North Dakota's Trio Grande
Kristo, Nelson, Knight Pave the Way for Sioux Again
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
ST. PAUL, Minn. Early this season, when things were going poorly for North Dakota, the team seemed like a ship without a rudder.
After a 1-0 loss at Bemidji State on Nov. 20, the Fighting Sioux were 4-7-1 overall and stuck in 11th place. After a home sweep of Colorado College the next weekend, a trip to Anchorage followed and UND coach Dave Hakstol said his team found its direction.
"I thought these guys started to step forward," Hakstol said. "We had seen signs, but I thought we saw real, high-level consistent play from them. They really led our team through the better part of two-thirds of our season."
In this case, that direction came in the form of a line — one of the most lethal in the country. Since that afternoon in Bemidji, North Dakota is 19-5-2, led in large part by Brock Nelson, Corban Knight and Danny Kristo.
That line did all the damage Thursday night in a 4-1 win over St. Cloud State, setting up a rematch Friday in the WCHA Final Five semifinals against rival Minnesota.
"Corban and Danny are great players, it makes my job easier," Nelson said. "They make a lot of plays and it's fun to be a part of that line."
Nelson scored two of the goals, a category he tied for the league lead in this season. But Hakstol said that's not all the Warroad, Minn., native brings to the table.
"He's very much a complete hockey player," Hakstol said. "That's probably the thing I like the most about him. He plays hard for his teammates every night."
Nelson's game winner Thursday was a thing of beauty. After taking a pass from Ben Blood along the wall at center, he cruised into the St. Cloud zone, went hard to the slot and rifled a wrist shot past Mike Lee. The ease with which he got loose in the slot and got his shot off took even Lee by surprise. But that's nothing new.
"He's deceiving, that's the best way to put it," Hakstol said. "He gets the puck off his tape quickly. He can do it in traffic. He's found a lot of different ways to score goals and to help our team win."
Knight is perhaps the most unheralded of the trio, but found a way to get the Sioux on the board eight minutes into the game by centering a feed off of St. Cloud State defenseman Sam Zabkowicz's stick.
Not exactly highlight reel material, but at this time of year, they don't need to be. Hakstol says his top-line's ability to gel over the course of the season has improved the overall depth of his team — one of the keys to UND's seemingly expected second half run.
"What their play has done has allowed other lines, other players to develop to the point where, now we feel like we do have a little bit of depth to our scoring ability," Hakstol said. "It doesn't change who we are. This team needs to play close to the vest. We need to play hard for 60 minutes and be a difficult team to play against. But I think those three guys, and the fact they've been going all year, they've given others a chance now to step up and produce for us offensively."