ANCHORAGE, Alaska – As North Dakota head coach Brad Berry made his way up the Sullivan Arena bleachers for his postgame radio interview on Saturday night, he passed by the Grand Forks media contingent, looked at them and said, “Never in doubt.”
That he did so with a smile as wide as an Olympic ice surface was the obvious tell that his team’s 3-2 overtime victory was anything but a foregone conclusion.
For the second straight night, UND dominated Alaska Anchorage statistically and territorially, yet for the second straight night also found itself in overtime with the Seawolves. But sophomore defenseman Casey Johnson sniped his first collegiate goal 81 seconds into the extra period to give the seventh-ranked Fighting Hawks a non-conference road win.
As UND sophomore forward Cole Smith, in the lineup for the first time this year, curled inside the UAA zone with the puck while his teammates made a line change, Johnson swooped into the play on the far side and Smith spotted him with a perfect pass in the right faceoff circle. Johnson got to the faceoff dot and whistled a wrist shot top-corner past UAA goaltender Olivier Mantha, who was spectacular all weekend long.
For Johnson, a first collegiate goal in 34 career games. For his team, which outshot the Seawolves 45-16, a first victory in the very young 2017-18 season.
“A little bit of Groundhog’s Day,” said Berry of his mindset when UAA’s Nicolas Erb-Ekholm took advantage of a UND defensive-zone turnover and tied the game 2-2 with 8:37 left in regulation.
UND watched a 2-0 lead slip away one night after giving up the tying goal with 1:15 left in regulation of an eventual 1-1 tie.
“It was kind of reminiscent, a similar situation,” continued Berry. “But I thought our guys handled the adversity.”
Johnson’s overtime winner capped off a night of firsts for the Fighting Hawks, whose first two goals were scored by defenseman Matt Kiersted (first period) and forward Collin Adams (second period). It was the first collegiate goals for both freshmen, Kiersted’s a rebound effort on a delayed penalty and Adams a power-play snipe.
Despite the milestone, Kiersted was more interested in talking about Johnson’s goal.
“That was great,” said Kiersted. “Him and ‘Pesk’ were giving me crap in the locker room about scoring a goal before they did, so it was nice to see him get that one. It was a great play by ‘Smitty’ to get the puck to him and he finished it off for us.”
UND appeared to be in good shape through two periods with the 2-0 lead, having outshot UAA 16-5 in the first period and 13-6 in the second. But UAA’s Jeremiah Luedtke scored a breakaway goal with 2:16 left in the second period to cut the lead in half, and Erb-Ekholm pounce on a Colton Poolman turnover midway through the third to knot the score.
That only set up Johnson to be a somewhat unlikely hero for UND.
“It’s nice to get the monkey off my back,” said Johnson. “A gritty win like that is as great as any win you could have.”
UND will return home next weekend to host another non-conference foe when it welcomes St. Lawrence to Ralph Engelstad Arena. The puck drops at 7:37 p.m. Central on Friday and 7:07 on Saturday.
Notes: Cam Johnson stopped 14 of 16 shots for UND while Mantha turned aside 42 of 45 … UND outshot UAA 78-32 in the series … The Fighting Hawks won 54 of 76 faceoffs on Saturday and 77 of 129 (60 percent) in the series. Rhett Gardner (21-7), Ludvig Hoff (11-4) and Nick Jones (10-3) led the way on Saturday ... UND was 1-4 on the power play while the Seawolves were scoreless in five tries.