GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Hockey is splattered all over the globe with hip checks, poke checks and crosschecks as part of the game.
For the University of North Dakota, the only box that matters is one in which the team can check off goals reached or dangling ahead in this remarkable season.
The top-ranked team in the nation (30-5-3) checked off another box on the imaginary list tonight with a workmanlike 5-1 National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoff victory over Colorado College at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
It completes a two-game series sweep for the Fighting Hawks and sends them to Target Center in Minneapolis next weekend. There they will face Minnesota Duluth at a time to be determined, either at 4:08 or 7:38.
Rookie defenseman Hayden Shaw added his second goal in two nights and senior Drake Caggiula bagged his 19th of the season with six seconds left on the clock to make it 4-0 and complete a dominating opening period by UND.
That's all the offense that was needed.
UND's Austin Poganski and CC's Matt Hansen traded goals in the second period to round out the scoring. UND completed its sixth home sweep of the season, its 12th sweep overall and finished its home season with a brilliant 16-2-1 record in the Ralph.
"A proud place to play here in the Ralph,'' said coach Brad Berry, who notched his 30th win as a rookie coach.
That ties him with his coach at UND, Gino Gasparini, for most wins by a first-year coach, Gasparini doing that in 1978-79.
"We have loyal, passionate fans who are very loud and supportive,'' Berry said. "There's a high bar of expectations, not only here, but on the road, I guess, too. But when you're playing here with people that are loyally devoted to your program, our guys play really hard.''
Really well, too.
As they have done so often this season, UND's No. 1 'CBS line' of Caggiula, Brock Boeser and Schmaltz set the pace. Schmaltz had a goal and two assists, and three goals for the series. Boeser, the NCHC scoring champ as a freshman, had three assists and Caggiula had one goal.
Balance was a key again. Players on three of the four lines contributed goals after all four lines scored goals Friday in a 7-1 win over CC. The Tigers lost their 11th straight game and finished the season at 6-29-1, including 0-5-1 vs. UND.
UND's fast start tonight actually started in the morning, Berry said.
"The game started before we stepped onto the ice,'' he said. "It started this morning when we talked about how tough it is to close out a team's season and predominantly how it goes to Game 3's all the time. We didn't want to get to Sunday.''
For the second straight game, sophomore goalie Cam Johnson held the Tigers to a single goal, this time making 22 stops and allowing only the power-play goal by Hansen. That effort moved Johnson back into first place among goalies in the nation with his 1.58 goals-against average, narrowly ahead of Yale's Alex Lyon at 1.59.
UND now has a maximum of six games remaining in the season, with the school's eighth national title the ultimate check mark still available.
"The margin for winning or losing is pretty fine,'' Berry said. "There's a fine line between keeping playing and going home. We want to keep playing through mid-April here.'' Bryn Chyzyk is one of four seniors on this UND team, and he noted the role of the fans in compiling the sparking home record.
"Just just being excited to play in this rink,'' he said. "I think when we look back, we'll probably start regretting those two losses.''
The focus shifts to the Frozen Faceoff, another box UND hopes to check.
"We haven't done so well in the Frozen Faceoff the last couple of years, so I guess our short-term goal is to turn that around and win a trophy there,'' Chyzyk said.
Still, it hard for UND players to leave the Ralph behind for the season. "No words to really describe it,'' Boeser said. "It's unbelieveable, just coming in for our first game (Oct. 17 vs. Bemildji State) and experiencing what everyone has been saying about it. The support throughout the whole season is the best in the country.''
UND did indeed lead the nation in attendance, averaging 11,675 per home game.
Once UND struck the Tigers with two quick goals tonight, it was not to be denied.
"Any time you can get an early lead at the Ralph, it kind of sucks the life out of the opponent.''
Game notes: Tickets for the Frozen Faceoff are available immediately for North Dakota Champions Club members and the general public ... Club members have until 5 p.m. Monday to make their requests by email with any tickets packages remaining then going on sale to the public through email@example.com. Ticket packages are priced at $135 for all four games ... After going 4 for 6 on the power play Friday, UND was 0-2 tonight and CC 1-for-5 ... Caggiula and Poganski led UND in shots on goal with 4 each ... Named the three stars in voting of the media were, in order, Schmaltz, Boeser and Janatuinen ... Boeser finished with the most points in season-long voting to win the coveted team's 3-Star award, the first UND rookie to ever to that.
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.