MINNEAPOLIS – As Wayne Gretzky once said, “Sometimes the bounces just don’t go your way.”
The No. 3 ranked University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks men’s hockey team could be saying the same thing following a 2-0 loss at No. 13 Minnesota on Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.
UND (5-3-1) attempted 80 shots at the Minnesota (4-2-2) net, but were unable to find the twine as the Fighting Hawks skated away with a tough loss.
“Pretty much the way we wanted to play,” said head coach Brad Berry on the loss. “We competed hard and dominated pretty much every category but the scoreboard, and obviously the effort we had tonight was the effort that we need every night. I’m proud of the way that our guys played.”
After a wild 5-5 overtime tie on Friday, UND felt like they left some things on the table and looked to set the tone tonight.
The Fighting Hawks came out of the gates firing, attempting 24 shots in the opening 20 minutes.
However, the Gophers weathered the storm in the early going and were able to start to create chances of their own.
Moments after a delay-of-game penalty on Tyson Jost, Minnesota struck first. Mike Szmatula scored his fourth goal of the season by sneaking a puck through junior goaltender Cam Johnson at the net-mouth. The goal was the fourth on the man advantage for Minnesota on the weekend, and was the first time that the Gophers had led on the weekend.
Although North Dakota headed into the first intermission trailing by a goal, the Fighting Hawks felt like they had done almost everything right in terms of their play.
“That first period I thought was the best 20 minutes of the year so far,” said Berry on the opening frame.
UND came out firing again in the middle frame, and was rewarded with its best chance of the game up until that point when a Minnesota defenseman turned the puck over the forward Brock Boeser right in the slot. The sophomore rifled the puck past goaltender Nate Schierhorn, but could not beat the post as the puck struck iron and stayed out.
“It’s hockey,” said Berry on the amount of posts hit by UND. “That’s how hockey is. Some nights you’re on the other end where the other team should win, but you win.”
“If you look at all the posts we hit and all the opportunities we missed, the outcome could have been very different,” said the freshman. “I thought it could have gone very differently, but I also don’t want to sit here and make excuses.”
The poor puck-luck against UND continued as Minnesota capitalized in the second period after Vinni Lettieri potted a rebound off a deflection to give the Gophers a 2-0 lead heading into the final 20 minutes.
In the third period, the Fighting Hawks outshot the Gophers, 10-3, including another post by Jost, and a failed penalty shot by Boeser as Minnesota held on for the 2-0 win.
“I believe this was the best 60 minutes that we played all year,” said Berry on the effort. “I think it was the most consistent 60 minutes that we played, and I know that we didn’t get rewarded with a goal or a win, but it’s something to build on to know that’s how you have to play for 60 minutes in order to have success.”
Despite the 0-3-1 start on the road this season, Berry knows that his team is dealing with growing pains and that there are more positives than negatives to take away from the previous weekends of hockey.
“We won a championship last year because the team went through some growing pains when they were younger and that’s what we are going through right now,” said Berry. “We have to make sure that we learn from it, remember it, keep working hard, and be patient because we will get the results if we keep working with an effort like that every night.
The tough breaks for UND began even before the opening faceoff as junior defenseman Tucker Poolman was announced as a late-scratch to the lineup. This vaulted Hayden Shaw onto the top-pairing for the Fighting Hawks, and also added freshman Andrew Peski to the lineup.
“We have such a team mentality,” said Shaw on the Poolman scratch. “As soon as we knew that Tucker wasn’t going to be in the lineup, the next man stood up, and Peski did a really good job for us.”
Berry agreed with his defenseman’s statement.
“That’s one of the rewards when Tucker is out of the lineup, and the minutes that he has have to go somewhere and that’s the reward for a game like tonight. Guys like Peski, Casey Johnson, and Colton Poolman all came in and played big-time minutes and that’s how you grow as players.”
The Fighting Hawks now turn their attention back to NCHC play as UND hosts No. 2 Denver this upcoming weekend.
“We are going to have a really good week of practice and get ready for Denver,” added Jost. “We’re back in the NCHC and this is a huge weekend for us. We are looking for a bounce back weekend and we are excited to get back home and play in front of our fans.”
NOTES: Tonight’s loss extends UND’s winless streak to nine at Mariucci Arena (0-5-4) … The last win at the arena was a 2-1 overtime win in 2008 … This marks the first time that UND was shut out on consecutive weekends since November 2011 … That was also the last season where UND was blanked more than once in a season … Shane Gerisch fired five shots on the night, a season high … Minnesota’s Schierhorn, Szmatula, and Lettieri were named the game’s three stars.