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Cole Smith, fourth line stays hot in first exhibition game after Christmas break

U.S. National Under-18 forward Gavin Hain springs down the ice in the first period of Saturday's exhibition game against UND at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald1 / 6
U.S. National Under-18 forward Patrick Giles lines up a shot as UND goalie Cam Johnson tries to block the puck in the second period of Saturday's home exhibition game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 6
U.S. National Under-18 defenseman Adam Samuelsson nails UND's Josh Rieger into the boards in the first period of Saturday's exhibition game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald3 / 6
USA defenseman Adam Samuelsson grimaces after being hit by UND's Collin Adams during the first period of Saturday's exhibition game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald4 / 6
U.S. National Under-18 goaltender Drew DeRidder makes a quick save as UND captain Austin Poganski (#14) looks for an opening in first period of Saturday's home exhibition game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald5 / 6
U.S. National Under-18 forward and UND commit Gavin Hain tries to get a shot past Fighting Hawks goalie Cam Johnson during Saturday's exhibition game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald6 / 6

Cole Smith was UND's top offensive forward in the nine games before Christmas break.

Then, the team took 20 days off.

Apparently, it didn't change anything.

Smith scored on his first shift back from break, just 2 minutes, 23 seconds into UND's 5-2 exhibition game victory over the U.S. Under-18 team Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 10,113 in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

While the fans battled frigid 23-below temperatures to get to the game, Smith and UND's "fourth line" stayed red hot in the team's lone tuneup before returning to regular-season play next weekend against Nebraska Omaha.

Smith, who scored in three consecutive games before Christmas break, re-directed a point shot of Colton Poolman to give the Fighting Hawks some offensive production—a familiar scene.

Smith led all UND forward with six points in the nine games prior to Christmas break. No other forwards had more than five.

"It felt good," said Smith, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound left winger from Brainerd, Minn. "We came out and luckily, I got that first one. So, it feels good to stay a little hot out there and playing with confidence. That helps with confidence coming off of break."

Smith said he didn't worry about the break taking him out of his rhythm.

"You don't want to let any worry slip in your mind," said Smith, who has four goals and eight points on the season. "I wanted to come out and keep playing the way I play."

It wasn't just the goal. Smith and his linemates, center Johnny Simonson and right wing Trevor Olson, consistently played in the offensive zone throughout the game—something that didn't surprise UND coach Brad Berry.

"Over the Christmas holiday, we looked at a few analytical things," Berry said. "In offensive zone play, it seems like that line plays in the other team's end an awful lot. They do the right things: get pucks deep, protect pucks and get pucks to the net. Again, you saw that tonight with Cole Smith getting rewarded. We're happy with that line and they have to continue playing that way."

The line started its hot streak in Denver, when Simonson scored the game-winning goal late in the third period against the defending national champions.

And it has continued as that unit has added Olson to the right wing.

Olson missed 10 games due to a shoulder injury, but returned for the St. Cloud State series before Christmas break.

"I felt a lot better (Friday night)," Olson said. "That break helped a lot. I pushed myself pretty hard to get back for St. Cloud, but I think those three extra weeks helped me quite a bit. I felt pretty good. It's pretty easy to play with Simo and Smitty. They make my job pretty easy."

Their recipe is simple.

"Keeping it simple, really," Olson said. "We're just doing the things we have to do: getting pucks deep and possessing it in the offensive zone. When we're in the D-zone, it's advancing pucks."

UND's season has been marked with lineup changes. The Fighting Hawks haven't used the same lineup in any two games yet this season, but the Smith, Simonson and Olson line is becoming a fixture.

"They are playing hard, the right way and playing consistently," Berry said. "As a coach, that's what you look for in players and that's what they're doing."

UND also received a breakaway goal from Austin Poganski, a snipe from defenseman Matt Kiersted, a power-play snipe from Jordan Kawaguchi and an empty-netter from Shane Gersich.

The U.S. Under-18 team, a Michigan-based team that features elite players born in the year 2000, received goals from Miami recruit Ryan Savage and Harvard recruit Oliver Wahlstrom.

UND commit Gavin Hain also played in the game, tallying three shots on goal and two penalties.

"It was a great experience," said Hain, who is from Grand Rapids, Minn. "It was my first time playing in The Ralph. It was an exhibition game for them and they still brought 9,000 or 10,000 fans. It was a great experience.

"We knew they were a hard-working team. Maybe I did more so than the other guys. I know what their style is. That's why I came here. It fits my style of play—a hard, skill game. They have skill, but they play hard all over the ice."

Notes: UND wore special jerseys for Military Appreciation Night. The numbers and school name were camouflaged. There were no names on the back of the jerseys, because UND is going to auction them off in the coming days and weeks on to raise money for summer scholarships. . . Sophomore forward Dixon Bowen sat out, recovering from a foot injury. Sophomore defenseman Andrew Peski was out with an illness. . . Roseau's Ryan Anderson made his first appearance in net for UND, coming in for the final 2:44. He didn't see any shots on goal.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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