5-4 OT Winner From Kawaguchi Saves Senior Night for UND: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violent Turtle Photography)

Last night in front of a strong crowd braving the elements at Ralph Engelstad Arena we saw a microcosm of the University of North Dakota’s season in one game. When this team starts fast, they typically do well. Nick Jones, senior forward playing on senior night, took a cross-ice feed from Rhett Gardner and wired home the opening salvo of the night 37 seconds into the game. Later in the period, Omaha forward Tyler Weiss banged home a loose puck in the crease with the majority of skaters sharing time and space with Peter Thome to tie it up.

In the second, Jordan Kawaguchi made his first contribution to the box score taking a cross-checking penalty. Zach Jordan made UND pay for that mistake with a sensational release on a wrist shot to stake the Mavericks to their only lead of the evening. That lead would last 5:51 as Kawaguchi would return to the box score, this time to the good converting a power play marker on a Nick Jones feed.

The third is where everything happened.Cole Smith converted the only really “soft” goal of the evening against Omaha netminder Evan Weninger who played an otherwise stellar evening. He finished with 41 saves on 46 shots. After a Gavin Hain tally gave UND a two goal lead, the Mavericks rallied back to tie things up with tallies from Nate Knopke and Tristan Keck. The Keck marker came off a Kawaguchi turnover with an extra attacker.

Kawaguchi made up for it with a clean shot past Weninger 16 seconds into overtime. He is UND’s leading goal scorer after the regular season with only ten goals.

Now What

For Nebraska Omaha, if they can some how find a way to hold Duluth down a bit defensively than the expected result may be a little harder for the Bulldogs to achieve in the first round. The Mavericks showed this weekend that they do not need much time or space to have a chance with their quick transition game and Weninger’s ability in net.

As for UND, this weekend did result in two wins pushing the Fighting Hawks closer to the NCAA Tournament. That said, this team still has things to clean up. Every week this team seems to take some undisciplined penalties that skew their rhythm and force them to alter what Head Coach Brad Berry likes to do, getting everyone involved in the game. This team has also dealt with a lot of injuries over the course of the season and is closer to being healthy with the return of Grant Mismash on Friday in limited minutes, and the return of Nick Jones. The most consistent line for this team this year is the GMC line of Gavin Hain, Mark Senden, and Cole Smith. Brad Berry did not have the option to deploy this line to shutdown the game at the end of regulation because Cole Smith was given a ten minute misconduct for involvement in a fracas with UNO 13:30 into the third period.

Puck possession is this team’s strength, and even when healthy, as this weekend showed, they cannot take undisciplined penalties and need to find ways to stay ahead in games. Credit the seniors for playing well on senior night. Now UND has to take on a fast Denver team and take the series on the road to stay in the NCAA Tournament hunt.

Fighting Hawks Fight Past UNO 2-1: Recap and Now What?

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violent Turtle Photography)

Coming into this one, the setup for the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota could not have been more simple. Win two games against the Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha this weekend and hope for some help from Miami (OH) against Western Michigan this weekend. One of those things happened as UND earned a 2-1 hard-fought victory over the Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha.

On Friday night, not only did Western Michigan ensure UND’s home ice streak for the first round of the playoffs would end.Now the Fighting Hawks will be on the road next week for the first round of the conference tournament for the first time since 2002. The Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha almost battled past UND and featured another stellar performance by netminder extraordinaire, Evan Weninger.  He made 38 saves on 40 shots faced on the night and could have taken home star honors for his play. As for scoring on the night, Gabe Bast started the scoring soiree with a sublime wrap around to pot one past Weninger 3:45 into the first.

Following the Bast salvo, things would remain quiet until Zach Jordan buried a five-on-three marker on a cross ice feed against Peter Thome. UND Head Coach Brad Berry noted that Thome would have liked to have made that play laterally, but he did not have much of a chance. Jordan hides a howitzer of his quite well and uses it to his advantage. All though he is not on the level, ask how many goalies are able to stop an Alex Ovechkin cannon from that spot, the answer of course is very few, even on their best day. Then finally in a third period that saw Rhett Gardner benched for taking two terrible penalties, Nick Jones came back to the lineup and tipped home a Colton Poolman shot on a draw Jones himself won. If centers could get two assists on their same play, the goal would read Jones from Poolman and Jones.

Now What

UND needs to play more disciplined. The Fighting Hawks were,arguably, one non call on Jacob Bernard-Docker as he did knee Tristan Keck with the puck having left the area, away from losing their best defender and having to play with five defenders. The Fighting Hawks need to get better at two things for their home finale. First, maintain better discipline and make UNO drive 200 feet to get a good chance on you. Their only goal came on a power play that occurred because of two fast penalties that did not need to be taken.

As for the Mavericks, protect Evan Weninger because he is a treasure to be better guarded than he has been this season. He made 38 saves but was under consistent duress all night and made plenty of grade-a stops to burnish his impressive career mix tape. Same two teams wrap up their regular season Saturday from the Ralph at 7:07 PM, how this one starts and how many penalties UND takes will determine who wins.