Once the puck dropped, however, UND made certain that focus shifted to who was in the lineup.
Junior goalie Clarke Saunders recorded his first collegiate shutout, sophomore Mark MacMillan (Penticton, British Columbia) his first career two-goal game and freshmen Bryn Chyzyk (Virden, Manitoba) and Jordan Schmaltz (Verona, Wis.) their first collegiate goals in a 5-0 whipping of Alaska Anchorage.
Playing with just 15 skaters in the lineup, including only three forward lines, UND dominated in all facets from start to finish, a performance made even more impressive by the fact that six players were making their UND debuts. One of those six was Saunders, who turned aside all 21 shots he faced. The Brockville, Ontario, native was particularly strong in the opening minutes, making a handful of difficult saves while UND's depleted lineup gained its footing.
A power-play goal by Chyzyk at 8:21 of the first period, followed by MacMillan's first goal five minutes later, staked UND to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
I thought scoring the first goal of the game was key for us," said UND head coach Dave Hakstol. "There's a lot of games where I don't necessarily feel that scoring the first goal is big, but I felt tonight it was important for us."
Both Hakstol and MacMillan singled out Saunders' performance during the game's opening minutes as a key to victory.
"You've got to give him almost all the credit," said MacMillan. "We played well as a team but whenever we did make a mistake, ‘Clarkie' was there to stop the puck."
For Saunders, who led the NCAA last season by averaging 34 saves per game at Alabama-Huntsville, the early work was welcome.
"That's always kind of nice as a goalie just to get your feet wet and get moving a little bit," said Saunders, who became the seventh goalie to post a shutout in his UND debut and just the third to do it on the road.
MacMillan potted his second goal, this time on the power-play, midway through the second period on a goal-mouth scramble. Just 2:21 later, freshman Rocco Grimaldi (Rossmoor, Calif.) extended the lead to 4-0.
"We were certainly controlling the play (in the second period) and did an awesome job of keeping them in their own end," added Saunders.
UND rounded out the scoring at 2:27 of the third period when Schmaltz's point shot beat UAA goalie Rob Gunderson, who had relieved starter Chris Kamal to open the third period.
UND finished with a 33-21 edge in shots on goal, including a 29-13 margin through the first two periods. Hakstol said there were signs all week that his team would be up to the task.
"We were a determined group and a pretty focused group. That's the way we played," said Hakstol. "I thought guys looked pretty comfortable. We made some mistakes, but for the most part we played with pretty good moxie throughout the lineup and we got good contributions from everyone."
For MacMillan, the key was playing to the team's strengths no matter the number of players available.
"I think the mindset was to do everything we do as a team, get pucks in deep and get after it. That's exactly what we did. Lots of guys stepped up out there and everybody did a great job," said MacMillan. "We not only found a way to win, but win the right way, playing our game. The results speak for themselves."
UND will close out the weekend Saturday night against host Alaska. The puck drops at 11:05 p.m. Central time.
Notes: Schmaltz and defense partner Derek Forbort (Jr., Duluth, Minn.) each posted a game-high +3 rating ... Schmaltz, Grimaldi and freshman Drake Caggiula (Pickering, Ontario) led all players with four shots on goal ... The last two goalies to make their UND debuts - Saunders and Aaron Dell (2009-10) - each recorded a shutout in their debut and both came against the Seawolves ... Seniors Andrew MacWilliam (Calgary, Alberta), Corban Knight (High River, Alberta) and Carter Rowney (Sexsmith, Alberta), as well as sophomore Brendan O'Donnell (Winnipeg, Manitoba) will return to the lineup on Saturday.