OMAHA, Neb. -- In a stunning turn of weekend events, North Dakota finalized a sweep at Omaha, while Minnesota Duluth did the Fighting Hawks a major favor with a sweep at St. Cloud State, enabling UND to clinch at least a share of the Penrose Cup as NCHC regular-season champion Saturday night.
UND will head into the final week of the regular season with a six-point lead over both SCSU and Denver, and can clinch its second straight Penrose Cup outright with just one point at home against Western Michigan.
Tonight, four different goal scorers found the net and Cam Johnson stopped 26 of 27 shots to lift the Fighting Hawks to a 4-1 win over the Mavericks.
Two themes emerged outside of the North Dakota locker room following the game. To a man, each player considered the sweep UND’s most complete performance of the season, while also emphasizing a team-wide desire to clinch the Penrose outright next weekend at home.
“Over the course of 60 minutes, I liked our effort defensively. We didn’t give up a whole lot. We grinded them down low. That’s the way we’ve got to play to win these tough games down the stretch,” said senior forward Bryn Chyzyk, who scored his 10th goal of the season in the second period.
“One of our goals coming in to get that Penrose Cup,” added Chyzyk. “We’ve got a share now, but we don’t want to share that thing. After we enjoy this one, we’ve got to start getting ready for Western (Michigan) and clinch that thing outright.”
Thompson opened the scoring with a perfectly-placed shot from the circle through a Joel Janatuinen screen at 15:31 of the first period.
Caggiula notched the eventual game-winner six minutes into the middle stanza, tracking his own rebound in the slot and batting it knee-high out of mid-air past UNO netminder Evan Weninger.
Chyzyk and UNO’s Luke Nogard traded goals later in the period – Chyzyk’s on a brilliant no-look, cross-ice feed from Troy Stecher – and UND took a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.
Boeser sealed the deal with 5:20 remaining, banging a puck past Weninger while falling to his knees at the bottom of the circle. It was Boeser’s NCHC-leading 22nd goal of the season.
While UND’s vaunted ‘CBS’ line of Caggiula, Boeser and Nick Schmaltz accounted for a pair of goals, head coach Brad Berry made a point to single out the trio of Luke Johnson, Rhett Gardner and Austin Poganski following the game.
“They brought some heaviness to the game tonight and allowed us to play in the offensive zone a bit, which gave us the momentum to get going. The (other) lines followed them as far as doing that. Their line tonight was the line that got us going tonight,” said Berry.
Stecher, back from serving a one-game NCHC suspension the night before, called the series UND’s most complete 120 minutes of the year.
“It’s pretty special when you get the chance to win a trophy and hang a banner at The Ralph,” said Stecher. “At the same time, we want to win it outright.”
UND had no idea the result of the UMD-SCSU game when it poured off the bench to congratulate Johnson in his crease, but word spread quickly.
“Once we got word in the locker room, there was a lot hollering in there,” said sophomore center Johnny Simonson, who had two assists. “We’re obviously really proud of ourselves, but next weekend we want to make sure we don’t share that trophy.”
UND improved to 26-5-3 overall and 17-4-1-1 under first-year head coach Berry.
“I’m proud of the guys. It’s a tough environment to win in here in Omaha,” said Berry. “It’s a nice goal to attain, but we want to make sure we move on to that next goal. This time of year, in order to win – and it’s so tough to win in our league -- you’ve got to have guys chipping in.
“All our guys chipped in tonight.”
Notes: UND won the 17th regular-season conference championship in program history, the most of any school in the country … Chyzyk, Caggiula, and Nogard were named the game’s three stars … Caggiula scored the game-winning goal both nights and has 15 GWG for his career. Only UNO’s Austin Ortega (20) has more among active DI players … Caggiula is tied with Jason Gregoire and Brandon Bochenski for fourth on UND’s career GWG list, three behind Mark Taylor’s (1976-80) school record ... Stecher on sitting out Friday's game: "I got to enjoy a nice burger and fries for once, so it has its pros."