Gaarder carved out a place for himself in the UND hockey history books Friday night, becoming the first walk-on (no scholarship money) that anyone could recall to score a hat trick.
His three-goal game was pivotal as North Dakota downed Boston University 4-2 in front of 11,589 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena in the nonconference battle between two ranked teams. North Dakota came into the series ranked 5/6 in two nationals polls, the Terriers 12th in both.
Gaarder's third goal -- he came into the game with zero this year-- proved to be the winner. It came on a 5-on-3 UND power play when North Dakota freshman Rocco Grimaldi (Rossmor, Calif.) jetted around the net and feathered a pass to Gaarder in front to snap a 2-2 tie at 4:24 of the third period.
Gaarder scored four goals in 33 games last year, then nearly matched that in one night on Friday.
That Gaarder is playing without scholarship money didn't figure big into the thoughts of UND coach Dave Hakstol after the game.
"Those things don't matter,'' Hakstol said. "He's a good hockey player. He goes to those hard areas. He wasn't the only one who played a good hockey game tonight, but obviously he was a key player for us.''
In a matchup of powers from Hockey East (BU) and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (UND), breaks and bounces played a key role, too.
UND's Corban Knight (High River, Alberta) hit two goal posts in the first period and UND had two goals disallowed by officials on rulings that the whistle had blown first. And with two minutes left in the game, BU had disallowed after a video review by the officials. Officials never called it a goal on the ice and upheld that on review.
Gaarder scored his first when Mark MacMillan (Penticton, British Columbia) had his centering pass from left wing go in off Gaarder's skate to tie the game at 1:11 of the second period.
His second goal was a wrist shot off right wing for a 2-1 UND lead at 7:07 of the second period.
His third on Grimaldi's perfect feed was the biggest of them all. "That's the type of player he is,'' Hakstol said. "He's a hockey player. He's a gritty kid who goes to those greasy areas.''
"It felt good,'' Gaarder said of his hat trick. "BU is a great team. It's nice to get the win tonight.''
In a game where NHL draft picks littered the lineup of both teams, a walk-on stole the show. That didn't mean much to Gaarder. "I just play my game, go out and work hard,'' he said. "The first one was a lucky one off my foot, so you can't say I did much there.''
He did plenty enough to boost North Dakota to 3-1-1 overall while dropping BU to 3-2. UND leads the overall series between the two schools 12-7-1.
BU took the first lead on Danny O'Regan's rebound goal at 16:52 of the first period.
Two Gaarder goals moved UND ahead 2-1 in the second period, but defenseman Ahti Oksanen's first college goal on a 5-minute major to UND captain Andrew MacWilliam for contact to the head tied it at 12;10 of the second period.
It was BU's only power play chance of the night. The Terriers got just one shot on goal on the 5-minute major, but converted it.
On the other hand, UND had seven power plays, mustering 11 shots but converting only the 5-on-3 to win the game.
Penalty trouble eventually hurt BU, according to coach Jackie Parker, in his 40th season behind the Terriers' bench.
"I thought the penalties wore us down as the game progressed,'' Parker said. "We got the 5-minute major on the power play and I got the feeling that some of the calls might go the other way for them once they gave us the 5-minute major.''
North Dakota outshot BU 35-22, including 14-5 in the third period when UND controlled the puck for long stretches at a time.
"We didn't generate much offense the second half of the game,'' Parker said, "and I think that's a credit to how hard they played defensively and through center ice.''
Grimaldi sealed the victory for North Dakota with 20 seconds left, scoring into an empty net after BU goalie Sean MacGuire (31 saves) was pulled for an extra attacker. That gives Grimaldi at least one point in his last seven games going back to last year.
"It was a lot better start than we've had in a while,'' Grimaldi said. "We definitely ended it really well. We finally got the power play going.''
His opinion of Gaarder's night? "What do you want me to say, it's unbelievable,'' Grimaldi said. "The kid was absolutely flying out there.''
UND notes: Gaarder's hat trick was UND's first since March 11, 2011, when Matt Frattin and Jason Gregoire each scored twice in a win over Michigan Tech in the first round of the WCHA playoffs ... Gaarder and Grimaldi led the team in shots on goal with five each, followed by sophomore left wing Brendan O'Donnell (Winnipeg, Manitoba) with three . . .. Grimaldi and Gaarder were both plus-2 in the plus/minus ratings, tops on the team . . . Junior Clarke Saunders (Brockville, Ontario) was solid in goal for UND with 20 saves while Parker had special praise for his freshman goalie MacGuire.
Virg Foss covered UND hockey for 35 seasons for the Grand Forks Herald until his retirement in 2005. He now reports on UND home games for UNDSports.com.