GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- When the No. 1 team in the nation in the Pairwise rankings is clicking on all cylinders, it is a tough customer to deal with.
That rang true tonight at Ralph Engelstad Arena as top-ranked North Dakota (29-5-3) put down Colorado College 7-1 in the opening game of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference best-of-3 series.
NCHC champion North Dakota doubled up on its previous season best on the power play (2 goals), converting on four of six chances while getting goals from players on all four lines to overwhelm the Tigers (6-28-1), who finished last in the league.
A victory in Saturday's rematch would send North Dakota on to Minneapolis next weekend for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and end CC's season.
And that's where problems have come in the past for UND.
Though winning the last eight first-round series, four of them have gone to three games, something UND will try to avoid tomorrow night.
"Huge,'' UND coach Brad Berry said of winning the first game of the series. "Getting that first game is very important.....we have to take care of business tomorrow.''
The business tonight was highlighted by a career-best two goals off the stick of sophomore center Nick Schmaltz. Single goals from Luke Johnson and Coltyn Sanderson, along with goals from freshmen Joel Janatuinen, Shane Gersich and defenseman Matt Shaw, who scored his first career goal, rounded out the attack.
"Just the depth of our team showing through here a little bit as far as having four lines that went out there and played the right way,'' Berry said when asked what he liked about his team tonight.
The Fighting Hawks outshot the Tigers 34-16 and didn't allow them a shot on goal until the 9:52 mark of the first period. At that stage, UND had 10 shots on goal and a 20-1 edge in shot attempts.
Still, it was a scoreless game until Johnson sniped a power-play one-timer at 15:27 of the first period to open the scoring. It was the epitome of a Greater Grand Forks goal, as Johnson, who played at both Grand Forks Red River and Central High Schools, was assisted on the goal by Paul LaDue (Red River) and Tucker Poolman (East Grand Forks Senior High).
Schmaltz got his first of two goals to make it 2-0 after one on his goal-mouth goal from a Drake Caggiula feed at 19:38 of the opening period.
UND answered Taner Ockey's power play goal for the Tigers at 15:42 of the second period with Janatuinen's first goal in exactly three months, his power-play conversion of an Austin Poganski from behind the net making it 3-1 at 16:36. His last goal came on Dec. 11, followed by 16 games without a goal.
UND then poured in four goals in the final period to win going away while outshooting the Tigers 11-3 in the final stanza.
"I thought we had a really good start,'' Schmaltz said. "We got away from it a little bit in the second period, but we held on, and Cam (Johnson) made some big saves for us. We got back to it in the third. It was a good team win.''
Especially with the scoring balance UND showed, plus a sizzling power play.
"We've got four lines that are playing really well, and that's huge this time of year,'' Schmaltz said.
The hot power play comes at a good time for UND, arriving as the playoffs start.
"It's nice to see,'' Berry said. "This is the time of the year where goals are so tough to come by in post-season. You want to try to squeeze at least one out, or two out of a game on the power play. That's going to be important for us going forward.''
Schmaltz led the way offensively with his 3-point game while Brock Boeser (2 assists), Sanderson (goal, assist) and Janatuinen (goal, assist) each and LaDue (2 assists) all had multi-point games.
"I thought our first period was really good,'' Johnson said. "We came out flying, and playing with pace.''
Game Two of the best-of-three series starts at 7:07 p.m. Central on Saturday night.
Game notes: Sanderson led UND in shots on net with five, followed by Troy Stecher, Christian Wolanin and Shaw, all with three each ... CC was whistled for six of the game's eight penalties ... With UND students gone for spring break, the game drew 10,813, so it wasn't a sellout ... Johnson stopped 15 of 16 shots to run his season won-lost record to 19-3-1 ... CC goalie Jacob Nehama stopped 27 of 34 shots ... UND lost the faceoff battle 33-30 with Johnny Simonson (5 of 9) the only Hawk player above .500 among those taking more than one faceoff ... CC has lost its last 10 games ... Voted as three stars of the game by the media were Schmaltz, LaDue and Johnson, in that order.
Virg Foss reported on UND hockey for 35 years, including 5 national championships, for the Grand Forks Herald until his retirement. He now covers games exclusively for UNDsports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.