UND HOCKEY: Quick Strike in OT Gives Hawks the Weekend Sweep

Graphic from University of North Dakota Twitter (@UNDMHockey)

GRAND FORKS, ND– It was the ending of an era. Not just because the North Dakota Fighting Hawks won’t be hosting a playoff game for the first time in 17 years, but because they say goodbye to five seniors from the team on this night. Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, Hayden Shaw, Ryan Anderson, and Nick Jones all skated their last time on the ice at Ralph Engelstad Arena, but make sure to not let that emotion get in the way of the task at hand against Omaha. It took extra time, but Jordan Kawaguchi scored in OT to get the sweep of Omaha and give UND a 5-4 win and a three-game win streak heading into the NCHC playoffs.

The seniors were ready to play, as only 23 seconds into the game, Nick Jones got a lovely pass from Rhett Gardner and put in a backhand past Evan Weninger to make it 1-0 UND within the first minute of the game. UND was firing on all cylinders, putting plenty of good chances on Weninger, but getting nothing out of it. However, a wild sequence of events which saw Peter Thome stop a Nate Knoepke shot, but Dixon Bowen lost the handle of the rebound into Peter Thome, which saw Tyler Weiss crash the net, into Thome, and in the net. After a long official review, the goal stood.

After a penalty to Jordan Kawaguchi for cross-checking, Omaha’s power play struck as Fredrik Olofsson found a wide-open Zach Jordan on the far wing and put it past Thome to make it a 2-1 game. UND got a power play of its own in the middle of the frame and made short work of it, as Jones found Kawaguchi in the slot, putting it past Weninger to tie the game at twos.

While there was some offensive pressure by Omaha, a bad clearing pass found the stick of Cole Smith, who snapped it to the glove of Weninger, where it bounced off the cuff and into the net to make it 3-2. It took to the middle of the frame for Gavin Hain to make it 4-2 on a rebound off a Smith shot to make it 4-2. After a fracas in front of the Omaha net, it went to four-on-four.

While Gardner was dragged down on the play, it resumed and resulted in Knoepke streaking down the slot and putting Omaha within one-goal, with Gardner down in the Omaha zone. UND did get into some penalty trouble, going down two men following a fracas in front and a tripping call seconds after the initial penalties. However, the team sold out on the power play in order to keep the puck out of Thome’s net and preserve the one-goal lead. With only 1:07 remaining in regulation, Tristan Keck tied the game with Weninger pulled after Kawaguchi couldn’t get a handle on a cross-ice pass and it landed on Keck’s stick, who went off the cross-bar and past Thome.

It only took 16 seconds for UND to end the game with Kawaguchi picking up an interception off the stick of an Omaha defenseman with Weninger out of position to end it quick and sweep the weekend for the Hawks. It was a goal that Kawaguchi said was his after giving up the Omaha tying strike.

“You know that turnover was on me,” Kawaguchi said post-game. “I take responsibility for that. I should have gotten the puck out of that area and I didn’t and they score. Obvious feel pretty bad about myself. I got back to the bench and I told the boys, ‘It’s on me, but I can get you back, I got this one’ and just so happened first chance I got was right in the first shift.”

“I think he felt pretty bad,” mentioned coach Brad Berry after the game. “He had the puck on his tape on the tying goal and he came back to the bench and you know, I really commend him because he said, ‘You know, it was my fault guys, I got the next one, I got the one in overtime.’” And you know what, 16 seconds later he got it so it says a lot about him.”

It was also a big deal with the seniors being sent off with a win and a sweep. It was also the last class to be a part of the 2016 National Championship team.

“It was fitting with a win,” mentioned Berry. “They came in their freshman year, they only had six losses in it and they won a lot this year. This team has a lot of pride and the seniors have a lot of pride and they wanted to end their career here at the Ralph with a win. The challenge going forward from here, and our guys are embracing it, is that we’re going on the road and keep continuing this thing.”

“They put so much into this program and we wanted to show them how much they meant to us,” said Smith. “They’ve given everything they’ve had. They got us the start we needed and the finish we needed.”

Now, UND will travel to Denver next weekend to take on the Pioneers in a best-of-three series for the right to play in the Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul in two weeks.

