GRAND FORKS, N.D. – The words "neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night stays these couriers from their swift completion of their appointed rounds'' has long been associated as the unofficial slogan of the U.S. Postal Service.
It well could be applied to the University of North Dakota hockey team this weekend as well.
The Fighting Hawks, playing shorthanded because of illness and injuries, made their swift rounds at Ralph Engelstad Arena a rousing success Saturday night with a 4-1 victory over Western Michigan in front of a sellout of 11,742.
Coupled with a 3-2 UND win on Friday, the Fighting Hawks earned their first National Collegiate Hockey Conference sweep of the season, a big one considering the Broncos came into the weekend all alone in first place.
But with senior goalie Cam Johnson (19 saves) coming back from eight games off with injury and freshman Nick Jones (goal, assist) back as well after he was sick all week, there was no gloom to be found in Grand Forks tonight, not with a full moon hanging over the city as well.
The sweep moved UND to 5-2-1 in the NCHC, 10-4-4 overall and into sixth place in the PairWise ratings, which mimic the method used by the NCAA to select the 16-team tournament field at the end of the season. WMU slipped to 5-3 in the league and 9-7-1 overall.
Jones and Smith delivered the thunder and lightning to erase a 1-0 Western Michigan lead late in the second period and early in the third.
The Broncos had grabbed the lead when 6-foot-7, 228-pound freshman center Austin Rueschhoff walked around UND defenseman Matt Kiersted to score his fifth goal of the season at 8:33 of the secod period.
Jones knocked in a rebound of a Grant Mismash shot at 19:37 of the second period to tie it at 1-1.
Then just seven seconds into the third period, Smith raced in alone off the opening faceoff to beat WMU goalie Ben Blecker with a quick move to put UND ahead for good at 2-1. The Broncos never recovered from those two goals eating up just 30 seconds of clock time.
Smith's goal tied the school record for fastest goal to start the third period, set by UND Hall of Famer and All-America Ben Cherski in a 1952 game vs. Michigan Tech. It was one second shy of the fastest goal in any period by a UND player, that of six seconds by Lee Davidson.
The goal by Jones seemed to jump-start UND, the sixth of the year for the Ohio State transfer. He was limited in practice all week by the flu, and held out of Friday's game because of it.
"Tonight I thought he had a lot of energy,'' UND coach Brad Berry said. "It killed him not being in the lineup yesterday. He gave us a big boost today.''
His return was vital since UND lost forward Ludvig Hoff and defenseman Andrew Peski with injuries suffered in Friday's game.
Smith said the quick goal off the opening faceoff in the third period is something UND works on in practice.
"It's kind of a set play,'' he said. "We have both our wingers jumping right away. I just beat (WMU's) winger. Had a good jump there.''
Defenseman Hayden Shaw had a centering pass go past Blecker off the skate of WMU defenseman Corey Schueneman to make it 3-1 at 11:59 of the third period on the power play. Mismash then slammed home a backhand pass from Shane Gersich from the end wall at 14:26 to complete the victory and the sweep.
"It's incredible,'' Smith of Brainerd, Minn., said of the sweep of the league leaders.
"I didn't think we had any complacency in our game today,'' Gersich said. "We were still hungry.''
Western Michigan came into the series riding a three-game win streak over UND from last year. The sweep means UND now owns an 18-4 record all-time vs. the Broncos.
Berry started the line of Smith and defenseman-turned-wing Josh Rieger centered by Johnny Simonson, both to begin the game and open the third period.
"They bring you energy and mentality,'' Berry said. "They earned it. We went into last weekend with Josh Rieger never playing forward before in his life. He did pretty well.''
Indeed. Rieger was the one who bumped the puck ahead enough off the third period opening faceoff to spring Smith in alone for the game-winning goal.
"We needed a little jump, a little spark, and you saw what happened in the third period with Cole making that play,'' Berry said.
Added Berry about Smith: "He's that late-bloomer who is getting better and better. He's a worker.''
The sweep puts UND in a battle for first place next weekend at St. Cloud State. The Huskies are one point ahead of UND in the standings, with Western Michigan and Denver now tied for third, three points out of first.
"We talk about growing as a team,'' Berry said "When you win games, you grow as a team. I think you grow even more when you see the lineup changes that we've had due to illness and injuries. You find ways to win with guys in different roles.''
Game notes: Colton Poolman, Colin Adams and Mismash all had 3 shots on goals to lead UND ... Hugh McGing and Josh Passolt had 3 shots each for WMU ... UND won the faceoffs 29-13, led by Jones (8 of 12) and Simonson (8 of 14) ... UND was 1 of 7 on the power play with just 5 shots on net, WMU 0-4 with 4 shots ... Jones was named first star in media voting, followed by Smith and Shaw ... Gersich (2 assists), Jones (goal, assist) and Mismsh (goal, assist) all had 2-point games for UND.
Virg Foss is in his 13th season of reporting on UND home hockey games exclusively for UNDsports.com. He covered UND hockey for 35 seasons for the Grand Forks Herald until his retirement from newspapers.