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: Fighting Hawks Tie Bemidji State to End Non-Conference Schedule

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Photo via @UNDMhockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– After going to Bemidji State and winning 5-1, the University of North Dakota traveled the 120-some odd miles back to the Ralph Engelstad Arena to face the Beavers in front of 11,868 on Saturday. Tired legs and long nights lead to a 2-2 tie between the two and brought a bit of an anti-climatic end to UND’s non-conference season.

The Fighting Hawks weren’t without their issues, as Rhett Gardner and Trevor Olson were both out due to injuries on Friday, but the team soldiered on as they often do. North Dakota didn’t let the odd travel schedule lag them down, as they were on Bemidji from the drop of the puck. Putting plenty of rubber towards Michael Bitzer, but yielding no results. Bemidji did a solid job keeping UND to the outside and with the Fighting Hawks not able to crack the middle, any threat of a rebound to the slot was directed away by the Beavers’ defense. Shots ended up 12-3 on the side of UND.

UND kept cracking at it to start the second, only to break the ice 3:28 into the frame as Nick Jones came in from the slot after Austin Poganski took a skate around the net and found a streaking Jones, who netted his third goal of the weekend. While shots were traded by and forth, it wasn’t until 13:15 in the middle frame where Leo Fitzgerald got a stick on a Brendan Harris shot on the power play to tie the game at one. Right after the goal, however, Bemidji’s Jordan Heller got a five minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind. The extended power play was needed, which got the first goal as Christian Wolanin took a skate around the zone, saw the puck passed around until it found his tape again from a pass by Collin Adams to make it a 2-1 UND lead. Despite having control of the power play for a majority of the five minutes, they could only find the net once.

The Beavers pushed hard in the third, but didn’t have many shots to show for it. However, Bemidji knotted the game up after an odd bounce off of Dillon Eichstadt and Colton Poolman’s skate before going into the net past Cam Johnson. Eichstadt got credit for the goal with Kyle Bauman getting the assist. The play stayed at neutral most of the time, with Bemidji getting a little more pressure on Johnson than UND did with Bitzer, which caused free hockey for everyone at The Ralph.

The overtime period had plenty of chances for both sides, Bemidji’s Leo Fitzgerald getting three good looks, while UND had Austin Poganski and Shane Gersich getting back-to-back chances, but yielding nothing at the end. The game ended with a tie and having UND go 6-2-4 in their non-conference schedule.

“I thought we played well those non-conference games,” said head coach Brad Berry. “Overall, it was respectable. We gotta make sure we play a consistent brand of hockey in the NCHC and get in the National Tournament.”

“We take non-conference games very seriously,” mentioned Christian Wolanin. “We know how important they are at the end of the season. But we geared up and gave it our all for every season and I hope that it helps us in the pairwise.”

With the line-up card tonight, it was UND’s 24th game with a different line-up. Players like Wolanin and Jones had never seen something like this in their playing career before, but Jones was able to put it in perspective post-game:

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Nick Jones/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“I don’t think they’re challenges, I think they’re positives. At the end of the year, you’re not going to have everyone you’re able to have. To have the opportunity to get everyone in the line-up and ready for the end of the year. Our ultimate goal is to win a National Championship and we’ll use it as an experience. In the end, it’s rewarding for every player and a fight to get into the line-up every night. It’s something we can use to our advantage.”

The Fighting Hawks go to Minnesota-Duluth to play the Bulldogs next weekend and are back home on the 26th for a weekend set with Denver.

UND HOCKEY: Thome, Jones Lead UND Past Miami

GRAND FORKS, ND– In front of 11,389 of his newest friends, Peter Thome got his first home win of his college career, while helping the UND Fighting Hawks overcome a slow first period to beat Miami University (of Ohio) 4-1 in game one of their weekend set.

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Peter Thome/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“It was awesome,” Thome said of playing in his first game at The Ralph. “I couldn’t sleep during my pre-game nap. I was bouncing off the walls of my dorm I was so excited. And it was a great atmosphere and it was great to get the win.”

