UND HOCKEY: Risk, Reward on the Line for Underclassmen Fighting Hawks Going Pro

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Midco Sports Network’s Alex Heinert pointed out that there has been a helluva lot of underclassmen leaving school early and going pro. Who can blame them, honestly– when the next level is calling and money is being thrown your way– why not take it?? You can’t blame them to get the money and go for their dream job when they can before they have some kind of injury that really shelves their potential.

The University of North Dakota have two players leaving early to go onto their professional career. Last week, both Christian Wolanin and Shane Gersich signed their pro deals in two nation’s capitals– Wolanin with Ottawa and Gersich with Washington. It’s another year for UND to lose players early. Last season, they lost three players early– Tucker Poolman, Tyson Jost, and Brock Boeser and after their 2015-16 National Championship run, they lost Troy Stetcher, Keaton Thompson, Nick Schmaltz, Luke Johnson, and Paul LaDue to the pros. There’s a reason why University of North Dakota is on the cusp of having 100 players to play in the NHL.

When it comes to someone like Poolman, he really couldn’t do much more with UND. He was NHL-ready and that junior season was the icing on the cake for Poolman to try and repeat as a National Champion. The same could be said for Wolanin, who came into his own during the off-season and transferred it to his junior season, becoming the first defenseman since 1983 to lead UND in scoring for the season. Of course, on a rebuilding team and probably being a key cog in that, there’s going to be a lot of weight on Wolanin’s shoulders– especially given his pedigree being the son of a former NHLer.

Of course– there’s risks involved from leaving college early and not living up to the hype that has been out there right off the bat. That could leave people to wonder if it was worth leaving school early for. That’s something that I wonder when it come to Shane Gersich. Last season, alongside Jost and Boeser; Gersich made his name known with 21 goals and 37 points in 40 games. This season was solid for Gersich, if not frustrating at times. With only five goals and six assists in his first 20 games, you could see Gersich fighting the puck during his struggles. However, new year– new Shane as Gersich finished with eight goals and 10 assists in the second half to have some mojo going into his last games with the Fighting Hawks.

One recent example against the move for Gersich could be his former linemate in Jost, who left the University of North Dakota after his freshman season last year to sign with the Colorado Avalanche (after some alleged heavy/annoying persuading by the Avalanche brass). With only nine goals and 19 points in 59 games this season, you could argue that Jost wasn’t ready for that jump and could have used the time to stay at UND to grow more. Granted, you can’t take injuries into effect when they sign that deal, but it happens and you adapt from it.

Conversely– there’s players who may not look like they’re ready, but surprise plenty of naysayers– like Gersich’s other linemate in Boeser, who was a heavy Calder Trophy favorite with 29 goals (10 on the power play) and 55 points in 62 games until his season-ending back injury this year. Boeser could have probably went pro after his freshman year and winning a National Championship– but he decided to stick around. I’ll say upfront I didn’t think it was best for Boeser to do that, as he didn’t look that great to close out his sophomore season– but I’m glad he proved me wrong on that.

Both Gersich and Wolanin will face some hardships when they get into the big leagues– it happens with most every player, whether they leave early or stay all four years in college. There’s probably going to be questions of if they should have stayed one more year or if they should even be with the team that drafted them. In the end, they made the choice right for them and you have to respect them for it regardless of personal view now or down the road.

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: Quick Start, Sloppy Second, Tense Third Have UND Salvage Tie Versus Denver

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Photo from @UNDmhockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– Coming off of getting swept last weekend, the University of North Dakota came back to Grand Forks in front of 11,845 at the Ralph to take on long-time rival Denver University for a weekend set. Friday, North Dakota would have to do without their top two centers in Rhett Gardner and Nick Jones, both out with injuries. After a quick start, but then sloppy second and half of the third, UND was able to salvage a 3-3 tie.

With the intensity level up, Cole Smith got UND out to the lead just 1:02 into the game, as he banked it off Denver’s Tariq Hammond’s torso to get the big start that the Fighting Hawks have been wanting so badly this entire season. After a Jake Durflinger hooking call, UND went on the power play, something they worked on all week. It seemed to pay off as Shane Gersich took a Grant Mismash rebound and buried it to make it 2-0. UND did get into some penalty trouble late, but were able to kill them both off– something coach Brad Berry had been working on all week, as well.

It was pretty even up for the first part of the second, but Dylan Gambrell got Denver on the board after he rifled a lovely set-up pass from Henrik Borgstrom over the blocker shoulder of Cam Johnson to cut UND’s lead to 2-1. Denver had possession for a good part of the second frame, mostly due to UND’s sloppy play in their own end with bad breakout passes and inability to clear the zone, thus allowing the Pioneers to get some chances. However, Johnson was equal to the task each time outside of that Gambrell goal.

