Tim Skarperud was a top gun at a critical time for North Dakota.
Skarperud's blistering wrist shot from 30 feet out nicked the glove of St. Cloud State goalie Scott Meyer and caught the inside of the goal post on its way into the net for the winning goal in North Dakota's 4-3 victory Saturday night.
The goal gave the Fighting Sioux (18-5-5, 14-4-2) a sweep of the two-game series and kept them alone in first place in the WCHA.
"We definitely put ourselves in good position for the rest of the year," Skarperud said. "It's pretty much in our hands."
The goal was eighth of the year for the sophomore right wing from Grand Forks, N.D. -- and perhaps his biggest.
"You don't really aim when you're that far out," Skarperud said. "I knew I got some good wood on it, and once I looked up, I saw it go in."
The back-to-back 4-3 losses made it a tough weekend for St. Cloud coach Craig Dahl, who saw it as a learning experience for his Huskies (19-6-1, 12-6-0), who remain tied with Minnesota for third place entering this coming weekend's showdown against second-place Colorado College.
"Hopefully we've learned what it takes to play a national tournament-caliber team," Dahl said. "The thing about North Dakota is that last year they lost two at Wisconsin, came to our place and lost and tied, then won 13 in a row to win the national title. So obviously they learned something. Hopefully our guys can do the same thing."
In the other critical WCHA series of the weekend, Mark Cullen scored two goals Saturday night as Colorado College defeated Alaska Anchorage 4-2 to complete a sweep and keep the Tigers (19-5-1, 14-5-0) on North Dakota's heels, just two points back in the standings.
Cullen now has 15 points in the seven games since he returned from an eight-week absence due to a fractured neck. He had a goal and three points in Friday's 5-1 win and scored the Tigers' first and final goals Saturday against the Seawolves (5-17-2, 3-15-2).
"He's been consistently excellent, every game. There's been no drop-off," Tigers coach Scott Owens said of Cullen, a 5-foot-11, 175 pounder from Moorhead, Minn. "He's such a clutch guy for us."
Cullen, brother of Anaheim Mighty Ducks forward Matt Cullen, said he doesn't think about his neck while on the ice. And he's not surprised with his productivity.
"Doesn't bother me at all. ... And not that I expected (to be this hot), but I came back thinking I would contribute," he said.
In Minneapolis, Bemidji State goalie Grady Hunt made 51 saves Saturday night to prevent Minnesota's 5-1 nonconference victory from becoming a double-digit blowout.
"I did what I have to do -- stop all the shots I can to keep us in the game," Hunt said. "We were with them for two periods. Take away the two power-play goals (scored by Minnesota) and it was a close game."
The Gophers peppered Hunt with 20 shots in the first period but scored just once. They took 20 more shots in the second period and scored three times to put the game on ice.
"Hunt was great. Bemidji has to feel good about that," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said.
Elsewhere, Minnesota State, Mankato, swept Minnesota-Duluth with victories of 5-2 Thursday night and 7-4 Friday night. The WCHA's Denver notched a pair of nonconference shutouts over Alabama-Huntsville, winning 4-0 Saturday night and 3-0 Sunday afternoon.
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