The first period was a sloppy one for the Fighting Hawks, as they were only able to muster four shots on Miami’s Ryan Larkin and eight chances overall. Miami, however, has 21 chances at goal with nine hitting Thome. UND was lucky not to get burned on the ice, especially after an overt amount of turnovers in their own end and not being able to wrangle in passes from out of the zone. The one big chance for UND came with a slight 5-on-3 advantage when Shane Gersich was at the side of the post and almost buried a cross-ice pass, but was stoned by Larkin– even with the goal horn and fireworks going off from the arena staff.

“They came out really hard right off the hop, you have to give credit to them,” Thome said. “It’s not that we were slow, but they had an extra jump. The guys keep a lot of the shots to outside and they were making sure that there were no second chances.”

In the second frame got off to a rocky start, as Nick Jones got a hooking penalty early in the period, but redeemed himself when he stepped out of the penalty box to pick up a Colton Poolman outlet pass, outwait Larkin and bury his fourth goal of the season.

“It was just a fortunate bounce,” Jones mentioned of his first goal. “(Poolman) was just trying to get it down the ice and didn’t go as fast down the ice. He didn’t really see me.”

Late in the second, UND went up 2-0 after Rhett Gardner picked up a failed wrap-around attempt by Shane Gersich, which ended up more of a pass than a shot. The power play goal was his third of the season and first since October 20th in the first game against Minnesota. Even later, Nick Jones got his second of the game after he picked up a loose puck that rattled around Jordan Kawaguchi’s skates to put UND up 3-0. That was Jones’ ninth point in the last six games.

“When (Jones) was in the BCHL, he was used in a lot of scoring situations, head coach Brad Berry said after the game. “He was a vital force in the BCHL, but we also knew he’s an unbelievable two-way player. When you have someone new coming to your organization, sometimes it’s surprising, but he’s an experienced guy. He invests in his game– whether it’s the weight room or in practice– so there’s no surprise”

The third was a safe period for UND, which saw them give a goal to Karch Bachman of Miami– getting his second of the year. After that, UND fought back and Grant Mismash got UND’s tallied the 4-1 goal after an odd happening where the officials didn’t know if a whistle went or not. After audio review, the goal counted and gave Mismash his fourth goal of the season.
With Thome’s second win in three games, the loss of Cam Johnson doesn’t seem as bad. Of course, Johnson has been a vital part to UND over his four seasons, but with Thome blooming as he has been, the injury to Johnson is something that the team isn’t too concerned with thanks to Thome’s play.

“It’s allowing our team to grow under another goaltender,” mentioned coach Berry. “It also gives him experience. It’s a good situation for him to be in and helps build a team, as well.”

Thome and the Fighting Hawks will look to sweep Miami on Saturday night.

UND HOCKEY: Junior Jones Earning Confidence in New Location

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When forward Nick Jones left the Ohio State University in late October 2015, there was no big fan fare or questions about where he might be going next. Hell, according to SB Nation, there wasn’t even a press release that he had left the school to pursue other options. He just up and left. It wasn’t an easy decision, but as he told Tom Miller of the Grand Forks Herald in September, it was one he needed to make for himself.

“I just didn’t feel like I was developing at a rate I would like to develop,” Jones said. “I felt I was young enough, coming in at 18, that I could get a second opportunity. It didn’t feel like the right fit and wanted to try somewhere else.”

The loss of tOSU is the gain for the University of North Dakota. After spending the better part of two seasons in Penticton of the BCHL, Jones returned to the NCAA with UND and has yielded some pretty solid results thus far. It’s not just the points he has produced so far– two goals and two assists in eight games– but the intangibles that he has brought to the team in his penalty killing prowess and his ability to win face-offs in any zone. In fact, Jones leads the Fighting Hawks in face-off percentage with a 64.8% win rate (70 out of 108), which also puts him at the top of the NCHC for those players who have taken a minimum of 100 face-offs.

