GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- With heavy losses of players to the professional ranks after UND's eighth national championship last April, nobody expected coach Brad Berry's youthful team to pick right up where that team left off.
Still, No. 1-ranked North Dakota improved to 5-0 this season tonight with a 5-4 non-conference victory over Bemidji State and a sweep of the series.
In contrast, last year's title team posted a 3-0-2 record through its first five games to start its championship run.
The post-game talk from the winning team centered on this game providing a lesson to be learned, albeit in victory, after Bemidji State turned a 5-1 deficit into a harrowing 5-4 finish.
"Obviously in the third (period), you don't like to see yourself let up a lead like that,'' Fighting Hawks captain Gage Ausmus said. "At the same time, we beat Bemidji two nights in a row, and that's a good accomplishment.''
The Beavers came into the series with a 4-0 record and a No. 18 national ranking and showed their trademark willingness to compete to the end.
BSU made it interesting with power-play goals from Jay Dickman and Brendan Harms and a shorthanded goal from Dillon Eichstadt to make for a tense finish for a sellout crowd of 11,898 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
North Dakota had big games from the line of center Tyson Jost flanked by wings Brock Boeser and Shane Gersich. Boeser had two goals on top of his hat trick in Friday's 3-2 win, giving him eight goals in his last three games against the Beavers. That matches the total the entire BSU team has scored in its last three battles with UND.
With an eye to the future, Berry used the non-league game to rotate veteran defensemen Ausmus and Tucker Poolman throughout the game. They both drew shifts with sophomore Hayden Shaw and freshmen Colton Poolman, Casey Johnson and Andrew Peski.
"You commend our coaching staff for preparing us for that,'' Ausmus said. "You don't only practice with one guy, you practice with many guys just in case you have to go on the ice with them in a game.''
Said Berry: "I think it is a big thing to try to get an experienced defenseman with the younger guy, just to help him out, calm things down back there. They're good defensemen in their own right, the young guys, but I think when you play against heavy, hard teams like Bemidji, we have got to make sure we manage our guys and try to set them up for success.''
UND hadn't given up a goal in the third period through its first four victories, but the Beavers torched them for three goals in the final period.
"We're a young team, and it's early in the year,'' Ausmus said. "You have a lead going into the third and it obviously happened against Colorado College last year. I think every team goes through moments like this. We're just fortunate we came out with a win, and we can learn from this one. We're learning from a win, so that's a plus.''
UND saw a 4-0 lead over CC last year in Grand Forks end in a 5-5 overtime tie. The Beavers, outshot by UND 26-14 through two periods, outshot UND 14-7 in the third period. They scored their third goal of the period shorthanded with goalie Michael Bitzer pulled for an extra attacker with 41 seconds left.
For the fourth game in a row, UND gave up the first goal of the game, but left the opening period with a 2-1 lead on goals from Boeser and Gersich.
"I thought we played one of our better first periods,'' Berry said. "Second period was pretty good, too, then we got into the third period and got the fifth goal (for a 5-1 lead).''
What happened after that was not to Berry's liking.
"We kind of took a little time off, and obviously that's a team that works extremely hard for 60 minutes and has a lot of pride,'' he said. "I've got to commend them on the way they played. They played the right way. We'll have to learn from this game, too. With a young team, you've got to close out games, and you got to play 60 minutes.''
Still, the learning lesson came with a 'W' attached rather than a loss.
"I told our guys it's not the way you want to finish a game but you found a way to win. We've got a long way to go to get to where we want to go,'' Berry said.
The path deeper into the season takes UND to Minnesota Duluth next weekend to open defense of its National Collegiate Hockey Conference title against the Bulldogs, ranked No. 2 nationally.
Notes: Boeser now has 72 points in 47 games at UND, an average of 1.53 points per game, the same average as Zach Pardise had from 2002-04. They are the only players to average better than 1.5 points per game at UND in the last quarter century ... BSU is the first team to fire more than 20 shots on goal in against UND in the last five games ... Boeser and Joel Janatuinen led UND in shots on goal with four each ... Boeser was named first star by the media, Gersich second star and Leo Fitzgerald of BSU third star ... Gardner won 13 of 23 draws to pace UND to a 33-29 edge in faceoff wins ... BSU was 2-4 on the power play, UND 1-3.
Virg Foss covered UND for the Grand Forks Herald for 35 seasons and five NCAA championships until his retirement in 2005. He's in his 12th year of reporting on UND home games exclusively for UNDsports.com.