COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – You’d be forgiven if things were feeling bleak tonight.
North Dakota, still fresh off of a pair home losses last weekend, found itself trailing 2-0 at last-place Colorado College on Friday night, with starting netminder Matej Tomek having already been replaced by senior Matt Hrynkiw after 20 minutes.
UND, already approaching tenuous territory at No. 12 in the PairWise Rankings entering the weekend, needed a spark and it needed it fast.
Enter junior forward Trevor Olson, whose crash-and-bang goal 4:34 into the second period got the Fighting Hawks on the board and was the first of five consecutive goals in a 5-2 North Dakota victory.
Olson’s goal turned the game on a dime.
The big winger drove to the net and hunted down a Johnny Simonson rebound, depositing just his second goal of the season.
After a non-descript opening 20 minutes, the Fighting Hawks took over every aspect of the game following the Olson goal. UND outshot the Tigers 36-15 over the final two periods, peppering freshman netminder Alex Leclerc from all angles.
Leclerc was equal to the task for much of the final two periods, turning aside numerous Grade A scoring opportunities.
Sophomore defenseman Hayden Shaw finally found the equalizer with 5:19 left in the third period, threading the needle from the point for what was also his second goal of the season. That kicked off a 3-goal eruption in a span of 2 minutes, 54 seconds. Goals by Dixon Bowen, Shane Gersich and, later, Joel Janatuinen (empty netter) followed, and UND emerged with its second straight road win.
It also made a massive leap in the PairWise, surging all the way to No. 7.
“We’re proud of the way they battled for 60 minutes,” said UND head coach Brad Berry. “The first period wasn’t the way we predicted the game would start, but the most important thing was how we responded the next 40 minutes. Our guys didn’t give up.”
Following the game, each player was steadfast that the bench did not get frustrated by being unable to find that elusive second goal for much of the game despite a decisive shot attempts and puck possession advantage.
“We were playing really good hockey,” said Olson. “We were getting the puck deep, we were getting to it and getting chances. We just needed one to pop over the pad and ‘Shawsie’ got that one for us and the floodgates kind of opened after that . Coach kept telling us on the bench, ‘Don’t quit, don’t quit. One’s gonna fall.’ And it did, and obviously a few more after that.
Added sophomore winger Mike Gornall: “We were outplaying them for a large majority of the game. You’ve got to keep your head up and keep pushing and goals are bound to happen. It’s a long 60 minutes and as long as you stick with the system, stick with the plan, more often than not it’s going to pay off.”
Gornall set up Bowen’s game-winner, grabbing a Christian Wolanin chip pass in the neutral zone and immediately spinning and finding a wide-open Bowen at the blueline. Bowen streaked in all alone and beat Leclerc for the go-ahead goal with 2:46 remaining.
“I just tried to get back and help out the D,” said Gornall. “’Wooly’ made a good chip off the wall and I just tried to take my time and see who was open. Dixie found a real good seam down the middle. My part was easy; I just had to make a pass and he took care of the rest of it.”
With star freshman Tyson Jost out of the lineup with a lower body injury, and junior goaltender Cam Johnson a late injury scratch, UND needed contributions from throughout the lineup. Goals from unlikely sources such as Olson, Bowen and Shaw aided that cause, as did Hrynkiw’s relief performance.
Last year, Hrynkiw started both games at CC in relief of Johnson and won both. Tonight, he came off the bench to stop all 15 shots he faced.
“As a staff and as a team you have to do whatever you have to do to get a win here,” said Berry. “The biggest thing with Matt is he’s been through that before. Last year when Cam got injured he came in and did a good job. Our guys responded and he made a couple of tough saves in the second period to keep us in there.”
Hrynkiw hasn’t started a game since Nov. 2015, but has delivered a handful of standout relief performances during that time.
“It’s a position he’s been in before,” said Gornall. “Last year he came into this building and got some wins for us. He was comfortable, poised and did a fantastic job keeping the door shut.”
Bowen was effusive in his praise for his senior teammate.
“That guy is a leader on and off the ice. It doesn’t matter if he’s in the lineup or not, he's the hardest worker I know. I feel very happy for him. He went in there and did the job for us,” said Bowen.
UND, now 14-9-3 overall and 7-7-1-1 in the NCHC, can solidify its hold on the final spot for home ice in the NCHC Quarterfinals with another road sweep.
“It was a total team effort,” said Berry. “Every one of the guys contributed tonight to get the win. That’s what you need is everybody clicking and contributing.”
Notes: Hrynkiw, Gornall and Bowen were named the game’s three stars … Gersich’s goal was his NCHC-leading 18th of the season and he now ranks third in the country in that category … Freshman defenseman Colton Poolman led all players with a plus-4 rating and added an assist … UND’s penalty kill was a perfect 4-4, while the power play went 0-3.