However, if you just looked on his stats in the BCHL, you’d think that he would have a bigger scoring role on the Fighting Hawks. Jones left Penticton after 100 games with 46 goals and 125 points, as well as captaining the Vees to the BCHL title last season. The adaptability that has gone on speaks to the character of Jones who will do anything to to make sure his team is on the winning side.

Getting comfortable has been helping, too. Jones has been able to gain confidence as the season has gone on and, it would seem, has earn the trust of the coaching staff to be put in those situations. As such, Jones has returned the favor, especially in the last three games, where he has garnered all four of his points on the season.

“I felt I was playing well in the first five games,” Jones said to the media on UND’s weekly press conference Wednesday, “I got a lot more confidence now. I’ve had chances, but it wasn’t coming. Once that first one came, there’s a lot more confidence and have felt a lot more confident in the last week and a half of practice. I think confidence goes a long way in my game. I’m doing things now that I think I would have done if I had gotten on the board earlier.”

Jones seemed to know what was going to be best of him, especially in choosing a place like Penticton and the BCHL to play. Jones played alongside former UND standout and current Avalanche rookie Tyson Jost, as well as current teammates in Colton Poolman, Gabe Bast, and Dixon Bowen.

“It was good. Going to a program like Penticton, there’s a lot of players who went through there to get to here,” mentioned Jones. “Penticton’s philosophy is a lot like UND’s. Going from Junior-A to Ohio State was a little different, but going from Penticton to here, there isn’t that much of a difference. The coaching staff’s thinking is very similar.”

UND HOCKEY: Johnson’s Shutout, Wolanin’s Pair Help Hawks Over Gophers

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Photo by @UNDMHockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– For the first time since 2012, the UND Fighting Hawks defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers, this time by the score of 4-0. After having a little momentum from last night’s game, the Hawks were able to get on the board early and keep things going from there.

The first five minutes are usually the most crucial to a game and UND wanted to make sure they had the racuous crowd of 11,890 behind them for all 60 minutes. Nick Jones got things rolling with his first as a Fighting Hawks off a one-timer set-up by Grant Mismash. Jones had a lot of chances in the first five games of the season, but said he was feeling frustrated not having buried one.

The game went back and forth before Jack Glover of Minnesota checked Collin Adams from behind, which resulted in a five minute major and game misconduct. In those five minutes, UND got three more goals– two from Christian Wolanin and one from Colton Poolman in that five minute span.

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Christian Wolanin/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“We finally shot,” quipped Wolanin post game about the power play. “We know he (Eric Schierhorn) is a good goalie and we wanted to get one in quick to break him down bit by bit.”

One of the big things that broke the spirit of the Minnesota team was the suffocating penalty kill, which held the Gophers off the scoresheet for seven chances, bumping up UND’s PK percentage to 96.3% on the season so far.

“Our penalty kill is all coach (Dane) Jackson,” said Wolanin. “Not just on the PK, but the tenacity and passion in which he coaches, we’d run through a brick wall for him. We just go out and work. It comes down to heart and…..you know……don’t know if I can say that on camera.”

Despite only have 22 shots thrown at him, Cam Johnson stopped them all and became the first goalie to shutout Minnesota in 48 games.

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Cam Johnson/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

That one feels better than any other one I’ve had,” Johnson said post-game. “My job wasn’t too hard for me tonight. Good all around effort. We got the best fans on earth and I got goosebumps every time we walked on the ice. I was more engaged because I got more work, which is what I like.” 

On the final stats, Mismash had two assists on the night, as did sophomore defenseman Hayden Shaw. Collin Adams had a lone assist, along with Nick Jones, Ludvig Hoff, and Gabe Bast.

Head coach Brad Berry lauded his team after the game in dealing with the rivalry.

I thought they did a good job and there’s a lot of things that go into it. For a group that doesn’t know a lot about the tradition and history, they did a good job. I’m sure both sides would admit we have to keep doing it. It’s good for the schools, it’s good for college hockey.”

North Dakota heads on the road for two straight weekends, heading to Colorado College next weekend and then onto Wisconsin to start off November.