GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- North Dakota head coach Brad Berry finished his post-game media scrum, walked into the hallway and passed Finnish sophomore Joel Janatuinen and Norwegian freshman Ludvig Hoff, who were waiting to take their turns in front of the assembled reporters.
As they crossed paths, Berry cracked to the two players, “Make sure you guys speak English in there.” The head coach was joking, but his two European forwards were dead-serious on the ice, letting their play speak for them in a 5-2 Fighting Hawks victory over Rensselaer on Saturday night in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.
Janatuinen tallied his first career hat trick while Hoff, his center, assisted on two of them, as UND celebrated the school’s 100th Homecoming in winning fashion.
The line of Janatuinen, Hoff and right winger Austin Poganski were the difference for the Fighting Hawks, who are off to their first 3-0 start since 2009-10.
“Yeah, the Euro connection is working,” said Hoff with a smile as wide as the Norwegian Sea. “We had a good week of practice and we really found each other with Poganski, too. It just worked out today, I guess.”
Indeed. Janatuinen, who scored only four goals as a freshman, converted centering passes from Hoff on goals at 15:37 of the first and 7:10 of the second. The first tied the game 1-1 and the second, the eventual game-winner, put UND ahead 3-1.
On the hat trick goal, Janatuinen carried the puck up to the half wall on the right side, slid the puck between the RPI defender’s legs, and then whistled a wrist shot past goaltender Chase Perry. The goal rounded out the scoring.
“I had two (goals), so…I don’t know, my confidence was high. I just felt like trying it and thank God it worked,” said Janatuinen of this third goal.
He added of his linemates, “We enjoy playing with each other. We think the game alike and really we’re just having some fun out there.”
Berry also recognized the chemistry developing between Janatuinen, Hoff and Poganski.
“[Joel] is a guy that’s been building over the course of last year and early this year,” said Berry. “He’s a good two-way player who’s been snakebitten a little bit offensively. It’s nice to see him have some success offensively. It’s also nice to see when a guy like Rhett Gardner (lower body, day-to-day) is out of the lineup and you can put a guy like Ludvig Hoff in the middle. We’re a four-line team and we need that every night.”
Backing their coach’s assessment, three of UND’s four lines scored tonight.
Freshman Tyson Jost put UND on top 2-1 early in the third period when he found a loose puck at the inside of the faceoff circle and beat Perry, whose father, Craig, is a former UND goaltender. And freshman Cole Smith, in the lineup for the first time, picked up his first collegiate goal at 5:39 on a terrific individual effort, batting an airborne puck past a defenseman to spring himself on a breakaway. Alone free behind the defenseman, Smith calmly knocked the puck back down to the ice and beat Perry five-hole.
“I was so happy for him,” Berry said of Smith. “He finally got rewarded with an opportunity to play. You can see it with his off-ice training and his preparation…he does it on the ice. He plays with ice for a big guy and it’s great to see him have success.”
UND was rock-solid defensively, holding its opponent to under 20 shots (14) for the third time in as many games this season.
“We didn’t get the start we wanted, but our guys responded again. I thought giving up 14 shots, we did a pretty good job defensively,” said Berry. “I think it’s a mentality, a way of playing away from the puck. It’s a mindset that offense starts with the puck and if you don’t have it, you gotta get it back.”
Get it back and get it onto the sticks of players like Janatuinen and Hoff.
Notes: Cam Johnson stopped 12 shots for UND while Perry finished with 33 saves … Both teams were 0-6 on the power play … RPI blocked 27 shots compared nine by UND … The three stars as selected by the media were Janatuinen, Hoff and Smith … UND won 36 of 60 faceoffs (60 percent) and is now at an NCHC-best 59.9 percent on the season … UND improved to 5-3-1 all-time in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game ... Janatuinen’s hat trick was the first by a Fighting Hawk since Drake Caggiula last November at St. Cloud State. It was the first UND hat trick at Ralph Engelstad Arena since Brock Boeser did it in last year’s home opener against Bemidji State … UND will host BSU next Friday and Saturday.