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Offense explodes as UND routs Omaha

Omaha's Jake Randolph (left) and Fighting Hawks captain Austin Poganski (right) focus on a referee during a faceoff in the first period of Saturday's hockey game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald1 / 5
Fighting Hawks goalie Peter Thome tracks a flying puck in the second period of Saturday's home win over Omaha. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 5
UND's Joel Janatuinen (#25) and Nick Jones (#8) celebrate a goal during Saturday's win over Omaha at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald3 / 5
UND's Ludvig Hoff (#27) and Dixon Bowen (#9) converge on the puck as Omaha forward Luke Nogard watches from the ice Saturday night. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald4 / 5
Omaha forward Ryan Galt reacts as the Fighting Hawks' Dixon Bowen falls to the ice after tripping on Galts leg during Saturday's home hockey game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald5 / 5

UND coach Brad Berry pulled rookie goaltender Peter Thome aside Saturday morning during the team's pregame skate.

"We're going to shake things up and try to give the team a boost," Berry told Thome. "You're going to start tonight, so be ready."

That wasn't the only change Berry had up his sleeve. He also scratched two of his prized rookie forwards—Grant Mismash and Collin Adams—and juggled two of the three defensive pairings.

He brought the team into the meeting room in the basement of Ralph Engelstad Arena, showed them clips from the series-opening loss to Omaha and emphasized that his team got outworked.

A few hours later, a completely different UND team showed up.

The Fighting Hawks overwhelmed Omaha from the start in a 7-0 rout in front of 10,816 in The Ralph.

UND scored so many goals in the series finale that it jumped from last place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in offense to fifth in a single night.

Austin Poganski scored twice and had an assist, while linemate Rhett Gardner had his first-career three-point game with a goal and two assists.

Six other players had two point games—Joel Janatuinen, Christian Wolanin and Andrew Peski all had a goal and an assist, while Nick Jones, Jordan Kawaguchi and Shane Gersich all had two assists. Colton Poolman also scored.

For Peski, a sophomore defenseman, it was his first-career goal in his 49th-career game.

"Vastly different from last night," Berry said. "In the spectrum, last night, we were on one end of it. Tonight, we're at the other end of it. That's what we have to do is play at this end of the spectrum. I told the guys after the game that we have to remember both games (from this series) and what it takes to win a game in a tough league and how with an effort like last night, a game can get away from you. This is going to be in the back of our minds."

UND (11-6-5 overall, 6-4-2 NCHC) had averaged just two goals per game in its last eight, but exploded for a touchdown against an Omaha team that entered the weekend ranked 59th of 60 teams nationally in defense and dead last in goaltender save percentage.

First-year Omaha coach Mike Gabinet, much like his unpredictable predecessor Dean Blais, started Kris Oldham in goal one night after Evan Weninger stopped 34 of 35 shots.

Oldham gave up three goals on the first 10 shots he faced—another nightmare against UND. In two-career games against UND, Oldham has allowed 12 goals and has a .797 save percentage and a 6.79 goals-against average.

Omaha was aiming to win its first-ever series against UND, but was unable to do so.

"We were playing simple," Berry said. "Not being high risk—that gives the other team momentum. We played north hockey. We were harder on pucks in the offensive zone. We gave ourselves a chance to have success. Scoring that goal late in the first period was a big deal. Getting the first goal of the game is something we haven't done a lot this year."

Thome had a quiet night on the other end. He faced only 15 shots en route to becoming the first UND freshman to post a shutout since Aaron Dell in 2009. Thome faced just one shot on goal in the second period—a harmless wrister with one second left in the frame.

"Boring," Thome said about the second period. "I was taking a lot of hot laps. I thought about doing some juggling between the period break, but I never got around to it."

Thome made his first start since Nov. 24—and the first since he got his new painted helmet.

"I was thinking before the game that if I have a bad game in this helmet, do I go back to the white helmet?" Thome said. "But, problem solved."

Berry said the decision to start Thome over established starter Cam Johnson wasn't a shot at the goalie who led UND to the 2016 NCAA national championship.

"The reason we lost the game last night wasn't because of Cam Johnson," Berry said. "Cam Johnson has been a rock for us his whole career here. We didn't play well in front of him. In saying that, he's part of our group. We wanted to make changes tonight to give guys opportunities. That's what we do here to hold guys accountable. We made a couple of changes in our lineup in the forward position, switched our defensemen around a little bit and the guys responded.

"That goes to the leadership group in our locker room. They got the ship going back in the right way again. That's what we do at North Dakota after we lose a game. It doesn't settle well, and we have to get back going."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman 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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