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: Fighting Hawks Shake Off Rust in Exhibition Win

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.

Peter Thome/ Photo by Jen Conway

“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.

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: Offense Finds Its Touch in Victory Over Colorado College

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Photo via @UNDmhockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– After last night’s game, North Dakota defenseman Colton Poolman said that Saturday night’s game was a must-win for the Fighting Hawks and they didn’t disappoint in front of a sell-out 11,860 at the Ralph picking up a 5-1 victory over the Colorado College Tigers. Two line-up changes from Friday’s tilt saw Peter Thome getting the start over senior Cam Johnson, while Collin Adams was scratched in lieu of defenseman-turned-winger Casey Johnson.

“Hockey doesn’t change in a month,” said Thome. “Playing last night and playing my game well helped me be confident for tonight. Just realizing I had to play my game and not do too much out there.”

Though there was the need to come out hopping, UND did have some added urgency, but aside from two chances by Shane Gersich– one going wide, one into the chest of Alex Leclerc– there wasn’t much to be said for the Fighting Hawks offense. Colorado College alos struggled with having many chances, as Peter Thome stood tall; including helping kill two power plays. The period ended with no goals and UND leading in shots 9-6.

While not much happened in the first part of the second, UND finally broke the ice. On the power play, while they were passing more than the late rounds of the MLB Draft, Christian Wolanin put a slap-pass to Shane Gersich, who put it off the side of the net and behind it. Luckily, Joel Janatuinen was on the other side of the net to pull from behind the net and into it to give UND the lead. Later in the period, the UND power play struck again, with Shane Gersich burying his 9th of the season after a Christian Wolanin shot struck Austin Poganski’s skate and kicked out to Gersich to put it in the yawning cage.
“Every time we’ve played together, we’ve had really good chemistry,” mentioned Gersich about being put between Gardner and Poganski. “It’s nice to be back with them and hopefully we can keep it rolling. I’ve had chemistry with Pogo in the past and Gard’s is a big guy who can win draws and battle. I don’t know, it just kind of clicks.”

One outburst was Rhett Gardner, who got his fourth minor of the weekend, then added on with another ten-minute misconduct for jawing at the referee after the call. Despite being down a man, UND killed the rest of Gardner’s minor off, in time for Austin Poganski to break up a pass at the blue line, get the puck kicked ahead by Johnny Simonson, and Poganski finishing the play by going high-blocker side of Leclerc to make it 3-0 UND.

While UND started to clog up the middle, Colorado College got past the trap, as Nick Halloran got a feed from Troy Conzo and put it high blocker side on Thome, making it 3-1. The Fighting Hawks regained the three-goal lead, as Grant Mismash cut across the front of net, drawing a penalty, then getting the puck out to Jordan Kawaguchi– who’s shot got tip over to Janatuinen, who potted his second of the game. After the penalty expired, Mismash danced through the Colorado College defense, across the slot, and put it high glove on Leclerc.

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Joel Janatuinen/ Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“Feels pretty good,” said Janatuinen. “I haven’t scored that much this year. I’m just trying not to think about it too much. Just trying to help the team as much as you can and the goals will come from it.”

As stated from the start, there was a must-win feeling of this game, especially since UND hasn’t won a game since January 12th and going 0-3-3 in the six games since the last win in Bemidji.

“It was huge,” said head coach Brad Berry about the victory. I know everybody’s caught up in a must-win, must-win and you’re right it is a must-win, but I think our guys did a good job of handling the process and staying with the game.”

The Fighting Hawks are on the road the next two weeks– heading to Omaha next week and then Miami the week after before coming home in March to end out the regular season against St. Cloud State.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Shake-Up, Make Up For Friday Loss

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Photo from @UNDMhockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a dismal showing for North Dakota Friday night, head coach Brad Berry decided to shake up the line-up. Peter Thome started the game, while Berry also sat freshmen Collin Adams and Grant Mismash for Zach Yon and Dixon Bowen. The changes seemed to work, with UND sending home the 10.816 at The Ralph home happy with a 7-0 victory against Omaha.

“I wanna start by saying that the reason we lost last night was not because of Cam Johnson,” stressed Berry post-game. “We didn’t play well in front of him. That being said, he’s part of the group and we wanted to make changes tonight to give guys opportunities and hold guys accountable and the guys responded.”

“It gave us a shot in the arm,” said forward Rhett Gardner. “That’s the thing with North Dakota, there’s some healthy internal competition. Some good players are going to be out of the line-up because of it.”

The team responded in the first minute of the game, getting two solid chances in front of Kris Oldham, but nothing to show for it. Shots were at a premium in the first, but UND’s Rhett Gardner got the Hawks on the board first after getting his own blocked shot off of Joel Messner to rip home his fifth of the season. Omaha led in shots 6-5 after the first frame.

“It starts with our urgency,” said Gardner. “We were first to loose pucks and went from there. Last night, I thought our line had created some good chances, but they didn’t fall.

Three minutes in, on their first power play of the game, Colton Poolman hammered home his fifth of the season after a great face-off win by Rhett Gardner and pass by Gabe Bast. UND kept it going two minutes later, as Jordan Kawaguchi banked a pass off the boards to Joel Janatuinen as JJ went near-side glove on Oldham for a 3-0 UND lead. Though they had chances, the Fighting Hawks potted another one before the end of the frame as Janatuinen had a lovely dish over to Christian Wolanin to make it 4-0 UND. Omaha only had one shot in the period, which came with two seconds left.

“It was boring,” said Thome. “I had to do a lot of hot laps to keep moving. I was thinking about juggling in between the periods, but never got around to it.”

It took until midway through the third frame for UND to get on the board as Austin Poganski put away a Shane Gersich feed to make it 5-0. Gardner got his second assist of the night and third point of the game on that goal. Minutes later, Andrew Peski got his first career NCAA goal that redirected off of Omaha’s Lawson McDonald, which came off a lovely feed from Jordan Kawaguchi. UND closed the scoring on the power play as Austin Poganski cut through the Omaha defense and scored while falling down to make it 7-0 UND.

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Peter Thome/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

The shutout was the first of Thome’s college career and he did it on a bit of a short notice.

“I found out during morning skate,” Thome said. “I was excited. It’s been a while since my last start and I wanted to get back in there.”

Another first was for Andrew Peski, who’s first goal comes after a 48-game drought with North Dakota and his first since playing at Tri-City of the USHL during the 2015-16 season.

“I played it out in my head about how I would get it,” confessed Peski. “I’ve been waiting a long time for that one. It was good to see the boys were happy for it. I was thinking about giving it (the puck) to my mom, she’s probably back home crying and excited for me. She’d love to have it.”

UND is back next weekend with a home-and-home with Bemidji State– Friday in Bemidji and Saturday in Grand Forks.