UND's top line has big night in win over Colorado College
UND has played 30 games this season and used 30 different lineups.
The ever-changing line charts have been due to injuries and a search for more offense. But with three weeks to go in the regular season, UND may have found one fixture in the lineup.
The line of Shane Gersich, Rhett Gardner and Austin Poganski delivered a big, timely performance in a 5-1 win over Colorado College on Saturday night in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Aided by a clicking power play, Gersich and Poganski each had a goal and an assist, giving that trio 17 points in the last three games that they've played together.
On the other end of the ice, they silenced one of college hockey's most prolific offenses in a head-to-head matchup between top lines. The trio of Colorado College's Nick Halloran, Mason Bergh and Trey Bradley was held to a single point on the weekend—and it came during the 10-minute stretch when Gardner was in the penalty box for a misconduct.
In addition to the clutch performance by the top line, junior forward Joel Janatuinen snapped a seven-game point drought by scoring two goals and rookie forward Grant Mismash came alive in the third period by scoring a goal, setting one up and drawing a power play.
It added up to a key win for a UND squad that was on the bubble in both the NCHC and NCAA pictures.
The win allowed the Fighting Hawks (13-9-8) to snap a six-game winless drought and move into a third-place tie in league standings with Western Michigan with three weekends left in the regular season. The top four teams get home-ice advantage in the first round of the league playoffs.
It also kept UND's head above water in the Pairwise Rankings, where the Fighting Hawks moved up one spot to No. 12. The Pairwise Rankings are used to pick the 16-team NCAA tournament field in March.
"Seasons have highs and lows," UND coach Brad Berry said. "You can't get too high and you can't get too low. You've got to be a team. I think everybody can handle the good times. You can be a winner and everyone can do that. But when you don't have a lot of success with the result, you have to stay even tighter together. Our group is a tight group and they stayed together. I'm proud of the way they did."
Berry made several lineup adjustments that worked in the series finale.
He put the Gersich, Gardner and Poganski line together and they finished with four points.
"Those guys had some previous chemistry together," Berry said. "The reason for having Janny (Janatuinen) up there in the first game (with Gardner and Poganski) was as a way to shut down the other team's first line. And they did. But I thought we needed a little push offensively and I think Gersich gave it to them."
Berry also put Mismash at center for the first time in his college career. Mismash previously played center in prep school at Shattuck-St. Mary's, but played wing most of the last two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development program.
Mismash answered with a big third period, highlighted by a goal where he cut from the right side of the ice, through the slot to the left circle and snapped a shot past the glove of Colorado College goalie Alex Leclerc (25 saves).
Berry also turned to rookie Peter Thome in net instead of veteran Cam Johnson. Thome responded by stopping 20 of 21 shots. He's won both of his starts since Christmas—and he's been aided by an offense that has scored 12 goals for him in those games.
And UND got some key production from Janatuinen, whose second-period goal snapped a drought of 204:05 without a goal from a forward.
"It feels pretty good," Janatuinen said of scoring his third and fourth goals of the season. "Obviously, I haven't scored much this year, so it feels pretty great. I've tried not to think about it too much, just do the right things out there and try to help the team as much as you can in the ways that you can. Just do the right things out there and the goals will come."
UND travels to Omaha and Miami in the next two weekends before closing the regular season at home against St. Cloud State.
"I know everybody is caught up in must-win, must-win," Berry said. "You're right, it is a must win. I thought our guys did a good job of handling the process and staying with the game. For the most part, over 120 minutes, we played pretty good hockey. Tonight, we found a way to win.
"This was a step in the right direction. Now we go on the road and it's another push when we go on the road."