COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Coming off of a highly-charged series against rival Minnesota, North Dakota head coach Brad Berry spent the week imparting a message to his players: be ready to play when the NCHC schedule opens at Colorado College.
If the message was received, it did not translate to the ice on Friday night.
Goals by Mason Bergh and Nick Halloran staked CC to a 2-0 lead and the Tigers withstood a third-period push to defeat the fourth-ranked Fighting Hawks 2-1 at the Broadmoor World Arena.
UND struggled to gain any footing through the first 40 minutes, yielding 20 of the game’s first 28 shots to the Tigers. The Fighting Hawks had just one shot on goal from below the dots in the opening period.
Bergh slipped a backhand through the legs of UND goalie Cam Johnson 4:45 into the game and Halloran sniped a power-play goal from the bottom of the circle in the second period, giving the hometown Tigers a 2-0 cushion.
Shane Gersich got UND on the board with 30 seconds left in the second period, jumping on a turnover inside the CC zone and snapping the puck past Alex Leclerc from the bottom of the right circle.
That goal seemed to awaken the Fighting Hawks, who outshot the Tigers 13-3 in the final frame but could not generate a tying goal.
“They came out and took it to us for the first two periods and we were slow to start,” said UND sophomore defenseman Colton Poolman. “We weren’t handling the passes, we weren’t crisp, and that just comes back to being mentally prepared for Friday night. We’ve got to play three periods to win a game and we obviously only played one.”
To Poolman’s point, UND has struggled in its Friday night series openers so far this season, scoring just five goals in those four games, a trend not lost on UND Head Coach Brad Berry.
“The whole first period we lost puck battles, [bad] execution, just mentally not engaged. We talked about it all week, about being prepared. We talked about it after the game now, that’s four Fridays in a row we had to scratch and claw to try to get a point or try to get a win.
“You can’t do that. It’s not a physical thing, it’s a mental thing.”
UND was able to find another level in the third period. To a man, the players and coaches identified the same reason.
“Played with desperation,” said Berry.
Said Poolman: “I think it just came down to desperation.”
Gersich added: “We were desperate.”
The desperate mindset, said Gersich, needs to be there from the drop of the puck in Saturday’s series finale.
“We were on pucks [in the third period], getting pucks to the net…that’s the way we’ve got to start. You’ve got to put that on the older guys, us veteran guys. We’ve got to get the guys ready to go,” said Gerisch.
Berry gave a nod to Johnson as a bright spot. The Troy, Mich., native stopped 24 of 26 shots and has held the opponent to two goals or fewer in all seven games this season.
“There were a lot of Grade A opportunities, especially in the first and second periods, that he made huge saves on,” said Berry. “He was there. We weren’t there for him. We’ve got to make sure we’re there for him tomorrow.”
Berry continued: “You’ve got to make sure you’re mentally ready to go no matter who you’re playing, and [CC} has been playing very well.”
Saturday’s series finale gets underway at 6:07 p.m. MT.
Notes: Final shots were 27-26 North Dakota. Leclerc has stopped 71 of 72 shots in his last two starts against the Fighting Hawks … CC went 1-5 on the power play and killed the lone UND chance with the man advantage … Halloran, Leclerc and Bergh were named the game’s three stars.