ST. CLOUD, Minn. – North Dakota entered tonight’s NCHC clash at St. Cloud State stuck in its worst winless drought in 14 years.
It emerged with what UND players and coaches called the team’s most complete effort of the season, a convincing 4-0 victory over the 12th-ranked Huskies. It was also UND’s first road win of the season.
Sophomore winger Shane Gersich scored his first collegiate hat trick and junior goaltender Cam Johnson served up his seventh career shutout to carry the eighth-ranked Fighting Hawks to their first win since Oct. 22.
Gersich scored a power-play goal in the first period and added two even-strength tallies in the second period, giving him five goals in the last two games.
Freshman Ludvig Hoff also scored for UND, which was playing with a revamped set of forward lines and special teams units.
The Fighting Hawks, whose special teams struggled mightily during the winless skid, went 1-3 with the man advantage and killed all four SCSU power-play chances.
“Consistently for 60 minutes, that was probably our best performance,” said UND head coach Brad Berry. “You could tell there was some sharpness and some focus and some detail there, which led into the power play and penalty kill.”
Gersich got things rolling with just over three minutes left in the first period, knocking a rebound past SCSU goalie Zach Driscoll.
Hoff made it 2-0 midway through the second period, lead a 3-on-1 rush and rifling a wrister past Driscoll from the faceoff circle.
Then Gersich rounded out the hat trick with two goals late in the frame, the first on another rebound effort at 17:23 and the second a rocket that beat Driscoll high glove side 89 seconds later.
The 3-goal explosion gave Gersich a team-leading nine goals in 12 games after tallying nine in 37 games as a freshman.
“He’s playing the right way,” said Berry. “He’s playing fast. He’s tenacious on pucks and he’s going into the hard areas. More than anything, he finds the puck once the puck goes to the net. If there’s a rebound, he’s got a knack for whacking it in off the rebound.”
Gersich and center Tyson Jost skated with a new right winger tonight, as Berry inserted St. Cloud native Austin Poganski on that line and moved Brock Boeser to a line with Rhett Gardner and Joel Janatuinen. The end result was a combined six points for Gersich, Jost (two assists) and Poganski (one assist).
“I think I’m just playing with confidence right now,” said Gerisch. “I’ve been working really hard before practice and working on my skills and it’s just kind of translating over to games.
“It’s been a difficult last few weeks here. We knew coming into this weekend it was going to be a big weekend for us. We needed to turn our season around. For the most part, that was our best 60 minutes of the year.”
Johnson did the rest, stopping all 26 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season and seventh of his career. It boosted Johnson’s season save percentage from .895 to .904.
“I needed that,” Johnson said with a chuckle. “My save percentage, my stats have been subpar but that’s something that I really haven’t tried to look at it because I think I’ve been playing well this year. It’s a new team and we’re young and we’re learning.
“I still hate losing more than I hate winning. That’s a feeling you always remember, but it’s good to be back on the winning side of things.”
Berry said he was proud of how his locker room stayed together during its rare rut in which it went 0-4-2.
“They handled it well. There’s a pride in our group,” said Berry. “I’ve got to tip my hat to our captaincy group and our leadership group. They were committed through the week and knew we had to get better in a bunch of different areas. It started with their play and their commitment and they worked extremely hard.”
UND now has the opportunity to do something it hasn’t done since Nov. 1998: sweep the Huskies on their home ice.
“We can’t come in tomorrow too comfortable, because that’s a really good team over there,” said Johnson. “It’s going to be another war and we know it.”
The puck drops at 7:07 p.m. Central on Saturday night.
Notes: UND outshot the Huskies 40-26 … Gersich, Jost and Johnson were named the game’s three stars … Johnson’s seven career shutouts rank fifth all-time at UND behind Karl Goehring (15), Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (10), Jordan Parise (10) and Aaron Dell (9) … Johnson made his 43rd consecutive start, a streak topped only by Lamoureux’s 55 straight from 2006 to 2008 … Fifteen of UND’s 18 skaters registered at least one shot on goal, led by defenseman Tucker Poolman’s six.