OXFORD, Ohio – Although it’s had to be learned many times, many ways, over the years, writing off the North Dakota men’s hockey program has never been the smart bet.
Needing a season-saving sweep on the road to close out the regular season, without All-America winger Brock Boeser and, eventually, winger Austin Poganski, the Fighting Hawks came up with a 5-2 win over Miami in tonight’s season finale to clinch home ice in the NCHC Quarterfinals.
The win, and sweep, also pushed the Fighting Hawks to No. 12 in the PairWise rankings after entering the weekend on the outside looking in at No. 16.
In the absence of top-line wingers Boeser and Poganski, who left Saturday’s game late in the first period, defenseman Tucker Poolman scored twice, sophomore Chris Wilkie scored his first of the season, and Trevor Olson added his second goal of the weekend. Freshman Dixon Bowen chipped in with an empty-netter.
The wins mean UND will be at home for the first round of the conference playoffs for the 15th straight year, the longest active streak in the country. UND head coach Brad Berry said that’s the program’s first on a checklist of goals prior to each season.
“The very first one is to get home ice,” said Berry of the team’s checklist. “We’re very blessed to be playing at Ralph Engelstad Arena. We attained that one tonight. It took the last game of the regular season to get it, but we did it. Now we have to move on and turn the page.”
Wilkie’s goal, his first in 29 games this season, was instrumental. The Omaha, Neb., native opened the scoring at 2:34 of the first period after being sprung by Ludvig Hoff. Wilkie made no mistake in beating Miami goaltender Ryan Larking to the glove side.
“It’s about time,” Wilkie said of his goal. “Especially being out of the lineup last weekend, I wanted to step in and make a big difference.”
Production from the likes of Wilkie and Olson became even more imperative after Poganski left the game with an undisclosed injury.
“We called on him to do a job this weekend,” said Olson of Wilkie, “and he played really well. A lot of guys did. We’re excited as a team to get that production. Hopefully we can continue burying pucks next weekend.”
Count Olson among those who were burying pucks. His top-shelf snipe early in the third period gave UND a 3-2 lead and gave Olson the game-winning goal for the second straight night.
Poolman added a pair of highlight-reel goals and two assists. His second goal, like Olson's a rocket just under the crossbar, came just 35 seconds after Miami's Chaz Switzer had cut the UND lead to 3-2.
“We’ve been through this before,” said Berry. “Guys know that Boeser and Poganski are important players on our team, but we have a lot of important players on our team and they did the job this weekend.
“I thought for the first time in a long time, it was a weekend where we were business-like. There was an urgency. There was a hunger there, and there was a focus.”
Wilkie said that was the mindset as soon as Friday’s game ended.
“That was our focus today all day, starting in the morning, that we wanted to be serious and business-like coming to the rink in the morning and all the way through the day,” said Wilkie. “The last couple of weeks we felt like we dropped off a little bit after the Friday game.”
UND will host St. Cloud State in next weekend’s best-of-three series for a chance to advance to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Target Center.
“It’s huge not only for the standings, but for our confidence too,” said Olson. “It’s been a struggle and when it comes to playoff time, we need two wins in a weekend. This was a learning curve to understand what we need to do to get two wins.”
Notes: Poolman’s two goals gave him 20 for his career, making him UND’s first defenseman to reach that plateau since Chay Genoway … Berry did not have a definitive update on Poganski following the game, calling him day to day for the time being … UND outshot Miami 27-11 and held the RedHawks to one shot in the first period and three in the third ... Shane Gersich won the NCHC goal-scoring title with 14 goals in 24 league games.