(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.
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.