UND HOCKEY: Early Period Goals Help Hawks Take Down Mavericks

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– The Fighting Hawks of the University of North Dakota close out their regular season and home schedule this weekend against Omaha. While there was the slimmest of margins to get home-ice for next week’s playoff round, the Hawks went about their business and found a way to win over Omaha 2-1 on Friday night.

After an early power play failed, Gabe Bast got UND on the board first with a lovely wrap-around goal. Coming down the wing, Bast sold a pass to the slot to make Evan Weninger commit to the pass, fumble on his feet, while Bast went around and tucked inside the post for the early 1-0 lead. North Dakota controlled play for the first period, outshooting Omaha 21-6 by period’s end, but did get into penalty trouble with two penalties by Zach Yon and Rhett Gardner to put the Hawks a two-man disadvantage at the end of the first and heading into the second.

The penalties paid off for Omaha, as Zach Jordan scored with the two-man advantage by banking a one-timer off the side of Peter Thome to tie the game a minute into the second period. Throughout the rest of the period, the play was fairly even, with Omaha getting more shots towards Thome, while their defense kept the shooting gallery away from Weninger. Omaha did outshoot UND in the frame by a count of 11-10.

North Dakota broke the stalemate in just under three minutes into the third period with Nick Jones tipping in Colton Poolman shot from the point, after Jones won the face-off back.

“I won the draw a little too clean,” mentioned Jones, “I was trying to win it to Yon there and it got back to Colton. He made a hell of a play with me off the to the side there and I was able to get a stick on it. I felt like the tips all year haven’t gone my way and I was fortunate enough to get it.”

After that, it seemed like a methodical game with not a lot of chances getting through to Thome or Weninger. Despite the last two minutes playing with an extra attacker, North Dakota held on for the 2-1 win.

The game marked the return of two key elements to the UND line-up in Jones and Grant Mismash. Mismash has been out since January 25th after take a knee-on-knee hit from Jimmy Schuldt of St. Cloud and was used as the extra skater tonight.

“We wanted to use him early,” said coach Brad Berry after the game. “In a one goal game with a guy who’s been out for six weeks, it’s tough to give him a regular shift. With conditioning, he’s not quite there yet, but he’ll get there. We thought by putting him in there a bit five-on-five that we might get a spark offensively.”

Western Michigan won against Miami, which meant that regardless of UND’s result– they will be on the road for their playoff match-up next weekend for the first time since 2002. The team found out about the game before the third period, but it did not shake them at all.

“We knew it wasn’t in our hands this weekend,” Jones mentioned. “We know we’re going to have to win two on the road next weekend. You’d obviously love to play at home– especially me with my last game at home tomorrow– at the end of the day, we have to win two games no matter where it is.”

“It doesn’t change anything that we have to do,” Bast said. “If we got to win a series on the road we’re going to do that. We’ve got to string a few games together and get into the national tournament that way. We have the group to do that right now. Home ice is home ice, but we’re confident going on the road and getting two wins.”

The last home game of the season and Senior Night is Saturday at the Ralph.

UND HOCKEY: Jones’s Late Heroics Lift North Dakota in Sweep of Omaha

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Photo from @UNDmhockey

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.”

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Nick Jones/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

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.

UND HOCKEY: Statement Game for UND in Big Game One Victory

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Photo via @UNDmHockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– With their tournament hopes on the line with this single series, the University of North Dakota and University of Nebraska-Omaha took to the ice in the first of a best-of-three NCHC Quarterfinal match-up on Friday night. With each team splitting the regular season series at two wins apiece, each side knew they were in for a tough series for a chance to make it to the Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul next weekend, as well as having a better chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament. Knowing they needed a solid showing, UND came through in a big way in front of 10,125 at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, taking Game One 4-0 over Omaha.

After a steady first 14 minutes, UND broke the ice as Shane Gersich rifled a wrist shot home from the the top of the circle and thanks to a screen by Colton Poolman, was able to get past Omaha’s Evan Weninger to make it 1-0 Fighting Hawks. A very quiet frame before and after with shots registering in at 11 for UND to Omaha’s six.

With 1:54 left in a carry-over power play, UND made the most of it with many great chances, but Christian Wolanin’s wrister hit the back-bar past Weninger to make it 2-0 for UND. The pace of play stayed consistent with not many good chances either way, but Nick Jones changed that with 7:21 left in the second. Coming off the bench to a loose puck, Jones went wide, then made a little flip of the puck over the Omaha’s defender’s stick and took a diving shot that went past Weninger to make it 3-0. Four minutes later, Omaha’s Joel Messner fumbled a breakout attempt, in which Joel Janatuinen made no mistake to bury it past Weninger to make it 4-0.

