BEMIDJI, Minn. – College hockey coaches spend countless hours each week, each year, carefully crafting the right combinations of players that will give the team the best chance of success, for a game, for a season.
A noble plan, on paper.
But that careful planning, matching, has been pretty much a lesson in frustration for Brad Berry and his University of North Dakota hockey team this season, despite the 12-6-6 overall record his Fighting Hawks have patched together.
After an impresssive 5-1 road win over the Beavers Friday night, UND returned to a sellout of 11,868 at Ralph Engelstad Arena Saturday night and had to scratch veteran forwards Rhett Gardner and Trevor Olson, both injured on Friday, creating lineup turnoil once again.
As a result, the teams battled to a 2-2 overtime tie, leaving UND with a 6-2-4 overall non-conference record heading into the closing stretch of 12 straight National Collegiate Hockey Conference games for all the eight league teams.
Tonight's game marked the 24th game in a row in which UND has not fielded the same lineup -- not even once. That juggling act incuded 44 different line combinations and 10 different defensive pairings heading into Game 24.
As they usually do, the Beavers didn't make it easy for UND, which saw the Beavers twice battle back from one-goal deficits, including a knuckleballing goal by Bemidji native Dillon Eichstadt midway through the third period to create the tie. His goal came after a turnover by a UND defenseman at his own blue line, setting up Eichstadt for just his second goal of the season and his third in 64 career games.
Defenseman Christian Wolanin had given UND a 2-1 lead on a power play at 15:47 of the second period, following a 5-minute major on BSU captain Jordan Heller for checking from behind on Dixon Bowen, Heller's third penalty of the game. He was also given a 10-minute game misconduct.
Earlier, junior Nick Jones, moved to center on the top line with Shane Gersich and Augstin Poganski after Gardner was scratched, dropped to his right knee in front of the net to bury a feed from Poganski at 3:28 of the second period for a 1-0 UND lead. It was his team-leading ninth goal.
But BSU's Leo Fitzgerald counted on a power play for BSU 10 minutes later, eventually leading to the overtime tie.
"Obviously they're a hard team, and losing last night they were going to come out hard, and they did,'' Jones said of the Beavers, who entered the weekend on a nine-game unbeaten streak. "It's frustrating to get the tie, but you've got to take the positives out of the weekend and keep moving forward.''
Hopefully, soon moving on with a healtier lineup for the Fighting Hawks -- and the same combinations of players.
Jones said he's never played on a team that had a different lineup every single game. "No, I've never had it before,'' Jones said, "but it's nice. We have 14 forwards, 8 defensemen and 3 goalies who are all capable of playing. So it's good. Everyone deserves to be in there.''
That's putting a positive spin on it.
Despite the lineup jugging once again, UND still outshot the Beavers 31-20, including 21-10 over the first two periods and 12-3 in the opening period.
All-America senior goalie Michael Bitzer was strong with 29 saves for the Beavers while fellow senior Cam Johnson, an All-America pick himself two seasons ago, had 18 saves.
The lineup uncertainly could have some long-term benefits, Wolanin said.
"In the end, you never know what's going to happen in the playoffs, when things get chippy, when things get tough, you never know who is going to go down. So we have to be prepared to throw whatever we have available,'' Wolanin said. "I think that is going to come in and help us at the end of the year.''
Berry looked at the fact UND lost just two in 12 non-league games, but also noted the four ties. "We probably wanted back a couple of those games we tied,'' Berry said, "but the most part, it was respectful. Now we're on to the NCHC here for the remaining schedule. We've got to make sure we play a consistent brand of hockey and get into the national tournament now.''
UND (6-4-2-2 in the NCHC) returns to league play next weekend at Minnesota Duluth, coming off a road sweep of Colorado College. BSU, 11-7-6 overall, swings back to Western Collegiate Hockey Association play at Ferris State of Michigan next weekend.
Game notes: UND was 1-for-5 on the power play with 6 shots, the Beavers 1-for-2 with 3 shots . . . UND had a 32-28 edge in faceoffs, led by Jones (13 of 23) and Johnny Simonson (11 of 17) . . . Gersich had 6 shots on goal to pace UND, followed by Wolanin with 4 . . . Leo Fitzgerald, part of triplets on the Beavers, led his team with 4 shots on goal. . . UND is 31-3-5 overall against BSU. . . Johnson has 52 wins in goal for UND, tying him for sixth all-time with Toby Kvalevog and Jon Casey . . . Lefty Curran is next on the list ahead of Johnson with 54 wins...the school record is 80 by Karl Goehring.
Virg Foss is in his 13th season of reporting on UND home games exclusively for UNDsports.com. He covered UND hockey for 35 seasons for the Grand Forks Herald until his retirement from newspapers.