GRAND FORKS, ND– After three weeks off, the University of North Dakota came back to shake off the rust of the holiday season with an exhibition game against the US National Under-18 Team. It was a bit of a look into the future with UND, as two prospects for the Fighting Hawks were in the U-18 line-up in forward Judd Caulfield and goalie Cameron Rowe. Though coming into the game, the U-18s were 6-6 against NCAA Division teams, they were downed by the Fighting Hawks 6-2 in the exhibition.
It was a special game, as UND busted out a Fighting Sioux jerseys to honor the 1958-59 team, the first ever National Champion for UND. It’s the first time the team has wore a jersey with “Sioux” on it since 2012 after the nickname was dropped by the school due to NCAA rules.
After a flurry of offense from Team USA to start the first period, UND was the first to strike on the power play, after Jacob Bernard-Docker (JBD) set-up Rhett Gardner on a one-timer to put it past Rowe and give UND the early lead. The Hawks got up two when Grant Mismash crashed the net off a USA turnover and a Nick Jones cycle, put a shot on net, with Ludvig Hoff finding the rebound and putting it through Rowe’s five-hole to make it 2-0.
Just 90 seconds into the second, Matthew Boldy put the U18s on the board after pickpocketing Mismash in the UND zone, poked just barely off Patrick Moynihan’s shinpad, went in on a mini-breakaway before going forehand-backhand to go five-hole Adam Scheel. UND got the two-goal lead back midway through the period, after Jackson Keane drove into the zone, missed the net, but picked up the loose puck to find Casey Johnson; who then went near-side high-glove on Rowe to make it 3-1 UND. The Fighting Hawks made it 4-1 on the power play after some fancy passing in the zone, including a deflected pass, led to a Mismash goal with Jones and JBD getting assists on the goal.
The Hawks swapped out goalies, as Peter Thome came into the game to start the third, while Ryan Anderson finished. In only 16 minutes, Thome faced 18 shots and only gave up one goal.
“It’s always interesting when you get thrown in there and kind of under siege right away,” Thome said. “I was able to get the first one and then the second on and kept trying to go from there. I just tried to stay in the moment and not get too far ahead.”
Collin Adams made it 5-1 halfway through the third from a great set-up from beside the net from Joel Janatuinen, putting it past Rowe’s glove. Alex Turcotte cut the deficit to 5-2 after tipping home a Boldy shot from the top of the circle, after Gabe Bast took a holding penalty. Gavin Hain made it 6-2 with an empty net goal from an alley-oop pass by Matt Kiersted with Thome getting a secondary assist on the goal.
For Thome, who hasn’t had the best season thus far, going 1-3-0 with a 3.75 GAA and .838 save percentage. His last action was during UND’s 5-0 loss a month ago against Duluth. For him, it was a time to get a confidence boost.
“First half, personally, hasn’t gone the way I wanted it to,” Thome says. “Now, having a good first outing is definitely a step forward and hopefully there’s more to come. It’s such a mental position. If you don’t really have confidence, it seems everything can go wrong, but if you have confidence; you can do no wrong. I’m just trying to get back to that state that I’m playing my best.”
With almost a month off, the game was a little rough at times. With a long break and some holiday treats, it took some time to get things going.
“Some parts were a little slow and a little sloppy, but it’s kind of expected,” mentioned Mismash about the first game after the break. “We had a couple good practices kind of getting back in shape. It wasn’t a terrible game. We’ll ramp it up going back into the regular season.”
When asked about the exhibition games themselves, Mismash said; “I don’t want to say I feel bad for teams who hop right back into the season rather than have exhibitions, but it’s nice to get these games. Just to get a feel for it again and get your legs under you before you get going again.”
“This is one of the most skilled and fast and offensive teams that we’ve ever played against the 18s,” said UND head coach Brad Berry. “They’re record is 20-7-2 and they knocked off the #1 team in the nation the other night, so it’s one of those things we’ll take it as far as trying to get better. We have to make sure our last two non-conference games against Canisius count.”
Which is where UND heads next, as they’ll head to Buffalo, New York to take on Canisius to officially kick off their second-half of the year.