GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Former University of North Dakota All-America center Zach Parise came to Ralph Engelstad Arena Saturday night to drop the ceremonial first puck for the series finale between his old school and visiting Union College.
The 11,289 fans on hand gave a loud and warm welcome home to one of UND's greatest players, now with the Minnesota Wild, but sidelined while rehabbing a back injury.
As great as it was for UND fans to have Parise back in Grand Forks, it would have been even better. Perhaps he could have found a way to drop off one of the 49 goals he scored or dished up one of his 67 assists in his two years of stardom at UND from 2002-04.
Either one would have come in handy as Parise was in the stands to to watch this version of the Fighting Hawks play to a 2-2 overtime with the Dutchmen from the Eastern Collegiate Atheltic Conference a night after Union had won the opener 4-1.
Junior wing Shane Gersich, who grew up big fan of Parise, jammed in a rebound off a Rhett Gardner shot at 15:42 of the third period to pull out the tie for North Dakota. UND outshot Union 4-0 in the scoreless 5-minute overtime, but nobody scored.
Union had scored twice in 22 seconds to start the third period to take a 2-1 lead. Junior center Brett Supinski darted around UND goalie Peter Thome to slip in a backhander at 1:56 of the third period to knot it at 1-1. Just 22 seconds later, senior left wing Ryan Scarfo scored his seventh goal of the season on a loose puck that came to him off a blocked shot at 2:18.
But just as it appeared a Union sweep might be coming, Gersich drove to the net hard to drive in his fifth goal of the season.
It was a much better performance for North Dakota, coach Brad Berry said, than Friday's loss that featured a lacklustre first period for the Hawks.
Even Union's salvo of two quick goals didn't deflate UND this night.
Berry called a time out at that point and had this message for his team.
"Hey, we've come too far,'' he said. "We did a lot of good things this game. Let's not let down. Sometimes momentum goes in a game, up and down, and you can't get too high, too low. And you know what? You can't get those goals back, but we can try to get the next one.''
And Gersich delivered.
Thome wasn't rattled by the two quick goals, either. The fresman from Minneapolis made back-to-back huge saves on Anthony Rinaldi and Sebastian Vidmar on a Union power play shortly after the two goals, setting the stage for North Dakota's rally.
"You've got to have that mentality that when you get knocked down, you got to get back up again,'' Berry said. "That's one of the things we learned this weekend. We got back up to try to get the tie -- and we did.''
Added Berry: "We wanted to play a total 60-minute game,'' he said. "We were short of that for close to a minute where we gave up two goals.''
Berry had lots of praise for Union, now 9-1 in its last 10 games after starting the season 0-5.
"That's a great team (Union) over there,'' Berry said. "They're hard, they're heavy. Not a lot of room out there. They're going to win a lot of games in their conference.''
UND had taken a 1-0 lead at 14:08 of the first period, thanks to the third goal in the last five games by sophomore defenseman Colton Poolman. He took a pass from Ludvig Hoff just inside the blue line at left point, cut to the net, deked around Union defenseman Greg Campbell and roofed a wrister to the far top corner.
Playing in front of Parise gave Gerisch a little extra lift, he admitted.
"He's probably the biggest role model for me,'' Gersich said. "Watching him come to North Dakota and getting to see him play for Minnesota (Wild). Someone I looked up to a ton. Pretty cool that he was here tonight.''
And for UND's good, pretty cool Gersich delivered a big goal with his idol in the stands.
Game notes: Thome finished with 25 saves to 27 for Union's Jake Kupsky ... UND was 0-1 on the power play, Union 0-3 ... UND dominated the faceoffs 43-18, led by Gardner (12 of 18), Nick Jones (11 of 14), Johnny Simonson (9 of 14) and Hoff (7 of 10) ... Union had 17 blocked shots after blocking 21 on Friday with Supinski leading the way with 4 ... Poolman led UND in shots on goal with 4 while Simonson and Christian Wolanin had 3 each ... Poolman, with a goal and assist and a plus-two rating, was named No. 1 star by the media, with Scarfo and Supinski picking up second and third stars ... UND returns to National Collegiate Hockey Conference play next weekend, hosting Western Michigan ... UND slipped from 9th to 11 in the Pairwise Rankings after the weekend ... The Hawks are now 8-4-4 overall while Union is 8-6-1.
Virg Foss is in his 13th season of reporting on UND home hockey games exclusively for UNDsports.com. He covered UND hockey for 35 seasons for the Grand Forks Herald until his retirement from newspapers.