GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Fit to be tied.
That's not the desired result in any sport, but when you play into a tie with the No. 4-ranked team in the country two nights in a row, there's plenty of reason to feel good.
That was the story at Ralph Engelstad Saturday night after the No. 11-ranked Fighting Hawks battled to a 1-1 overtime tie one night after thing the Pioneers to a tie on Friday.
For the second night in a row, Denver earned two points in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings compared to one for UND, courtesy of a 3-on-3 goal in second overtime by freshman defenseman Ian Mitchell to cap a 2-on-1 rush. The point secured by UND was good enough to push the Fighting Hawks into a third-place tie with Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, both of whom lost on Saturday.
"Obviously you want to win,'' UND coach Brad Berry said. "I thought we played well enough to win tonight. Our start was just average, but we got better in the second half of the first period and carried that over.''
The night got off to a rough start for UND. Freshman Kohen Olischefski beat UND goalie Cam Johnson from a sharp angle shot that Johnson himself labeled as a "soft goal'' at 7:21.
Outshot 6-0 in the early going, UND didn't get its first shot on goal until 13:52 of the first period by defenseman Christian Wolainin. He tied the game with his power-play goal at 9:36 of the second period. It was his eighth of the season and gave him the team scoring lead with 22 points. He scored goals in both games against Denver.
"That's an NCHC game in the second half (of the season), Berry said. "There's not a lot of time and space. It was a grind. I'm proud of the way our guys persevered and played resilient hockey all weekend here.''
The largest crowd of the season at The Ralph certainly appreciated the effort by the shorthanded Fighting Hawks against the league-leading Pioneers. An announced crowd of 12,002 was on hand.
The stats reflected the closeness of the play. Denver finished with a 23-22 edge in shots on goal as UND held Denver under 25 shots both nights and just 1-for-5 on the power play for the weekend.
"Anytime you can limit that team to 20-something shots, you're doing something right,''Berry said. Our guys took pride in that.''
"I thought last night after they scored their first goal, we backed off. We talked about that extensively tonight. Cam probably wanted that one back,'' Berry said, "but Cam was stellar the rest of the way. Our group bounced back from that goal. I thought we got better as the game went on.''
Indeed. After being outshot 6-0 through the opening 14 minutes, UND outshot Denver 15-8 over the next 26 minutes, allowing Wolanin to pot his game-tying goal low glove side on Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet halfway through the second periood.
To come out with a second straight time had positive vibes for UND, which heads into bye weekend next weekend and a chance to return with a full lineup. "In the end, it's going to help us here,'' Berry said. "Going into our last eight games, we need the rest, but the whole team grew a little bit.''
When asked if he felt his team performed well against a team with the stature of defending national champs and current NCHC leader, Berry said: "When you say a team of their stature, we feel we're that stature, too. It's just that we're missing a few guys. We're at that level, and to do it without a couple key players, we're right there.''
Said Johnson of the ties: "You always want to win, but I like the way we played this weekend. Denver is a really good team, and we had some guys banged up, so two ties for us, we're not upset about the weekend. But we're definitely not extremely happy about it. ''
Johnson said he had no idea how Denver's first goal got past him, as he seemed to have the shot well covered. "It just found a hole there,'' he said. "Obviously that's a weak goal. I like to think that's how our luck is going right now, just not really getting the bounces.''
Wolanin, the goal scorer for UND, said: "A tie gets frustrating, but for not having a full roster, but playing against a great team in Denver, I think we did a great job of competing, showing heart, I think two ties at the of the day -- are OK.''
UND is 6-6-4-2 in NCHC play and 12-8-8 overall. Denver is 8-4-4-3 in league play and 14-6-6 overall.
Game notes: Refereee Nick Krebsbach apparently suffered at least one fractured finger when he put his hand in front of his face to block the puck. After a few minutes for medical attention, he finished the game . . Despite missing its top two faceoff men in Gardner and Jones, UND won the faceoff battle 36-34, led by Collin Adams (8 of 11), Johnny Simonson (11-9) and Austin Poganski (5 of 8) . . . UND held Denver's big three offensive threats Henrik Borgstrom, Troy Terry and Dylan Gambrell to a combined 3 shots on net ... and no goals or points.. . Wolanin led UND in shots on goal with 5, followed by Trevor Olson with 4 . . . Blake Hillman led Denver with 4 . . . Drake Caggiula, Nick Schmaltz and Tucker Poolman, all key players on the 2016 NCAA championship team and current NHL players, were in atttendance and warmly received by the fans in a pre-game ceremony . . . Another member of that team, Brock Boeser, is playing in the NHL All-Star game this weekend, and won the shooting skills competition Saturday.
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.