GRAND FORKS, ND– On Saturday, it was a story of two teams desperate for different reasons. North Dakota was desperate to end the series in a sweep to help their Pairwise ranking and to get an extra day of rest. For Omaha, they were desperate to extend the series and hope for the best in a Game Three. It took extra time, but North Dakota got the best of Omaha in overtime to send the 10,351 at Ralph Engelstad Arena home happy and sweep the playoff series and move on to the Frozen Faceoff next weekend in St. Paul.
The energy was up for UND, creating plenty of chances in the first five minutes, but showing nothing for it. UND was getting to the hot spot and tried to spread out the game, but Evan Weninger was equal to the task early on in the game. The first goal cam on a loopy call, as Matt Kierstad’s shot went in off the post, bounced off Weninger’s back-end and into the net to make it 1-0 after a lengthy review. Minutes later, Dixon Bowen made it 2-0 after taking a lovely pass off the boards from Trevor Olson and beating Weninger on the backhand. After the under-five media timeout, Teemu Pulkkinen tipped a Lukas Buchta shot to put Omaha within one. Shots after the first were in UND’s favor by the count of 11-4.
“It’s been a while,” mentioned Bowen of his goalless drought, which happened on November 11th against Miami. “It’s good to get the monkey off my back. It’s playoff hockey and anything can happen.”
Five minutes into the second, right after Hayden Shaw’s penalty expired, Pulkkinen got his second of the night after the Fighting Hawks couldn’t get it out of the zone. After yet another two-goal lead slipped away, UND looked to be playing on their heels a bit in the second with giveaways and a bit of an inability to get the puck deep enough to create many chances for themselves. Though they had some sustained pressured towards the end of second, no goals were to show for it and the period ended tied at 2.
The third period started with a goal review for Omaha that was waved off due to inconclusive evidence, but Omaha officially broke the tie when Jake Randolph scored off a crazy scramble in front that had Cam Johnson flailing all over his goal crease. UND tied the game at the mid-point of the third after Nick Jones tipped home a Colton Poolman blast on the power play. Chances on either side were few and far between, which lead to the game going into overtime.
“When we went down there, we showed a lot of character to get one back,” said Bowen after the game. “We never gave up. We’re glad to get down to the cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) and check off another box.”
The overtime was quick and dirty, as Nick Jones banked a Jordan Kawaguchi shot off Weninger to win it just 53 seconds into the overtime to advance UND to the Frozen Faceoff.
“You see goals like that all the time, just throwing it at the goalie,” said Jones of his game-winner. “I’ve tried that 15, 20 times and just lucky to get a bounce this time. He was playing pretty far out of his net and I just threw it out there hoping for a bounce.”
“He picked a good time to score,” said coach Brad Berry of Jones after the game. “He bring instant experience to your lineup. He was in another program, went back to juniors, as an older player with college experience; he’s a seasoned vet. He does all the little things and his leadership qualities are impeccable.”
It is the 16th-straight year that UND will move on from the first round, but they’ll have to wait to see who their opponent in the second round will be. Both the Miami/St. Cloud and Denver/Colorado College series are going to a third and final game. The standings will be re-seeded after the first round with Miami and Colorado College both seeded lower than UND could cause a little havoc going into the semifinals.