GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The grind of college hockey for teams contending for playoff championships or better seeds can be so tough that even pre-game isn't safe.
North Dakota freshman star Brock Boeser showed up at the post-game presser after scoring the winning goal in UND's second straight 2-1 victory over Minnesota Duluth with stitches over his right eye. He was cut in the traditional stick clap right after the national anthem when UND defenseman/team captain Gage Ausmus raised his stick in salute and accidentally clipped Boeser in the face.
Boeser had to go the dressing room for stitches, missing about 10 minutes of the opener period. Boeser came back repaired and later sewed up the victory for the Fighting Hawks.
His wrister at 14:39 of the third period snapped a 1-1 tie and gave UND (24-5-3 overall, 15-4-1 NCHC) a sweep of the Bulldogs, keeping UND in a tie for first place in the league with St. Cloud State with two weekends of play remaining.
Boeser slid to his right to clear space in the UMD zone and drilled a wrist shot from between the top of the two faceoff circles cleanly past Bulldogs goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo (25 saves) to the stick side for Boeser's 20th goal of the season.
He becomes only the 13th North Dakota freshman to score 20 or more goals in their rookie season. The last to do it were T.J. Oshie (24) and Jonathan Toews (22), both in 2005-06.
Now with a team-leading 35 points, Boeser's on pace to become only the fourth rookie in school history to lead the team in scoring and the first since Landon Wilson (33 points) in 1993-94.
Like Friday, UND had to rally from a 1-0 deficit, when senior center Cal Decowski scored on a rebound off his skate at 14:02 of the second period.
UND tied it when defenseman Paul LaDue used a Duluth defenseman as a screen to beat Kaskisuo to the stick side at 18:18 of the second period with his wrist shot from the right point after a faceoff win by Boeser.
It was LaDue's third goal of the season. That set up Boeser for his fourth game-winning goal of the season and his milestone of 20 goals.
"I thought it was huge for us,'' LaDue said of the win, and sweep. "I thought we played excellent in the third. Boeser came up huge for us and kudos to (goalie) Cam Johnson (27 saves), he played his heart out this whole weekend. We need him to do that down the stretch.''
Johnson lowered his goals-against average to 1.54 per game and raised his school-record save percentage to .940, both numbers second in the nation to Yale's Alex Lyon. He made two big saves on Duluth defenseman Carson Soucy on point shots in the final minute, including a glove save on a shot ticketed for the far corner.
Duluth outshot UND 16-8 in the final period, but Johnson shut then down cold. Johnson, in four games against the Bulldogs, gave up just two goals, stopping 137 of the 139 shots over that span.
Boeser hadn't registered a point in his previous two games before collecting the game-winner tonight and assisting on LaDue's goal in front of the largest crowd of the year at Ralph Engelstad Arena, a sold out 11,912.
"We definitely took steps forward after taking steps backward, so we got back on the right track,'' Boeser said, referring to last weekend's two losses at Denver University.
"It got a little hectic there at the end,'' UND coach Brad Berry said of Duluth's pressure after pulling its goalie for an extra attracker with 75 seconds left. "It wasn't a pretty game by any means, but again, that's what you're going to get this time of the year as far as not having any time and space.''
Game notes: Boeser and defenseman Tucker Poolman led UND in shots on goal with three each ... UND defenseman Troy Stecher was given a 5-minute major and game misconduct penalty as time expired for checking from behind ... Soucy and Parker McKay led Duluth in shots with four each ... UND won the faceoff battle 37-28, led by Luke Johnson (14/8), Rhett Gardner (10/5) and Boeser (3/0) ... Duluth (11-14-5/7-10-3) remained in a three-way for the fourth place and the final home ice playoff position with Omaha and Miami, who also lost tonight ... UND dropped one place to fourth in the PairWise rankings, losing one place to Boston College. UND also is fourth in two voting polls.
Virg Foss reported on UND hockey for 35 seasons, including 5 NCAA championship teams, prior to his retirement. He's now in his 11th season of covering UND games exclusively for UNDsports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.