GRAND FORKS, N.D. – One year ago, the University of North Dakota parlayed a 16-2-1 record on home ice at Ralph Engelstad Arena into the school's eighth NCAA Division I championship.
But with the loss of talent via graduation and early signings by NHL teams, it's clear that this season may be more of a project at this point rather than a team with a clear destiny for greatness.
The University of Denver downed the Fighting Hawks 3-2 tonight to leave UND winless in its last six games (0-4-2). Not since UND endured a 7-game game winless streak (0-5-2) in 2003 has the team gone through a longer drought for victories.
Freshman center Henrik Borgstrom, from Finland and a first-round draft pick of Florida in last summer's entry draft, tallied the winning goal. He snapped a wrist shot past UND goalie Cam Johnson's catching glove from the top of the faceoff circle at 6:25 of the second period to break a 2-2 tie and net what proved to be the winner with his sixth goal of the season.
After the Fighting Hawks earned two of three possible National Collegiate Hockey Conference points Friday night on Shane Gersich's goal in second overtime in a game that officially ended in a 1-1 tie, this was close as well. Gersich scored both UND goals. His first went off the skate of a DU defenseman 33 seconds into the game, his second on a rebound on a power play at 5:28 of the second period to tie it at 2-2.
Liam Finlay and Adam Plant had scored in the first period to send DU into the dressing room leading 2-1. Gersich nearly forced the game into overtime. With UND working on a power play at 14:51 of the final period, Gersich hit the elbow joining the post and crossbar flush, with a gaping net facing him. He finished with the first two-goal game of his career with the fifth and sixth goals this season.
In a tightly-contested game where UND led in shots on net by just 24-23, little things proved big. UND has now scored just three goals in last three games.
"You can look through the game and it's those lapses in games where you give up one goal or two goals,'' UND coach Brad Berry said. "Whether it's having a lead or chasing the game, there's lapses in our game where we're leaving Cam (Johnson) stranded back there. We can't do that.''
It's why a blanket of frustration has fallen over UND.
"Collectively from our group, it's the small times in games where we're giving up chances,'' Berry said.
Berry said if he didn't know if the winless streak is wearing on his team, but there is frustration, no doubt.
"They chased the game and poured their hearts out at the end,'' he said. "But when you give up two goals in a short amount of time, you spend a lot of energy, and there's disappointment there not tying it up. It's for our group to learn as far as controlling a game or managing a game, where you don't give up goals when you want to sustain a lead.''
A case in point came five minutes after Gerisch rocked the Ralph with his opening goal 33 seconds after the start to fire up a sellout crowd of 11,910. Denver came back with Finlay's goal on a power-play deflection of a point shot at 5:07 and defenseman Plant beat a UND defenseman to a rebound from a Matt Matrcinew shot to give Denver a 2-1 lead at 9:20 of the first period.
UND never led again.
Even when Gerisch tied it at 2-2, Borgstrom countered 57 seconds later with what proved to be the game-winning goal.
"Obviously, we're in a tough spot,'' UND captain Gage Ausmus said. "It's tough times for us right now. The only thing we can do is believe in our system and believe in ourselves. You have to hold each other accountable. Every shift, every day of the week in practice. We're going to have to scratch and claw to get out of this slump we're in.''
UND fell to 0-3-1-1 in NCHC play and 5-4-2 overall heading into next weekend's series at St. Cloud State. Denver, ranked No. 2 nationally, now is 7-0-1 in its last eight games, 3-0-1 in league play and 7-2-1 overall.
Said Gersich: "I think coach (Dane) Jackson said it best, when you're in a slump like this, you just got to chip and scratch and claw. When you think you're working hard, you've got to work harder. When you think that's good enough, you've got to keep going. Our consistency needs to get better.''
Notes: Tanner Jaillet finished with 23 saves for Denver, Johnson with 20 for UND. UND was 1-4 on the power play after going 2-23 in the previous five games. Denver was 1-for-3 on the power play. Game notes: Gersich's spin-o-rama double overtime goal Friday night was the No. 2 play of the day nationally on ESPN television ... Denver senior wing Emil Romig was helped off the ice late in the first period with what appeared to be a right leg injury and he did not return to the game ... Gersich, Austin Poganski, Tyson Jost and Joel Janatuinen all had 3 shots onl goal to lead UND ... UND had a 34-30 edge in faceoff wins, led by Jost with 12 wins in 17 draws.
Virg Foss covered UND for the Grand Forks Herald for 35 seasons and 5 NCAA championships until his retirement in 2005. He's in his 12th year of reporting on UND home games exclusively for UNDsports.com.