GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Though UND hockey fans continue to jam Ralph Engelstad Arena to overflowing most every game night, the arena has hardly been "Home sweet home'' for the Fighting Hawks this season.
A year after posting a 16-2-1 record in games played at The Ralph, UND fell to7-5-2 in its rink this season and just 2-4-1 in league games after falling 5-3 to Minnesota-Duluth in front of a sellout crowd of 11,861.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference-leading Bulldogs beat the Hawks for the third time in three tries this season while outscoring them by a cumulative total of 13-5.
The trials and tribulations at home this season for UND is puzzling.
"Obviously we take pride at home, winning in front of our home fans in this beautiful rink,'' UND junior center Johnny Simsonson, a Grand Forks native, said. "It's too bad we haven't been able to have a better record. We take that to heart."
But it was Minnesota Duluth that took it to UND on the ice for much of the game, outshooting UND 34-24 and holding the Hawks to one of their lowest shot totals of the season.
UND has one of the youngest teams in the nation, so perhaps the pressure of playing in front of a packed stands gets to this team?
"I think there's always pressure there,'' Simonson said. "I'm not sure I can put my finger on it, why home ice has not been as good as last year. Definitely we need to take more pride in playing in our own building.''
The Bulldogs (14-5-4 overall, 10-4-1-1 NCHC) never let UND (13-8-3 overall, 6-6-1-1 NCHC) grab momentum.
Freshman center Tyson Jost put UND up 1-0 on a power-play snipe to the top corner blocker side at 7:12 of the opening period, his 11th of the season.
Minnesota Duluth struck back 38 seconds later on the first of two goals from rookie wing Riley Tufte at 7:50 on a deflection of a Dan Molenaar point shot.
After UND trimmed Minnesota Duluth's 4-1 lead to 4-2 on the 17th goal of the season by Shane Gersich at 4:23 of the third period, UND defenseman Christian Wolanin received a 5-minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head of Minnesota Duluth's Avery Peterson just 94 seconds after the Gersich goal.
On the power play, Tufte struck again on a rebound off a point shot to make it 5-2 midway through final period.
Joel Janatuinen scored on a power-play rebound for UND at 15:22 of the final period and UND coach Brad Berry pulled his goalie for a sixth attacker with three minutes remaining, but the Hawks couldn't climb closer.
The loss wasn't contained to the scoreboard. Jost left the game in the second period after being dinged on a collision at the net and didn't return to the game.
"Obviously he's going to get evaluated tonight,'' Berry said after the game. "He's a warrior, and knowing him, he's going to be ready to go. We want to make sure with Mark Poolman (UND trainer) that we evaluate him and see where he's at.''
Minnesota Duluth drove UND starting goalie Cam Johnson out of the game for the second Friday in a row for the UND junior.
Goals by Adam Johnson two seconds after a Minnesota Duluth power-play expired started the run of three straight goals on Johnson. Sammy Spurrell, with his skates behind the end line, snuck a shot past Johnson from a sharp angle at 5:58 to make it 3-1 and spell the end of Johnson (12 saves, 3 goals).
He was replaced by Matt Hyrnkiw at the point, who finished with 17 saves and 2 goals allowed in his first action this season. Officially, he was charged with the loss.
Peterson completed the three-goal burst for the Bulldoigs when he pounced on shot that kicked off the glass high behind Hrynkiw and popped out front for Peterson to slam home.
Berry called it a "big, hard, heavy game, a fast game,'' with lots of hitting on both sides. "Couple of things,'' Berry said, "we didn't move pucks quick enough. We tried to get through the neutral zone, and it was pretty tough for us to get through there. There wasn't a lot of time and space.''
The loss left UND in a logjam for a first division place in the NCHC. UND is tied with Western Michigan for third place behind Minnesota Duluth and Denver with 20 points, but Omaha and St. Cloud State with 19 and Miami with 18 are in the hunt for a home ice playoff finish as well.
''We have 11 games left in the regular season,'' Berry said. "Each one is critical, especially when you're playing at home.''
Why Minnesota Duluth's dominance over UND so far this season?
"They don't have just one good line, they have three good lines,'' Simonson said. "They play pretty tenacious, kind of like we do.''
Only on this night, UMD played that style better and walked away with a big NCHC win to move to No. 2 in the national Pairwise rankings while dropping UND from seventh to ninth.
Game notes: Minnesota Duluth swept the three star awards as voted on by the media with Tufte, Peterson and Karson Kuhlman (2 assists) winning, in that order ... UND was 2-for-3 on the power play on three shots, Minnesota Duluth 1-for-5 on seven shots ... Kuhlman led Minnesota Duluth in shots on net with six, while Rhett Gardner and Chris Wilkie had four each for UND ... Minnesota Duluth won the faceoff battle 35-25, paced by Dominic Toninato (17 of 28) while Brock Boeser won seen of 12 for UND ... Minnesota Duluth outshot UND 27-15 through two periods in building the 4-1 lead ... Duluth had two goals disallowed in the first period, one for goaltender interference, one for the play being offsides.