GRAND FORKS, N.D. – One season ago, UND capped a fantastic season with its eighth NCAA championship, second only to Michigan (9) for most national titles won in Division I hockey history.
For a while tonight, this year's version of UND hockey was facing some possible historic numbers it would just as soon forget.
Junior defenseman Tucker Poolman's rebound power-play goal at 8:16 of the third period saved the Fighting Hawks from entering school hockey history on the wrong side of the ledger in a 3-1 National Collegiate Hockey Conference loss to visiting St. Cloud State.
Until Poolman scored, UND was facing back-to-back shutout losses for the first time in school history as well as its fifth shutout loss of the season, which would have been a record.
Even so, UND has now trailed after the last nine intermissions, dating back to the end of the first period of the home game against Minnesota Duluth on Jan. 20.
Poolman used his long reach to gather in a rebound in front and slid one past St. Cloud goalie Jeff Smith to fire up a capacity crowd of 11,682 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. But then another UND bugaboo this season bit the Fighting Hawks big time, a score by the opponent shortly after a UND goal before the public address announement of UND's goal was even finished.
Just 28 seconds after Poolman's goal, a shot by SCSU's Robby Jackson deflected off the facemask of linemate Ryan Poehling and past UND goalie Matt Hrynkiw to complete the scoring. Officials reviewed the goal, but allowed it.
Earlier, after strong pressure by UND, former Grand Forks Red River standout Jacob Benson banked an extreme angle from below the end line off the left arm of Hrynkiw at 11:25, giving the Huskies a lead UND never could overcome
"I think we're snake-bitten a little bit,'' UND captain Gage Ausmus said. "The goals aren't coming, and we're not getting the bounces we want. That's the way hockey goes. Even Saturday night in CC (Colorado College), we played well enough to win. I thought we played well enough to win this game tonight. They got the bounces this game.''
UND nearly reached 70 shots on goal over the last two games until Poolman found twine, after UND lost 1-0 last Saturday despite 45 shots on goal. The Fighting Hawks limited St. Cloud State to 20 shots on goal while getting 29 themselves.
The goals from below the end line by Benson and off of Poehling's head were examples of the bad bounces Ausmus talked about. St. Cloud State's other goal came on a center point wrister by defenseman Jimmy Schuldt with a nice screen set in front of Hrynkiw, taking away his eyes on the puck.
When asked about the lack of breaks going UND's way, Fighting Hawks' coach Brad Berry replied this way: "It seems like that, but you have to create your breaks, right? Some goals are going in at inopportune times and on unconventional ways on our net and we're not getting the bounces going that way. You create your own bounces.''
The loss drops UND (7-9-1-0 NCHC, 14-11-3 overall) from ninth to 12 in the Pairwise Rankings used to select the 16-team NCAA field, and into a tie for fourth place in the NCHC with Omaha with St. Cloud State a point behind.
The top four teams in the final NCHC standings get the all-important home in the first round of league playoffs. Yet home ice has not been kind to UND this season. The Fighting Hawks are now 2-6-1 in NCHC play at home and 7-7-2 overall while having winning records on the road in both categories.
"You can't blow your whole system up as for what you want to do and try to have five guys pressing at once, because it will come back the other way,'' Berry said. "You have to have resemblance of play and structure, and try to create with a little more aggressive pressure.''
St. Cloud State (7-9-1 NCHC, 13-13-1 overall) climbed to 14th in the Pairwise Rankings, two spots behind UND heading into Saturday's 7:05 rematch. UND had shut out the Huskies twice in St. Cloud earlier in the season.
Game notes: Smith, Schuldt and Jackson were named the game's 3 stars in media voting ... Poolman led UND in shots on goal with five, followed by NCHC goals leader Shane Gersich, Rhett Gardner and Brock Boeser with four apiece ... Boeser hasn't registered a point in his last six games ... No St. Cloud State player had more than two shots on net ... UND won the faceoff battle 37-22 led by Gardner with 10 of 14 and Dixon Bowen with 8 of 12 ... UND was 1-3 on the power play with eight shots, SCS 0-2 with two shots.
Virg Foss covered UND hockey for the Grand Forks Herald for 35 seasons, including five NCAA championships, prior to his retirement in 2005. He's in his 12th year of reporting on UND home games exclusively for UNDsports.com.