DULUTH, Minn. – The frustration on the face and in the voice of North Dakota senior forward Trevor Olson following Friday night’s loss at Minnesota Duluth was noticeable.
Olson, a Duluth native, and his Fighting Hawks had dropped a 5-3 decision for their seventh straight loss to his hometown Bulldogs. UND had done a lot of good things in the latest defeat to its NCHC rival, carrying a decisive advantage in shots on goal (36-26), shot attempts (78-36) and faceoffs (40-26).
But it was other things that bothered Olson, an assistant captain, as UND dropped to 6-5-2-2 in the NCHC and 12-7-6 overall.
It was giving up the game’s first goal for the 12th time this season (UND has won just three of those games). It was taking untimely penalties, like the too many men infraction with 1:15 remaining that extinguished UND’s push for the tying goal. And it was a struggling penalty kill, so dominant at the start of the year, that allowed three goals and a fourth just seconds after a UMD power play had expired.
Olson, a voicing a frustration later echoed by teammates and coaches, said Friday night’s loss was due to reasons becoming all too familiar this season.
“More of the same,” sighed Olson. “Get behind early on, chasing a lead. We kind of laid an egg there in the second and had to really push in the third. It was more of the same and we’ve got to be better tomorrow.”
Olson and Minnesota Duluth’s Joey Anderson traded power-play goals in the first period and it appeared UND had emerged relatively unscathed from an uneven performance – and three Bulldog power plays – through 20 minutes. But the 14th-ranked Bulldogs took a commanding 3-1 lead in the middle framer on a Peter Krieger one-timer and a Parker Mackay power-play deflection just over three minutes apart.
UND head coach Brad Berry shuffled some line combations during the latter half of the game, most notably moving rookie winger Grant Mismash to the first line with Nick Jones and Austin Poganski. Mismash responded by pulling UND to within a goal just 40 seconds into the third period. It was his first goal since Dec. 2, but the momentum was short-lived as UMD’s Karson Kuhlman answered 76 seconds later on an individual rush to restore the 2-goal lead.
Junior defenseman Colton Poolman wired a blast past Hunter Shepard off an offensive-zone faceoff win by Jones to draw the Hawks to within 4-3 with 16 minutes to play. UND revved the engine for the rest of the third period, outshooting the Bulldogs 17-8 in the final frame, but the aforementioned too many men on the ice penalty as UND attempted to pull Cam Johnson for an extra attacker essentially dashed the comeback hopes.
Riley Tufte scored an empty net goal with 36 seconds left to make it official.
“We had every line going,” said Olson of UND’s improved play in the third period. “We were just doing the simple things, we were playing the right way. It was all four lines rolling over. To be honest, we were desperate and we were chasing that lead the whole game.”
‘Chasing the game,’ to borrow the phrase, has been a common bugaboo for UND all season long. It appeared the Hawks had recently turned the corner in that regard, striking for the first goal in each of the previous three games. But old habits die hard and those killed once again tonight.
“We can’t trail games like that and just be desperate for goals in the third period when we need them, we have to be like that all game,” said Mismash.
Poolman, who picked up an assist in addition to his goal, said UND can’t afford any period-long lapses.
“We can’t wait until we’re 3-1 down and need a kick from somewhere to get going,” said Poolman.” It’s got to be everyone right away and that comes down to every guy pulling the rope, as cliché as that sounds.”
UND was also searching for answers on the penalty kill, where it fell from the top of the conference rankings to third. After allowing just two power-play goals through the first 12 games of the season, UND’s PK has since given up 15 goals in the last 13, including five games of two or more.
“There’s little breakdowns. It seems like the middle of the ice is where it’s coming from,” said Berry. “They made a couple cross-seam passes for goals and then they made a tip play in the middle of the rink. We’re getting spread out a little bit and we’ve got to stay a little tighter in our coverage.”
Berry said mixing up three of the four forward lines appeared to make a difference in the third period.
“We tried to get the guys together that were going [well],” said Berry. “There was a little bit of frustration in our game tonight, whether that’s the penalty side of it or some plays not going the right way for us. Frustration set it. We had to dial ourselves in after the second period. We talked about staying together as a team and I thought we did for the most part in the third. Every time we got momentum in the game tonight it got away from us.”
While much has been made of UND’s now-seven-game losing streak versus the Bulldogs, Berry said it means little once the puck drops.
“Everybody gets caught up in how many games in a row and all that stuff. Tonight, I don’t think that figured into it at all,” said Berry. “Two new teams playing against each other, totally different from last year.
“I didn’t think our start was the way it has been the last few games. It took us the first ten minutes to get into it and then from there we took a couple penalties, which took us out of it. We can’t have that.”
UND had a chance to move into a first-place tie with idle St. Cloud State atop the NCHC standings. Instead, it dropped into fourth place and has UMD approaching in the rearview mirror just four points behind for the final home-ice spot in the conference playoffs.
“I thought we had enough opportunities to try to score a few more goals, but we gave up a few and we can’t be giving up those goals we gave up tonight,” said Berry. “We can’t have that margin for error in the NCHC at this time of year.”
Notes: UND was without junior center Rhett Gardner, who did not make the trip due to a lower body injury. Without the league-leader in faceoff wins, UND received standout faceoff performances from Jones (17-12), Ludvig Hoff (11-3) and Dixon Bowen (6-1) … Johnson finished with 21 saves while Shepard countered with 33 … Shepard, Mackay and Anderson were named the game’s three stars … Attendance was 6,372 … Jones and Christian Wolanin each had one assist to remain tied for the team scoring lead. Each has 20 points.