Collective effort leads No. 4 North Dakota past No. 13 Omaha


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OMAHA, Neb. — Facing a five-minute major late in the second period on the road without one of the best defenseman put the game in jeopardy for No. 4 North Dakota.

Yet, the outcome was a swing in momentum that determined the game for the better.

After Omaha scored first, the Fighting Hawks scored twice in the second and another pair in the third to defeat the No. 13 Mavericks 4-2.

At 14:50 in the second period, Luke Johnson was handed a game misconduct penalty for a contact-to-the-head hit near the boards on Omaha’s Jordan Klehr. Despite five minutes of power play to nearly close out the period for Omaha, the Fighting Hawks shut them out and the period ended 2-1 in UND’s favor.

“That was the difference in the game,” Omaha coach Dean Blais said. “And only getting one shot.”

UND did it too without defenseman Troy Strecher, who was suspended from the game, but will be back Saturday.

“The guys who are a little bit more experienced got a little bit heavier minutes knowing who’s on the ice on certain times — we erred on that side,” said UND coach Brad Berry. “I thought our guys did a good job at managing their ice and did a good job that way.”

Omaha got on the board first thanks to a hustle play by Jake Guentzel. The captain stole the puck back near the left of UND net, and then wheeled it all the way to set up again. While rushing in, Frederik Oloffson dumped it backwards to Justin Parizek on the right wing, who passed a laser to Guentzel, who shot high to the left corner on Cam Johnson for the score.

While the Mavericks were leading shots early on, and UND had only one shot on goal beyond the first nine minutes of the period, the Fighting Hawks had some threatening chances, too — first on a blast off the pipe while down a man, and second when Omaha’s Grant Gallo had to fling the puck out just seconds before it crossed the goal line.

In the second period, the tide started to turn, but Tucker Poolman tied the game quickly. At 1:31 in the period, Austin Poganski drove the net and lost the puck, but it drifted back to Poolman, who sniped it upstairs for the unassisted equalizer.

After Gallo was called for cross checking in the defensive zone, UND struck again. On the power play, Johnson handled the puck along the middle past the blue line and flung one inside, scoring a shot that snuck up on goaltender Alex Blankenburg.

After killing the major, the Fighting Hawks came right out of the gates in the third and the UND momentum resulted in a score. Poganski fed Drake Caggiula with a tight pass, and he dinged it in off the right corner for the score to put UND up two.

Berry felt that killing the major led to the momentum to open the final period.

“There’s some very good, gifted offensive players on the other team and they’ll get their looks and chances,” Berry said. “The five-minute majors can go one way or the other as far as momentum and tonight, I thought our guys did a good job of killing it.”

Despite being down two, the Mavericks had more than 19 minutes of play to catch up. Olofsson got the comeback effort started at 6:12 in the period. The freshman scored from the center between the dots from a nice assist by Guentzel.

But after a few missed chances down the stretch, Omaha pulled Blankenburg and a minute later, Brock Boeser threw the puck from center ice at the open net for the score to seal the game.

“I thought for a road game we did OK,” Berry said. “I thought the first 10 minutes, they came at us pretty hard. I thought after the 10-minute mark, I thought we got ourselves into the game and finished pretty well, but it’s a tough game.”

Following a St. Cloud loss, UND has sole possession of first place in the NCHC standings and could further the gap Saturday with another win.

“We want that first place [and] every win on the road is just as important as wins at home and anytime you can come in and win Friday night, it gives you a lot of confidence heading into Saturday,” Caggiula said. “But that being said, the job’s not done. We got to still show up tomorrow and bring our game because our team, if we lose at home Friday night, we’re coming back on Saturday with everything we have and Omaha’s going to do the same thing.”

Blankenburg earned just his third start of the season. He was in net when the Mavericks knocked off the Fighting Hawks on the road earlier in the season.

“I thought he did OK [and] I thought Evan [Weninger] last weekend was the same way, OK,” Blais said. “Well, to beat the No. 2 and No. 4 teams in the country, you need to be better than OK. We got to have a goaltender stealing the game because the guys are just working so hard. We’re playing great teams, obviously, too.”

The Mavericks have now lost seven of their last nine home games, this coming after starting 8-0 at home to open their new arena. Omaha is hoping to close out the regular season at home on a positive note on senior night.

“We just got to come out with the mentality that we’ve lost three straight now, and that’s got to drive us because these points at the end of the year are must have and we’re not getting them right now,” Guentzel said. “So we got to find a way, starting in the morning, find a way to do what we’ve got to do to come out strong.”