it a few steps and snapped a wrist shot over the glove of Bulldog goalie Aaron Crandall for a power-play goal.

In the second period, Devils Lake’s Keaton Thompson snapped a point shot that was tipped by Johnson. Crandall made the initial stop but couldn’t find the rebound and Grimaldi jumped on it at 4:46.

In the third period, the Bulldogs turned the puck over in their own zone and Johnson walked the puck into the right circle before beating Crandall on the glove side again. That goal, coming at the 12:52 mark, was Johnson’s first even-strength tally of his career.

“I thought we played well from Zano out,” Johnson said. “I thought we played a pretty solid game defensively and offensively, just taking care of pucks and taking care of the D-zone. It was a good win.”

Hakstol said that Duluth’s team speed kept UND off balance during a couple different parts of the game, most notably the opening five minutes. But the play of Gothberg helped cover up any mistakes.

“He battled hard for it,” Hakstol said. “There were some key parts of the game where he had to be our best player and he did that. He got us through a couple areas of this game where we were back on our heels a little bit.”

Notes: UND played Mitch MacMillan for Gage Ausmus on the fourth line. It was Mitch’s first game since Dec. 7 at Western Michigan. He was a scratch in the past 12 games. . . UND is 2-1-1 in AmsOil Arena since it opened in December of 2010. Both victories have been shutouts. . . Friday marked the first time that the Bulldogs have been shut out since Feb. 1 of last season against the Denver. . . Five of UND’s seven points were tallied by North Dakotans. 

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