COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – For North Dakota head coach Brad Berry, the comparison was all too obvious.
His team had just dropped a 3-0 decision to Colorado College despite out-shooting the host Tigers 45-20. It held an absurd 91-37 advantage in shot attempts. It hit four goal posts. The decisive goal banked off a UND shin pad.
And the Fighting Hawks could not solve dazzling freshman netminder Alex Leclerc.
Berry was asked if he could recall any similar games. Instantly, he invoked the memory of UND’s 2011 Frozen Four loss to Michigan, a dominant, albeit fruitless, effort that still haunts UND fans to this day.
Berry hadn’t yet returned to UND, but he watched that game on TV.
“I watched the Michigan game,” remember Berry, who was on the staff of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets at the time. “I think it’s a little reminiscent of that one, probably, where you deserve a better fate. That’s the way the game is when the goaltender has a great effort from the other team.”
UND peppered Leclerc early and often, outshooting the Tigers 16-5 in the first period and 37-12 through 40 minutes. Several of those shots were of the Grade A variety. Fifteen came during UND’s six scoreless power plays.
“I thought we were going to pop one in any moment throughout that game,” said junior Tucker Poolman, a hint of exasperation on his face. “The guys worked hard and we got some good looks. We just couldn’t get one to go in. [Leclerc] played outstanding. Give credit it him.”
In all, 13 of UND’s 18 skaters registered at least two shots on goal.
“[Leclerc] played a really good game,” said UND forward Brock Boeser. “ He stopped all those first shots and stopped us from getting a few second whacks. As we kept getting shots and hitting posts, more frustration builds up.”
Adding to the frustration was the manner in which the Tigers scored their first, and eventual game-winning, goal.
With half a minute left in the first period, CC’s Luc Gerdes grabbed a puck in the UND corner and simply throw a centering pass to the slot. The puck banked off the leg off UND defenseman Casey Johnson and past netminder Matt Hrynkiw.
After a first period in which the puck rarely left the UND zone, the Fighting Hawks went to the locker room trailing by a goal.
“We came out good in the first,” said Boeser. "I thought we carried momentum from the second into the third. We got pucks there, just a few unlucky bounces and we lose a game.”
Boeser was right. UND picked up in the second period where it left off, throwing 21 more shots on goal. Twelve of them came during three power-plays. But Leclerc sparkled en route to a 45-save shutout, the most saves by an opposing goaltender since Boston University’s Matt O’Connor had 55 in Nov. 2013.
UND never did find the tying goal and the Tigers iced the game with empty-net goals in the final minute of the third period by Sam Rothstein and Alex Berardinelli.
The loss ended UND’s 7-game road winning streak and denied the Fighting Hawks a chance to pull even with third-place Western Michigan.
“You’ve just got to try to stay positive and get back to work,” said Poolman.” You can’t let it ruin the next week. You’ve got to get up and get back to work and keep pushing.”
Berry also took a big-picture approach.
“For the first two periods, we probably dominated every category and weren’t rewarded for our effort,” said Berry. "Third period, we maybe got a little tired and maybe a little bit frustrated that we didn’t score.
“We have to make sure we keep taking a step forward,” continued Berry, “because we sure didn’t take a step backward tonight.”
UND will return home to host St. Cloud State next weekend.
Notes: Hrynkiw, making his first start since Nov. 21, 2015, stopped 17 of 18 shots in the game and 32 of 33 in the series … UND killed all three CC power-play chances … Leclerc, Gerdes (1 goal, 1 assist) and Rothstein were named the game’s three stars … The Tigers blocked 19 shots compared to seven by UND … Sophomore Joel Janatuinen (lower body, day-to-day) was replaced in the lineup by Wilkie.