Denver didn’t waste much time, as Tariq Hammond’s shot got redirected by Rudy Junda to tie the game up for the Pioneers 2:11 into the third frame. The tide turned away from UND further, with Cole Smith getting a five-minute major and a game misconduct after an elbow to the head of Denver’s Adam Plant, which saw Plant on the ice for several minutes before skating off with the aide of Denver’s trainer. It looked like Denver may have gotten a goal from Gambrell again, but due to goaltender interference, the goal was waved off. However, Denver didn’t let that faze them, as Troy Terry got a pass from Gambrell, made a little curl at the top of the circle and put it high glove on Johnson to give Denver their first lead of the game, which was their only PP goal of the extended time. While Denver held possession for the majority of the third, UND kept pressing. With 1:32 left, Hayden Shaw floated a shot towards Tanner Jaillet that had eyes and went over Jaillet’s shoulder to tie the game and force overtime.

The five-minute overtime yielded nothing, so it all ended in a tie in the record books, but there was still the need to see who was gets the NCHC extra point. Denver got the extra NCHC point with a Troy Terry goal on the three-on-three goal, giving Denver the extra conference point.

(Due to a late game and real work happening, I didn’t get quotes post-game, so please to be reading Brad Schlossman and Tom Miller of the Grand Forks Herald for quotes and more analysis of the game.)

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.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Salvage Tie After Shaky Third Period Start

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Photo from @UNDMhockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– Despite a shaky 22-seconds in the third, the University of North Dakota was able to salvage a tie against Union College in the second game of the 2017 Subway Holiday Classic with a final of 2-2.

UND tried to get a little boost from former UND player Zach Parise, who visited the area as he recovers from back surgery for the ceremonial face-off. After the regular face-off, UND got off to a quick start, which was quite the difference from the Friday night’s game. The Hawks struck first, as defenseman Colton Poolman came on for a line-change and received a feed from Ludvig Hoff, danced around a Union defender and roofed it over Jake Kupsky’s glove to make it 1-0. Union tried to get the equalizer, but Peter Thome stopped all of the Dutchmen’s nine shots in the period to keep it 1-0 UND after 20.

“Lot better than last night’s game,” UND head coach Brad Berry stated post-game. “We had emotion, we had energy, we started the game the right way. That’s a great team over there– they were hard and heavy and didn’t give a lot of space.”

“We came out like we should have Friday night,” said Poolman. “Give them credit, they came back with another hard heavy game. That’s that way we got to play.”

Not much to write home about in the second period. Both UND and Union traded power plays that yielded nothing, though the line of Cole Smith, Johnny Simonson, and defense-turned-forward Josh Rieger gave a bit of a boost with some solid forechecking creating some chances for the Fighting Hawks.

Union got off to a quick start less with two goals 22 seconds apart to open the third frame. First, Brett Supinski crossed-up Peter Thome off a feed from Sebastian Vidmar. Then, Cole Maier got his shot blocked twice with the third trickling through to the stick of Ryan Scarfo to make it 2-1 Union less than three minutes into the third. While Union kept getting chances, Thome was equal to the task. After a Cole Smith penalty, UND had a three-on-two rush started by Poolman with pass across to Rhett Gardner who put a shot on Kupsky, who let up a big rebound right to Shane Gersich’s stick to tie it for UND with 3:18 left in the third. The final 3:18 solved nothing, which pushed it to overtime.

Decent chances for UND and Union in overtime with the most interesting being Anthony Rinaldi getting a bit of a breakaway, then checked down by Gabe Bast, running into Thome– which led to Thome losing his skate blade on the post when colliding with it. The game ended in a 2-2 tie, putting UND at 8-4-4 on the season.

“Obviously, you want to win for a lot of different reasons– Pairwise and all of that,” said Berry, “But I think we learned a lot. We don’t hang our hat on who’s in the line-up and who’s out of the line-up or hang an excuse on that. We did a job tonight. We will move forward and learn from it.”

“Yesterday was a bad start and signaled the whole game,” mentioned Gersich. “Tonight, Colton (Poolman) scored right away to set the tone for us. We’ve got to come out mentally ready at the start of every game and that sets out the rest of the game for us.”

UND will close out the first half of their home schedule next weekend against Western Michigan at the Ralph Engelstad Arena before going on the road to St. Cloud to end the first half.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Gain Extra Point in Shootout After Up and Down Game

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Photo via @UNDMHockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– It wasn’t the prettiest game, but the University of North Dakota will come out of this weekend much like they did last weekend– a win and a tie. UND and Miami tied Saturday 3-3, though UND took the extra NCHC point in the shootout.

“We’ll take it,” mentioned head coach Brad Berry. “To come back from 2-0, it shows a response from our guys. It’s a learning lesson as far as going down two goals, but the biggest thing is to come back from it.”

The first period was, by and large, a neutral zone affair, but Gordie Green broke the ice for Miami after a Jordan Kawaguchi turnover allowed Josh Melnick to pick it up and pass to Green, who put it high glove on Peter Thome for the lone goal of the frame.

Miami got out to a quick start in the second with Grant Frederic shooting the puck wide, but with the carom off the end-boards, it landed on Ryan Siroky’s stick with a wide-open net to give Miami a 2-0 lead. A minute later, UND cut the lead in half with a Colton Poolman one-timer off a set-up from Christian Wolanin to make it 2-1 and spark the crowd of 11,795 at The Ralph.

