GRAND FORKS, ND– Another slow first period start for the University of North Dakota doomed them to start the 2017 Subway Holiday Classic, as the Fighting Hawks dropped the first game of the weekend to the Union Dutchmen 4-1 in front of 11,087 at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Union opened the scoring ten minutes in after sustained pressure through the first part of the first period. Then, Ryan Walker tipped in a Brandon Estes shot to make it 1-0. Union also rang two shots off of Peter Thome’s glove side post early on. During their first power play of the game, Peter Thome wandered too far from the net trying to clear and turned it over, which lead to a Sebastian Vidmar goal. UND had one power play thanks to a Anthony Rinaldi penalty, but it only yielded one chance off a Grant Mismash rebound, but Connor Light cleared the puck out of danger.
“That’s our struggle the first part of the year is getting out of the gates,” captain Austin Poganski said post-game. “The game we have losses here, we’ve been chasing the other team. That’s not a good way to play hockey. For the rest of the year, especially tomorrow, we got to figure out how to get out of the gates right away and play with the lead for once.”
“Horrible,” defenseman Christian Wolanin said of the team’s first period. “Going through the motions. Waiting for things to happen. Not North Dakota hockey.”
North Dakota pushed the play in the first half of the second, but couldn’t beat Jake Kupsky or his posts. Kupsky, a Sharks draft pick, was 1-5-0 coming into the game after a rough start to Union’s season. Things got chippy as Ryan Walker covered a loose puck, which got him a delay of game call and UND’s Cole Smith and Sebastian Vidmar coincidental roughing calls. UND didn’t capitalize with the second ending with UND up on shots, but not on goals.
Three minutes into the third, UND broke through after Christian Wolanin potted his fifth of the year off a Matt Kiersted shot that Kupsky kicked back to the open area. A minute later, however, Union regained the two-goal lead with Vas Kolias being sent in on a breakaway by Ryan Walker to make it 3-1 Union. Both sides battled back, none really getting any major opportunities, less one Rhett Gardner shorthanded break that Kupsky stopped. Brendan Taylor added an empty net to seal a 4-1 victory for the Dutchmen.
Kupsky’s 37 saves on the night was the second highest total of the season, with only his 39-save performance against Boston University on the first game of the year topping it.
However, the story is the lack of punch in the first period for UND. The Hawks have only led four times after the first period in their 15 games this season– twice against St. Lawrence, once against Minnesota, and once against Colorado College. The problem solving for this amongst the players continues to be unsolved.
“That’s the frustrating part,” said Wolanin. “The coaches can only say so much and we can only say so much in the locker room, it’s a matter of doing it. We say it back-to-back-to-back-to-back weeks and we still go out and do the same thing in the first period. It’s just a mindset.”
“I’ll take a lot of responsibility for not getting the guys going,” mentioned Poganski. “At the end of the day we have to get some of our older guys and even our younger guys….I don’t know what it is. I think that’s what we’re looking for right now how to get things going right away. We’re working through that process. It’s taking longer than we hoped, but I think we’ll find it in the next few games and we’ll be fine.”
UND looks to make it a split at home against Union at the Ralph again at 7:07.