GRAND FORKS, ND– After a week off, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks were a bit more rested and did get the services of Rhett Gardner back, though Nick Jones is still on the shelf and Ludvig Hoff is off at the Olympics in South Korea. However, coming back to The Ralph in front of 11,517 wasn’t as great as UND had hoped, as they dropped the opening game of the weekend series against the Colorado College Tigers 4-2.
While North Dakota controlled the play for the first half of the first, Colorado College struck first after Cam Johnson and his defensemen had a miscommunication, leading to Christiano Versich passing out to Trevor Gooch, who slid it over to Troy Conzo to bury it into a yawning cage. The goal was only the second shot of the period for Colorado College. Shots ended up 9-8 for UND, but the Tigers got rejuvenated after the goal to spark six more shots in the last part of the frame.
While the Tigers were attacking for the first part of the second, UND finally got their legs about thanks to some help. During a power play, Christian Wolanin wheeled down low and tried to sneak the puck past Alex Leclerc, but just created a mad scramble in front. During that scramble, a Colorado College player closed his hand on the puck in the crease, creating a penalty shot for UND. Wolanin was allowed to finish what he started and went blocker side on Leclerc to make tie the game.
The tie didn’t last long as Troy Conzo got his second of the game shorthanded, as he lasered a shot past Johnson to make it 2-1. Brad Berry gave a quick hook, putting Peter Thome in net after Johnson let in two goals on 12 shots.
“This is the time of year, you’re not worried about feelings. It’s a team-first mentality, said Berry post-game. “I think it’s a situation where not very many shots on the scoreclock and they already have a couple goals, some you like to have back. Whether you get a bump for the team or giving Peter a chance, it’s about the team first.”
UND got a little more jump in their game and with 6:23 left, UND got the equalizer, this time from the other scoring defenseman in Colton Poolman, who got a short pass from Rhett Gardner before going wide and cutting in front to put on behind Leclerc. Seconds later, Alex Pernitsky– who was a last second addition to the line-up with Max St. Pierre being scratched– scored from the top of the circle near-side on Thome to make it 3-2 Tigers. Not long after that, Versich drew a penalty shot after a slash, but was denied after trying to slowly throw off Thome’s timing, but getting nowhere. The crazy second ended with UND outshooting CC in the frame 13-11, but down 3-2 in the goals column.
“They were more mature than us,” mentioned Colton Poolman. “They were more of a team after we scored and after they scored, we just shook our heads. We’ve dug ourselves a whole, but we’re in full confidence in that locker room.”
The third started with UND on their heels, as Rhett Gardner got his third minor of the night and the Tigers put some pucks on Thome, but the freshman netminder was equal to the task. UND got a power play shortly after killing the Gardner minor, but the Tigers– as they had been all night– kept the Fighting Hawks to the perimeter, not allow a prime scoring chance on their extra-man advantage. A see-saw battle to the end, UND had more than enough chances, but Leclerc was solid and even when out of position, his defensemen were able to clamp down and keep the puck out. UND did have shots to take the slot area, but seemed to veer off to set something up from the perimeter. Colorado College got their final goal thanks to a Westin Michaud empty-net tally to make it 4-2 as the end result.
“Just gotta find a to do something to get out of this rut we’re in,” said Christian Wolanin. “We’re in a deep hole right now and we’re going to have to do some hard work to dig us out.”
“Every time we score, they came back and put one in right away,” said Berry. “Times in games when you have momentum, you can’t give momentum away. I think we played the right way, but we let the game get away from us for those things. The frustration showed a little. When the game isn’t going the right way, we let it get to us. When you keep their top line off the score sheet, you give yourself a chance to win. It’s just the other phases of the game that we weren’t good enough in.”
UND will try to find the little things to get back in the win column for the first time since January 12th (5-1 win at Bemidji) on Saturday night.
“We need this one to say the least,” said Poolman. “Every game from here on out is a must-win, but especially tomorrow night. We can’t afford to give that up.”