“(Wolanin) takes so much attention out there being such a creative player,” Poolman said of his goal. “He opened some space up for me and had a good screen and got it to go.”

“We just stepped up and stuck with it,” said forward Shane Gersich about the second period. “We weren’t hard on each other and we keep building. It’s something we got to keep in mind as we go forward.”

However, UND wasted no time in the third period, as Dixon Bowen went high-glove on Ryan Larkin just 33 seconds into the third period with assists going to Austin Poganski and Poolman. The game went back and forth for the majority of the third period before Shane Gersich potted his fourth goal of the year from an almost impossible angle from a lovely pass from across the back of the net from Grant Mismash to put UND ahead 3-2. However, with 1:24 left, Miami captain Louie Belpedio found Melnick backdoor with the extra attacker to tie the game at three.

With the game moving to overtime, both sides had decent chances to end the game, the closest happening when Johnny Simonson was whacking at a rebound in front of the net, but the puck stayed on Larkin’s pad and was determined to be no-goal, despite a camera angle making it appear to have the puck cross the line. The game officially ended in a tie game, but in NCHC play– a 3-on-3 period for five minutes was used to determine the extra point which solved nothing. The shootout then happened for the extra NCHC point, where Christian Wolanin slapped home the fourth round attempt to give UND the extra point.

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Christian Wolanin/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“Coach (Dane) Jackson looks at the guys after those three missed dekes and was like, ‘How about somebody try shooting it’,” mentioned Wolanin of his shootout slapper. “I said, ‘I’ll take a slapshot’ and saw he was backing up a little as I was coming in with speed so I change the speed and just ripped it.”

Despite the extra points, the main message for the weekend– as it is with every weekend– is to sweep the series. It’s something that UND has only done once this season when they played St. Lawrence in the home opening weekend.

“Obviously, we’re not excited over it,” Poolman mentioned about not being able to sweep the weekend, “But to go unbeaten is not a bad thing either. We’re trending in the right way and I like where we’re going.”

“We’re happy,” offered Wolanin of the weekend. “Five out of six points is as good as you can get without the sweep. We would have liked to get the sixth point, but we showed a lot of adversity out there. We didn’t have any panic in our game, no bad energy on the bench, and we just picked right up.”

UND will be put to the test next weekend, as they will face the reigning National Champions in Denver University at Magness Arena. Denver swept #1 St. Cloud State over the weekend and could very well regain their #1 seeding to take on the current #2 UND.

UND HOCKEY: Three in First, Big Penalty Kill Leads UND to Weekend Sweep

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Photo from @UNDMHockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– What the University of North Dakota has been lack in the early part of this season has been scoring. Saturday, however, they turned that around with six goals from six different goal scorers to cruise to a 6-1 victory to conclude the series sweep of St. Lawrence.

After needing 19 minutes to get one goal last night, the Fighting Hawks were able to get three in that time-span in Saturday. Christian Wolanin, Shane Gersich, and Grant Mismash all got their first goals of the season in the first, with Gersich getting his on the power play. Colton Poolman had two assists on the Wolanin and Gersich goals, while Mismash’s goal came off a turnover on a St. Lawrence breakout.

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Shane Gersich/ Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“We were using our strength and our speed and really overwhelming them,” said Gersich. “We were causing turnovers and that’s what creates offense. We were playing great off the puck, too,”

As good as Arthur Brey was on Friday, he didn’t have the stuff on Saturday. Coach Mark Morris swapped out Brey for sophomore Daniel Mannella, who was tested early, but only let in one second period goal by Jordan Kawaguchi, another power play tally.

Things almost took a turn after the Kawaguchi goal, as Mismash got a five minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head of Philip Alftberg. While Ben Finkelstein of St. Lawrence got a penalty, UND got back-to-back calls against them to make it an extended 5-on-3 for St. Lawrence. Cam Johnson and the defense was equal to the task, stopping everything thrown at them as St. Lawrence was held scoreless on the power play.

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Cam Johnson/ Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“It was tiring, but it was nice to get some action there,” said Johnson of the 5-on-3. “Had a couple choice words when it happened, but I thought our penalty kill did unbelievable not giving them too many quality chances. It was a huge momentum builder for us”

“The could have gone either way, but he was our best penalty killer,” Poolman mentioned of his goaltender. “He comes up big in big moments and his rebound control is unbelievable. He’s a steady influence back there.”

Eventually, St. Lawrence was able to break the ice in the third with a goal from Jacob Pritchard almost four minutes into the frame. UND answered back towards the end as Cole Smith and Rhett Gardner got their first goals of the season sending the 11,599 at The Ralph home happy off a successful weekend.

“The biggest thing is I think guys knew we could play better tonight,” commented head coach Brad Berry. “Last night, we were grateful for the win, but we talked about it and knew we could be better.”

One down note was the loss of Johnny Simonson, who got hit awkwardly in the second period, not to return for the game. Coach Berry said he was be evaluated and they’ll see how it goes throughout the week leading into next week’s rival series against Minnesota.