ST. CLOUD, Minn. – North Dakota junior goaltender Cam Johnson was asked during his postgame interview if he was aware of how long it had been since UND had swept St. Cloud State on their own ice.
He didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“Yeah, ’98,” said Johnson, with a smile.
Johnson stopped all 36 shots he faced for his second straight shutout and led the Fighting Hawks to a 3-0 win over the Huskies and their first sweep at the National Hockey Center since Nov. 1998.
In the process, Johnson and teammates also handed the Huskies back-to-back shutouts on home ice for the first time in the program’s Division I era.
“That (sweep stat) was something we were talking about before the weekend and then after we took care of business Friday night it was something that we kind of touched on in our locker room amongst ourselves and with the staff.”
Whatever was discussed, UND would do well to bottle it.
The Fighting Hawks struck twice on the power play -- a first-period deflection by Rhett Gardner and a third-period one-timer by Shane Gersich – and also got a Tucker Poolman even-strength goal late in the second period to put a rare 6-game winless streak in the rearview mirror.
“Very proud of our guys, said UND head coach Brad Berry. “They worked extremely hard, not just for 60 minutes, but for 120 minutes. It all started last Monday in practice when there was a workmanlike attitude. It was all business. It’s a great step for our team. We’ve got to keep building our team and remember how we played.”
Gardner opened the scoring when he deflected a Poolman point shot past SCSU goalie Zach Driscoll, rewarding UND for a first period in which the Fighting Hawks outshot the host Huskies 15-9.
St. Cloud State ended up chasing the game for the rest of the night and Poolman provided some insurance with his howitzer from the point at 16:59 of the second period, sending UND into the locker room with a 2-0 lead.
The game swung permanently in UND’s favor in the opening moments of the third period with the Fighting Hawks on a power play. St. Cloud State’s Judd Peterson was sprung in all alone on a breakaway in the opening minute and appeared to have beaten Johnson with a deft deke, but the sprawling Johnson desperately kicked out his left skate to keep the puck out of the net.
UND transitioned the other way and the red-hot Gersich one-timed a beautiful cross-ice feed from defenseman Hayden Shaw at 1:12 for a 3-0 lead.
It was Gersich’s fourth goal of the series, sixth in the last three games and 10th of the season.
“(Peterson) had a lot of time and he made a nice move, but I think I just got a piece of it with my pad,” said Johnson. “That was huge for our team – a huge momentum builder – and we went down and scored a goal so that was a big play in the period.
“I think slowly we’re starting to play the right way,” continued Johnson. “Even with the little skid we were on we were continually playing better and better each weekend. This is just indicative of how much we’ve grown the past few weeks.”
Berry said that UND’s approach in the series was to be wary of St. Cloud State’s explosive transition game and focus on denying the Huskies any extra space through the neutral zone by having its forwards tracking back with persistence.
UND junior forward and St. Cloud native Austin Poganski said they were able to execute the gameplan.
“The motto for the week was play as a five-man team. I think we really did that,” said Poganski. “The forwards helping out the D and the D helping out the goalie. I think it all kind of came together with some big saves, the goals for us…it was a great team effort.”
UND went 2-5 on the power play after a 1-3 showing on Friday and finished the series with a perfect 8-8 penalty kill. The plus-3 effort on special teams on the weekend quelled concerns about UND’s slumping special teams.
It also put the two-time defending Penrose Cup champions right back in the thick of the conference race heading into Thanksgiving.
“I think it shows a lot about our team and the guys we have in our locker room and our coaching staff,” said UND captain Gage Ausmus. “To come into a rink like this – we got on our heels a little bit – but to come out and play like that two nights in a row, it’s really something special we have and we hope to continue that.
“Everyone was dialed in from Monday. To win two games you need to be focused all week long.”
Notes: Johnson was named the game’s first star after recording his third shutout of the season and eighth of his career. Poolman and Gardner were named the second and third stars, respectively … UND was a dominant 38-14 on faceoffs, led by Tyson Jost (16-4), Gardner (11-7), and Ludvig Hoff (5-1) … The Fighting Hawks will host non-conference foe Michigan State next weekend in the annual Subway Holiday Classic.