GRAND FORKS, ND– After going to Bemidji State and winning 5-1, the University of North Dakota traveled the 120-some odd miles back to the Ralph Engelstad Arena to face the Beavers in front of 11,868 on Saturday. Tired legs and long nights lead to a 2-2 tie between the two and brought a bit of an anti-climatic end to UND’s non-conference season.
The Fighting Hawks weren’t without their issues, as Rhett Gardner and Trevor Olson were both out due to injuries on Friday, but the team soldiered on as they often do. North Dakota didn’t let the odd travel schedule lag them down, as they were on Bemidji from the drop of the puck. Putting plenty of rubber towards Michael Bitzer, but yielding no results. Bemidji did a solid job keeping UND to the outside and with the Fighting Hawks not able to crack the middle, any threat of a rebound to the slot was directed away by the Beavers’ defense. Shots ended up 12-3 on the side of UND.
UND kept cracking at it to start the second, only to break the ice 3:28 into the frame as Nick Jones came in from the slot after Austin Poganski took a skate around the net and found a streaking Jones, who netted his third goal of the weekend. While shots were traded by and forth, it wasn’t until 13:15 in the middle frame where Leo Fitzgerald got a stick on a Brendan Harris shot on the power play to tie the game at one. Right after the goal, however, Bemidji’s Jordan Heller got a five minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind. The extended power play was needed, which got the first goal as Christian Wolanin took a skate around the zone, saw the puck passed around until it found his tape again from a pass by Collin Adams to make it a 2-1 UND lead. Despite having control of the power play for a majority of the five minutes, they could only find the net once.
The Beavers pushed hard in the third, but didn’t have many shots to show for it. However, Bemidji knotted the game up after an odd bounce off of Dillon Eichstadt and Colton Poolman’s skate before going into the net past Cam Johnson. Eichstadt got credit for the goal with Kyle Bauman getting the assist. The play stayed at neutral most of the time, with Bemidji getting a little more pressure on Johnson than UND did with Bitzer, which caused free hockey for everyone at The Ralph.
The overtime period had plenty of chances for both sides, Bemidji’s Leo Fitzgerald getting three good looks, while UND had Austin Poganski and Shane Gersich getting back-to-back chances, but yielding nothing at the end. The game ended with a tie and having UND go 6-2-4 in their non-conference schedule.
“I thought we played well those non-conference games,” said head coach Brad Berry. “Overall, it was respectable. We gotta make sure we play a consistent brand of hockey in the NCHC and get in the National Tournament.”
“We take non-conference games very seriously,” mentioned Christian Wolanin. “We know how important they are at the end of the season. But we geared up and gave it our all for every season and I hope that it helps us in the pairwise.”
With the line-up card tonight, it was UND’s 24th game with a different line-up. Players like Wolanin and Jones had never seen something like this in their playing career before, but Jones was able to put it in perspective post-game:
“I don’t think they’re challenges, I think they’re positives. At the end of the year, you’re not going to have everyone you’re able to have. To have the opportunity to get everyone in the line-up and ready for the end of the year. Our ultimate goal is to win a National Championship and we’ll use it as an experience. In the end, it’s rewarding for every player and a fight to get into the line-up every night. It’s something we can use to our advantage.”
The Fighting Hawks go to Minnesota-Duluth to play the Bulldogs next weekend and are back home on the 26th for a weekend set with Denver.