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: Little Things Stifle Fighting Hawks in Loss to Colorado College

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Photo from @UNDmhockey

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.”

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Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“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.”

UND HOCKEY: Two Ties Guide Fighting Hawks Into Bye Week

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Photo by @UNDmhockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– With both Rhett Gardner and Nick Jones still out with injury and Cole Smith suspended for his hit on Adam Plant on Friday, the University of North Dakota showed plenty of grit in the second game of the series with the Denver University Pioneers, with 12,002 at The Ralph, which is the highest of the season for UND. Even with all the players out and defenseman Casey Johnson playing forward, North Dakota came away with another tie on the weekend– this time by the count of 1-1.

North Dakota had some visitors, as Tucker Poolman (Winnipeg Jets), Nick Schmaltz (Chicago Blackhawks), and Drake Caggiula (Edmonton Oilers) were all in attendance for their alma mater during the NHL All-Star Weekend. However, despite the old UND guard in the building, Denver was first to strike, as they held possession of the puck most of the first half of the first period. They finally got through after Kohen Olischefski throw a shot on from an odd angle that beat Cam Johnson, as Johnson was unable to hug the post enough to keep it out. The rest of the period was possessed by Denver, who outshot the Fighting Hawks 9-5 in the period, with UND getting their first shot of the game 13:52 into the period. Though Denver got a late power play due to a Grant Mismash interference, nothing came of it and the period ended 1-0 for Denver.

“I don’t even know,” said Johnson of the goal during post-game. “It just found a hole there. But I felt good, it was a weak goal. I like to think that’s how our luck is going, just not getting the bounces. I just tried to refocus and think of it as a 0-0 game.”

A tense moment early in the second, as Andrew Peski let a shot from the point go that hit referee Nick Krebsbach in the hand, as he was protecting his face; sending the former AHL official down to the ice. After a few minutes and some work on the bench, he was up and ready to keep going. While Denver did get some chances, they also got a crucial penalty after Liam Finlay bowled over Cam Johnson to get a goalie interference call. In that ensuing power play, Christian Wolanin got his eighth of the season, blowing a shot over the glove of Tanner Jaillet.

Not much to speak of in the third, though Denver did have a scramble in front, where Cam Johnson was equal to the task. Plenty of clogging up the shooting and passing lanes from both sides, resulting in a second overtime in as many nights. Very few chances for each side on the overtime period, which resulted in yet another tie between these two teams. In the NCHC overtime, Ian Mitchell scored for Denver after Hayden Shaw’s pass got intercepted Logan O’Connor in the UND offensive zone, which moved to Mitchell, who deked out Johnson for the NCHC extra point. The NCAA official tie is UND’s eighth of the season.

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Christian Wolanin/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“A tie gets frustrating,” mentioned Wolanin on the result. “For not having our full roster and playing a great team like Denver, we showed heart and resiliency. To get two ties out of it is okay. Just okay.”

The main point of this week was the special teams. Last week, UND gave up six power play goals in their weekend set against Duluth and it was a sticking point for the team in the practice this week.

“When you have someone like Coach (Dane) Jackson, who puts his heart and soul into everything; for him to come in and think that the PK didn’t do their job– we held a lot of meetings for penalty kill this week,” said Wolanin. “In Duluth, it wasn’t a matter of Coach Jackson not preparing us enough, it was us being undisciplined.”

The Fighting Hawks are off next weekend, but will be back home on February 9th and 10th against Colorado College. With the bye week, UND hopes to have a lot of their walking wounded back– as it was the second game without Rhett Gardner and Nick Jones. They’ll also get Cole Smith back from suspension; though Ludvig Hoff will be away for the Olympics.

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.