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Christian Wolanin/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“Our forwards were working so hard on the forecheck, maintaining pressure and making it hard on their defense,” said Christian Wolanin. “Our defenseman did a good job moving it north quickly. All the little things made up for some big goals for us.”

One big chance in the third saw Weninger make his best save of the night with a big cross-crease glove save on Grant Mismash to deny UND a fifth goal. UND outshot Omaha 34-25 in the game. It was Cam Johnson’s third shutout of the season and 12th all-time at UND.

“The key for us was to make them play defense,” mentioned Wolanin of UND’s ability to shut down Omaha’s threats. “If we don’t give them the puck and eliminate time and space, we’re going to have success against them.”

“It’s a good start. That’s the key word: start,” North Dakota coach Brad Berry said. “It’s just one game. I thought our guys did a lot of good things. The biggest thing is focusing on tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day and our lives are on the line still. There’s going to be a business-like mentality there.”

With the win, UND moved to 14th in the Pairwise Rankings, which is heavily used in helping determine the at-large bids for the tournaments. With that win, they move ahead of Omaha and would give themselves a better chance of moving up if they can sweep the series on Saturday.

“You kind of hear about what people are saying, but we’re focused on tomorrow,” defenseman Colton Poolman said of the Pairwise. “All that stuff is in the rear-view for us. We’re just focused on tomorrow.”

Puck drop is 7:07 at The Ralph, as UND looks to move onto the Frozen Faceoff next weekend and then to the National Tournament.

UND Hockey: Mavericks Ground Fighting Hawks 4-1

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GRAND FORKS, ND– The start of the second half and back into conference play was a rocky one for the University of North Dakota, who lost to the University of Nebraska-Omaha 4-1. A crowd of 10,133– the smallest regular season in-conference game crowd at the Ralph Engelstad Arena since January 2004– saw the Fighting Hawks come out a bit slow and get out worked by the Mavericks.

While Omaha was last in the NCHC coming in, they got off to a jump early with solid chances, two ringing off the post. The speed of UND was able to crack the defense of Omaha, but couldn’t get much on Evan Weninger. A turning point of the period was a holding call against Christian Wolanin of UND, but added to it was jawing to the ref, which resulted in a 10-minute misconduct. During that PK, UND had two good chances, but couldn’t connect. Omaha’s solid first culminated with Fredrik Olofsson using two UND defenders as a screen to put home his fifth of the season. Late in the first frame, Shane Gersich broke away, which led to Grant Gallo pick-axing Gersich in the shoulder to warrant a penalty shot. Gersich made the most of it to pot his sixth of the season and tie the game.

“First period, we didn’t have the quality chances we could get,” said coach Brad Berry post-game. “One of your most offensive guys is in the penalty box and you’re down to five D, it starts there. Then you get down to a little frustration and getting down and trying to come back again.”

North Dakota took it to Omaha to start the second, but thanks to a power play in the middle of the frame, Omaha took advantage as Luke Nogard poked in a Zach Jordan centering attempt to sneak by Cam Johnson and give Omaha the lead. The goal was the first shot that Omaha registered in the period, which took them 8:20 to get. Omaha took a 3-1 lead after David Pope hammered home a Ryan Jones set-up pass, which went through a mass of humanity in front to beat Johnson.

The third saw UND not give as much jump as they needed, with their best chance coming from a Matt Kierstad breakaway that Weninger stopped blocker side. In the middle of the frame, Kierstand overskated a pass, which allowed Zach Jordan to break-in and go high-glove on Johnson to make it 4-1 Omaha, which was the final score. Weninger finished with a season-high 34 saves in the win.

“We will change the line-up, we will make changes in our lines,” mentioned Berry. “It’s one of those things where at this time of year, you’re hoping you can solidify some things, but I guess we have to keep moving forward and get some information on some things to see what will work.”

“We have to play more simple,” said defensemen Colton Poolman. We weren’t playing good defense. They outworked us. We had a couple good days of practice, felt like we were ready in the locker room, but it didn’t show up on the ice.”

UND will look for a split on Saturday, hoping to contain the fifth highest scoring team in the NCAA.