(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee- Violent Turtle Photography)
Grand Forks, ND– Coming into this Friday night fracas against the Bulldogs of Minnesota Duluth, the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota needed a fast start. They got it as 44 seconds in Mark Senden tapped home a superb feed from Jordan Kawaguchi. He would take home first star honors on the evening as he finished with a goal and an assist on a Hayden Shaw shorthanded marker later on to ice the game. Casey Johnson contributed the game winner 13:22 into the first, and Cole Smith added an empty net marker 18:30 into the third to provide the final 4-1 margin.
On this night, the poise and powerful start of UND guided them to a much needed victory to prop up the Fighting Hawks faint postseason chances. With the win, they move back into the final home ice spot over Denver (Pioneers have one extra game to play so they have a game in hand) and moved up two spots in the pairwise to number 19.
Throughout this game two things were apparent. First, this UND team is consistently stringing together superb starts. Last weekend against Western Michigan, even in a loss on a Saturday night, the Fighting Hawks also scored a goal within the first minute of festivities commencing. Another thing was easily apparent. This was the most complete all-around game UND played. The offense not only got them a quick lead, but was able to answer UMD’s only marker of the evening coming 1:25 into the first on a superb, slowed down, and skillful shot from Nick Swaney. Throughout the night UND limited the majority of Duluth’s chances to outside the slot and beyond the dots. A series of low percentage shot attempts made things easier for the Fighting Hawks.
However, the Bulldogs still were able to get a few good looks each period. After the first, Peter Thome was able to come back from injury and fill in for Adam Scheel to play a flawless last two periods. In addition, Thome noted the biggest piece of his development since his last start in November was his improving poise. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospect did not look out of place for the last 50 minutes of the game as he found his groove throughout. Thanks to timely defense and Thome’s improving positioning, UND held a team trailing for two goals for the majority of it to the same amount of shots on net and shot attempts as them. He has an opportunity to earn back his starting job with his play over the next few weeks.
Maybe the recipe for this team is not predicated on quantity of shots on net or blocked shots, but quality. While UND finished the night with 13 blocks, a mere four more than UMD, a few of those were on grade-a chances and kept the lead at two before the empty-net goal. Saturday provides another opportunity to show that this team can string together multiple wins against a top-10 side.
It has not done so as of yet in a long while, now is the best and last chance for this team to do so, as the last two teams it plays, Colorado College, and Nebraska-Omaha are both below them in the standings. Consistency will determine this team’s fate, and we get another look into their efforts to achieve it Saturday night at 7:07 PM.