ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Early-season hockey games are often rife with lessons. Chapter One for the University of North Dakota tonight, according to coach Brad Berry, was How to Close Out Games.
UAA’s Jordan Xavier scored the game-tying goal with 75 seconds remaining in regulation time, lifting the host Seawolves to a 1-1 overtime tie against the seventh-ranked Fighting Hawks.
It was a bitter result for UND to swallow, given it out-shot the Seawolves 33-16 for the game and 24-7 in the second and third periods. UAA senior netminder Olivier Mantha was spectacular, turning aside 32 shots and making several point-blank stops throughout regulation and overtime.
“Our execution wasn’t there tonight,” said Berry. “We were in the offensive zone, had some open nets, some looks and we didn’t bear down.”
UND was guilty of a defensive breakdown on the tying goal, allowing Xavier just enough time and space in the slot to get off a shot and beat netminder Cam Johnson high to the glove side. That goal forced overtime and, ultimately, the tie, but Berry pointed to the numerous missed opportunities at the offensive end and a power play that came up empty in five tries.
“It starts before that goal. You get the second or the third one, and we had plenty of opportunities to get a bigger lead, then we don’t talk about [the UAA goal],” said Berry. “We learned a little bit about the mental side of it, bearing down and executing. We didn’t close out a game tonight.”
In a sense, UND had to be pleased leaving the building with a tie given it was forced to kill a 5-on-3 UAA power play for more than a minute-and-a-half in overtime. Johnson came up with several timely saves and his penalty killers cleared away any second-chance tries.
“They did a good job of doing the right things [on the PK], getting in shooting lanes and pressuring at the right time,” said Berry.
Senior assistant captain Johnny Simonson was the lone Fighting Hawk to solve Mantha, converting a picture-perfect three-way passing play midway through the second period and tapping home a backdoor feed from defenseman Christian Wolanin.
Simonson echoed his head coach’s message of finishing strong.
“It’s always frustrating when the chances are there and you feel like you’re in the O-zone for most of the game. That’s something we’re going to have to learn – how to close out games,” said Simonson.
Wolanin said it’s important not to overreact heading into Saturday’s series finale.
“We’re disappointed in the tie,” said Wolanin. “But it’s early in the season. There’s no need to panic or start to overthink things. Just come back tomorrow and get the win.”
The two teams square off at 7:07 p.m. (AT) on Saturday night at Sullivan Arena.
Notes: Although the game ended officially as a 1-1 overtime tie, the two teams mimicked both the NCHC and WCHA overtime formats by still playing an additional 5-minute overtime of 3-on-3 hockey. When neither team was able to score in that session, it went to a shootout. Austin Poganski scored to give UND a win in the shootout … Johnson finished with 15 saves on 16 shots, including a highlight-reel, diving glove stop along the goal line in the first period … The Seawolves blocked 25 shots while UND blocked six … Wolanin and defense partner Colton Poolman led all players with five shots on goal each.