KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- North Dakota has an off week in the schedule next weekend, and that's probably a welcome sight.
The second-ranked Fighting Hawks grabbed sole possession of first place in the NCHC with a 2-1 win and series sweep at Western Michigan tonight, a bruising, blood-and-guts weekend will keep athletic trainer Mark Poolman hopping in the coming days.
"It was hard fought out there," said UND head coach Brad Berry on tonight's game. "We talked about it the previous Monday about how tough it is to win in here."
"Oh gosh, it was tough," said LaDue on the physicality of the weekend. "It's good for us to get in those types of games because that's what's gonna happen down the road."
Already down Hobey Baker candidates Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz, along with freshman Chris Wilkie, UND saw defensemen Troy Stecher (second period) and Tucker Poolman (third period) each leave tonight's game for the locker room with undisclosed injuries. Poolman eventually returned but Stecher did not.
"I thought the guys in the lineup did great this weekend," said junior defenseman Paul LaDue on his team's gritty performance. "This was a huge step forward for our team."
UND's patchwork lineup put together a gritty performance in winning its eight game in as many tries at Lawson Ice Arena and the formula was nearly identical from Friday night's 2-0 win: a timely goal from freshman Brock Boeser and an elite performance in goal from Cam Johnson.
"They play the right way, they are well coached, and we're happy to come out of here with six points," said Berry on Western Michigan. "I thought our guys did a tremendous job of staying with it."
Boeser's power-play snipe from the left circle late in the second period broke a 1-1 tie, while Johnson turned aside 28 of 29 shots to improve to 13-1-1 on the season and 4-0 in his home state of Michigan.
"We should try to play more games in the state of Michigan," said Berry on his goaltender's performance. "He's done that all year and he gave us a chance to win again tonight."
Both Johnson and WMU's Lukas Hafner were at center state tonight, combining for 63 saves. They were at their busiest during the second period when the Fighting Hawks and Broncos combined for 33 shots on goal.
"Cam played tremendous and our D played really well and I think we just shut it down in the defensive zone," said Boeser on the win. "It allowed us to focus on the neutral zone and the offensive zone and I think it worked out well for us."
"I was able to create some time-and-space and picked my head up and saw Gersich coming down in the slot," said Simonson on his assist. "I put it close to his tape and he was able to finish it off with a nice shot."
The Broncos notted it up with 3:34 left in the frame, as Michael Rebry finally solved Johnson.
But Boeser answered less than two minutes later, potting his third goal of the series, his second straight game-winner, and his team-leading 18th tally of the season.
"I was actually looking for that shot the first time and it wasn't there," said Boeser on his second goal of the night. "I saw on the second time that their guy was screening the goalie and he gave me the blocker side so I just put it over there."
"I think it was kind of lucky, I don't know," said Boeser.
Luck or not, Boeser continues to lead the NCHC in goals (18), points (31), goals per game (0.69), points per game (1.19), and plus/minus (+26).
With the win, UND improved to 22-3-3 overall and 13-2-1-1 in conference play. The Fighting Hawks enter their off week three points ahead of St. Cloud State, which was off from conference action this weekend.
NOTES: Tonight's three stars as chosen by the media were Lukas Hafner (WMU), Brock Boeser (UND), and Cam Johnson (UND) ... UND improved to 8-0 all-time at Lawson Arena, including a 6-0 mark since both became members of the NCHC ... With an assist on the game-winning goal, Rhett Gardner has five points (4G, 1A) in his last three games ... Boeser now has three game-winning goals on the season, tied for eighth-best in UND history ... Cam Johnson has now allowed one goal or less in 12 of his last 15 starts.