(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)
Coming into their final regular season series at home, this Fighting Hawks team had some questions to answer. Chief among those was how it would respond after only taking one point in a series for just the second time of the season. As we saw tonight, St. Cloud State is roaring back into the top half of the league and is earning the respect they demanded after winning against the Fighting Hawks on Saturday.
Back to the Fighting Hawks, this Men’s Hockey team actually had to win a game while getting hemmed in their own end for a large portion of the deciding period in the third. To their credit, they bent but did not break. Adam Scheel made a triumphant return to the net saving 26 of the 27 shots he faced and earning third star in the process. Judd Caulfield potted his third marker against Western Michigan, and fourth of the season to open the UND scoring ledger 9:52 into the second. After that, Matt Kiersted wired home a scintillating seeing-eye point shot past Western Michigan goalie Brandon Bussi to provide the game winning goal.
For the Broncos, Dawson DiPietro slammed home a rebound to the far side of Scheel to provide the only blemish on his otherwise spotless night 4:35 into the third period. To close the evening, Westin Michaud tipped home a nice looking Gabe Bast point shot to provide the insurance marker against Ben Blacker, who replaced Bussi after he left due to injury caused by a disallowed UND goal. Collin Adams made just enough contact with Bussi in the crease to merit the goal being waved off on video review. It was, to put it nicely, a call not liked by the home fans. Later on in the game, Ronnie Attard walloped the head of Shane Pinto with 1:16 left in the affair and was sent to the dressing room a bit early. That was the lowlight of a fracas-filled third period, to say the least.
What does this mean for Saturday
This game had all of the hallmarks of a first round NCAA Tournament game. The playoff intensity vibe really turned up in the third period after DiPietro made it a one goal game. To UND’s credit, the Fighting Hawks hung tough playing without Cole Smith and having to juggle lines around again. When 66 percent of your defensive specialist line (Cole Smith and Gavin Hain) both are out, others have to step up, and Casey Johnson played one his most complete games of his UND career seeing some of the most ice he has since coming to UND. We could see Smith back in Saturday as he was recovering from a minor practice injury and informed the coaches he needed the night of rest to get back to his normal self. Credit to the coaches for not pushing Smith through his injury to play extra.
If Smith is still out tomorrow, one potential option for this team should be moving Jasper Weatherby to his own line to center things. Western Michigan played UND almost even in the faceoff dot, losing one more draw than they won (30-31). Weatherby with Pinto and Michaud down the stretch of a game when benches are shortened to fit the needs of the team is one thing and a good deployment of his skills. Weatherby only won two of the six draws he took, and one of them lead to the Kiersted tally.
In net, Adam Scheel played his best game of the year in terms of the quality of shots faced throughout the game and being able to hold a team in the game against a desperate opponent. His defense limited shot quality in the third, where Western Michigan got 15 shots on net to UND’s seven. There were a few points throughout this one where Scheel needed to be sharp to hang on for the win and he did. This team has two brilliant goalies who can win against any type of team they face, and will most likely use both Scheel and Peter Thome throughout the rest of the season and should UND win its first round matchup in the NCAA Tournament, we could see the other goalie play the next night. Since we have started covering this team, Scheel and Thome are the best tandem we have seen in net, and credit to this coaching staff for using both of them when needed.
Other than the third period, the Broncos did not do enough to make Scheel work much throughout the night. The Fighting Hawks kept the majority of the first 40 minutes’worth of shot attempts to the outside for the Broncos and it shows on the shot chart. If you are a fan of the Broncos, you want to bottle up the good effort from the third, remove the dirty hits that Attard brought on Pinto which ended any hope of a comeback, and try to get to the middle of the ice a bit more. This team has to play with a little more speed to have a chance against UND. The Fighting Hawks are so good at playing a compact zone defense that in order to earn goals, you almost have to not worry about zone time. Teams that play through the neutral zone and avoid the pinching UND defenders are the only ones that have beaten or come close to beating this team this year.
Whatever the result, the finale on Saturday night should be a fun one at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
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