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Offense goes silent in loss to Omaha

Fighting Hawks forward Trevor Olson keeps Omaha's Zach Jordan at bay while UND goalie Cam Johnson makes a snow-covered stop in the first period of Friday's home game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald1 / 5
UND forwards Joel Janatuinen (#25) and Collin Adams (#18) try to keep the puck away from Omaha sophomore Colin Grannary in the first period of Friday's hockey game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 5
Omaha forward Jake Randolph looks for an opening in the UND defense as Hayden Shaw gets low to block the shot in the second period of Friday's game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald3 / 5
The Fighting Hawks' Nick Jones yells to a teammates while Omaha forward Fredrik Olofsson keeps him down in the second period of Friday's home game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald4 / 5
The Fighting Hawks' Jordan Kawaguchi fights for puck possession with Omaha players Joel Messner (left) and Martin Sundberg (right) in the first period of Friday's home hockey game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald5 / 5

It's no major surprise that offensive production was an issue for the UND men's hockey team Friday night.

That's been a theme, off and on, for the whole season.

But the concern level ratcheted up when the Fighting Hawks were only able to muster one goal—on a penalty shot, no less—in a 4-1 loss to an Omaha team that entered the weekend ranked 59th of 60 college hockey teams in goals allowed and dead last in goalie save percentage.

On top of that Omaha was playing without two injured defenseman, one sick defenseman and had a forward and a seldom-used rookie playing on the back end.

Despite all of that, UND was unable to parlay it into some much-needed offense in front of 10,133 in Ralph Engelstad Arena—many of whom started to leave with four minutes left in the game, unconfident in the Fighting Hawks' chances to mount a rally.

"A little bit of inconsistency putting the puck in the back of the net," UND coach Brad Berry said. "There's times you play in the offensive zone and you get opportunities. You have to be able to capitalize and finish on that. Tonight, I thought we had some opportunities to score, but I didn't think we had enough guys in front of the net or guys taking the goalie's eyes away and making it difficult. They did a good job boxing out, but we have to find a way to get there."

For the season, UND now ranks dead last in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in offense at 2.71 goals per game. It has been even worse of late.

UND has managed just 16 goals in the last eight games (2.00 per game average). It has been held to two or fewer goals six times in that span.

It's top goal-scorer during that time? Fourth-line winger Cole Smith.

"I think the concern more so tonight was working hard to create those chances," UND defenseman Colton Poolman said. "There's give and take with that, but I think we're good at creating offense. We just got outworked tonight."

With a full cupboard of forwards Berry has the ability to insert new players into the lineup for tonight's series finale (7:07 p.m., Ralph Engelstad Arena), when Omaha will attempt to win its first-ever series against UND.

The Mavericks (10-8-1, 3-6 NCHC) had previously played 12 series against the Fighting Hawks under former coach Dean Blais, who attended Friday's game, but didn't win any. First-year coach Mike Gabinet will have that shot.

"We will change the lineup tomorrow and we will make some changes in our lines," Berry said. "It's one of those things where you're hoping, at this time of year, we can try to solidify some things, but I guess we have to keep moving forward and trying to find some more info on some things that might work."

The signs of trouble were there from the start.

UND's leading scorer, defenseman Christian Wolanin, was given a 10-minute misconduct after being called for a holding minor—effectively taking him off the ice for most of the first period.

Omaha soon took its first lead of the game on a transition goal by Fredrik Olofsson.

UND did get one goal back on a penalty shot by Shane Gersich, who snapped a shot five-hole on Omaha goalie Evan Weninger (34 saves).

But the Mavericks blew open the game with back-to-back power-play goals in the second period.

Luke Nogard popped home a rebound of his own deflection and David Pope blasted a one-timer by UND goalie Cam Johnson (17 saves).

Zach Jordan added Omaha's final tally on a rush midway through the third period.

"That's what they do," Berry said. "They are fifth in the nation in offense and scoring goals. They do have some guys who can put the puck in the net. That makes the onus on us that we have to defend well. And when we get our chances, we have to put it in the back of the net."

UND's defensemen struggled for much of the night, getting caught trying to hold pucks in the offensive zone a few times, leading to penalties.

"I thought we had a tough time moving pucks up the ice, a tough time advancing pucks," Berry said. "It's not only the D-men, but the forwards coming back and getting open for them and being outlets. It goes hand-in-hand. It's not just the 'D.' It's the five guys on the ice and I don't think we were in sync tonight as a group."

Poolman said he thought the team was prepared coming into the weekend.

"We had a couple of good days of practice," he said. "We felt like we were ready in the locker room. Obviously, we just didn't show it on the ice. It's kind of disappointing to work that hard in practice and not come prepared. We have to come back tomorrow more prepared."

Notes: UND scratched forwards Zach Yon and Dixon Bowen and defensemen Casey Johnson and Josh Rieger. . . Omaha played without three injured defensemen—Jalen Schulz, Dean Stewart and Jordan Klehr. Minot's Mason Morelli, a junior for the Mavericks, is out for the season with an injury.

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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