(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)
On Saturday night, in front of 10899 people at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks faced off against a stout defending, hard-charging, Michigan Tech Huskies team that has on its resume a win over WCHA foe Bowling Green among others. For most of the game, the all-world student section for Michigan Tech carried the energy of the building.
Mitch’s Misfits, the student section that made the journey to the Ralph, had something to cheer about early on as Justin Mislak took a feed from Alex Smith and went on the backhand through the five hole of UND goalie, Adam Scheel. The Huskies lead for a few minutes in the first, but after a Matt Kiersted point shot went off the center right post and in from the far point, they would never regain the lead.
Throughout the rest of the game, it resembled at times a territorial soccer match where teams would march down the pitch or rink in this case regularly and then not be able to finish. Huskies’ netminder Robbie Beydoun finished the night with 21 saves on 23 shots saved. One thing stood out about some of his saves, especially on the penalty kill. The Fighting Hawks, according to Head Coach Brad Berry were often too predictable with the man advantage, and it seemed like Beydoun was able to anticipate shots often before UND took them.
The game winner for UND came on four-on-four action. Jordan Kawaguchi took a feed from Colin Adams stationed along the half wall. In the middle of a Tech defense listing to the wall Kawaguchi found the back of the net for the game winner shooting against the momentum of the defense 12:29 into the third period. Gavin Hain added an insurance marker with 27 seconds left in the game on the empty net.
Hain played with Mark Senden and Cole Smith tonight. Coach Berry reincarnated the GMC (Gavin Hain, Mark Senden, Cole Smith) line. Like the brand of car this line was UND’s most dependable for large portions of the season last year, and this line was able to hold possession and earn chances at multiple points. Senden finished the night winning 9 of the 16 faceoffs he took, and his line was on the ice a lot at big points in the game, and could be back together again.
On defense, Gabe Bast and Colton Poolman were out and replaced by Ethan Frisch and Josh Rieger. The Captain of UND, Poolman, was pulled after an evaluation on gameday, and Berry hopes to know more about his long-term status before next week. His uncertainty was not reassuring to say the least, relating to the best all-around defender this team has coming back soon.
This team had a lot of points where the Huskies, to be honest, made them play their game. The Huskies were also much more physical with the Fighting Hawks at eliminating the value of their net-front presence that they had worked for over the first few games. Getting to the net was not how UND won this game, as the Huskies eliminated rebounds and second looks. Berry’s point about being methodical could be applied to even strength play as well. When this team can not only create chances on rebounds but keep their opponents guessing, good things could happen. In addition, this team has to learn how to win games in different ways.
Net front presence is great, but this team has has now seen what better defending teams can do to limit the value of it. If they can both get one or two rebound goals off the net-front investment per game and one or two more off skill per game, it will ensure both options remain open. As this team plays the Red Hawks of Miami, watch how they play an always fast team looking to move up in the NCHC world. If UND can convert a chance or two on the rush each night, a sweep may be in order, if not, well ask again later.
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