(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violent Turtle Photography)
Coming into the series finale against Alaska Anchorage, UND gained some experience dealing with being down multiple goals late in games. Often times, things did not go their way, like last Saturday against Western Michigan. The Fighting Hawks did learn some lessons in that one that they carried through to the series finale . Thanks to a three goal third period in front of 11,086 fans, they salvaged a series sweep against the Seawolves. with a 4-3 victory. Matt Kiersted opened up the scoring ledger in the third with a superb shot on a power play to bring UND within one goal. He took an expert feed from Jordan Kawaguchi who effortlessly weaved his way through multiple Seawolves to the middle of the ice to find the open Kiersted who deposited the first third period marker into the back of the net 8:05 into the final frame.
43 seconds later, UND tied things up on the power play as Rhett Gardner perfectly tipped home a Jacob Bernard-Docker point shot on the power play to tie things up. All of this happened within a few seconds of the penalty being assessed. Gardner added an even strength tally to provide the final margin of victory 41 seconds later.
Finally, UND held on in the third despite the Seawolves hitting the post with an extra attacker with a little over one minute remaining.
What enabled the Fighting Hawks to comeback in this one? Simplifying their game and activating their defense corps. The best example of this came on the two power play tallies. After winning faceoffs, UND made a change. Instead of their winger heading to the net they utilized the center a bit more in front of the net to force the issue. It paid off. On both tallies, UND benefited from an improved net front presence that dramatically improved the quality of each shot. They made Kristian Stead have to not only make grade-a saves consistently which he did throughout the first two periods, but have to do all of this unable to see the puck.
Stead kept the Seawolves in it and required the Fighting Hawks to adjust their game to have a chance. He finished with 32 saves on 36 shots on net and an assist on the first Seawolves goal on the evening.
Heading into UND’s next series against Minnesota Duluth, the Fighting Hawks still have some work to do. They have not played a full 60 minute game in some time this season, and everyone i agrees that is the next biggest step to take. The Bulldogs are defending national champions for a reason. They not only have the physical element in their game, but they also have high-skilled Riley Tufte and company who can bury the puck at will. How UND is able to start each game will determine their outcome. The Bulldogs have been consistently one of the best teams in the NCHC for many reasons, but the biggest one is their ability to recruit physical players like Tufte who possess a high skill ceiling to their game.