Union starts strong, downs UND 4-1
Perhaps UND coach Brad Berry will have to start scheduling only road games on Thanksgiving weekend.
Once again, the Fighting Hawks suffered a turkey hangover, losing to Union 4-1 Friday night in Ralph Engelstad Arena on the day after the national holiday.
UND hasn't won at home the day after Thanksgiving since 2011, dropping to 0-3-1 in that span.
The losses have been of the ugly variety.
In 2013, UND lost to an unranked St. Lawrence team 5-2, prompting an hour-long players meeting in the locker room.
Last season, UND lost to the Big Ten's worst team, Michigan State, in a game it dug a huge hole.
And this season, it was an unranked Union squad that came into The Ralph and feasted.
Maybe it was the extra turkey or stuffing that caused UND's slow start—or maybe it was another game in a developing pattern this season—that cost the Fighting Hawks against the Dutchmen.
Union built a two-goal lead in the opening period, survived an onslaught of shots in the second and closed out a road win in front of 11,087—the largest crowd the Dutchmen have played in front of since the 2014 NCAA national championship game in Philadelphia.
UND has now allowed the first goal in six of the past nine games. It has trailed in the opening 30 minutes in seven of the last nine games.
The Fighting Hawks (8-4-3) have managed to escape some of those contests with comeback wins, but not this time.
"We've won a lot of games by chasing games," Berry said. "But if you keep doing that, it will catch up to you, and it caught up to us tonight. We've got to learn in our minds what gives us success. It's about the compete, the battles, the execution and sharpness that you have to have in the first period from the drop of the puck. When you have that, you have a great chance to win, because you don't chase the game, you lead."
It wasn't a good first period.
"Again," Berry said. "It's concerning that it wasn't again. Puck battles. Second to all loose pucks. Pucks going on and off our tape. All the execution things. That's what happens when you're not sharp. The other team got a 2-0 lead there and we had to chase the game again."
Union (8-6) scored the first goal of the game on a Ryan Walker deflection of a Brandon Estes point shot after consecutive strong shifts by the Dutchmen.
They followed that with a power-play goal, taking advantage of back-to-back gaffes by the Fighting Hawks.
During the penalty kill, Johnny Simonson attempted to send a pass to his defenseman to waste time, but he misfired and it went all the way into UND's zone. UND goalie Peter Thome left his net to get the puck in the corner and play it off the wall, but he sent the puck directly to Union's Brett Supinski, who sent it toward the empty net.
Although UND defenseman Andrew Peski blocked the initial attempt, Sebastian Vidmar was there to score to make it 2-0.
"That's our struggle so far this year is getting out of the games," UND captain Austin Poganski said. "The games we have lost is because we haven't had a good start and we've been chasing the other team. That's never how you want to play hockey. I think throughout the rest of the year, especially tomorrow, we have to figure out how to get out of the gates the right way and play with the lead for once."
Defenseman Christian Wolanin said: "Horrible. Going through the motions. Waiting for things to happen. I'm sure it was pretty obvious to watch. It was not North Dakota hockey and they took advantage."
After UND kicked it into gear and outshot Union 19-4 in the second period, it got an early goal in the third when Wolanin buried a rebound of a Matt Kiersted point shot to make it 2-1 at 3:27. But Union regained the two-goal lead less than a minute later when Vas Kolias scored on a clean breakaway. Union's Brendan Taylor iced the game with an empty-netter.
Union goalie Jake Kupsky, a San Jose Sharks draft pick who started the year 1-5, was the first star, stopping 37 of 38 shots.
UND, meanwhile, lost back-to-back games for the first itme this season.
"Everyone talks about the Denver hangover, the Minnesota hangover after a big series," Berry said. "Maybe there's a little bit of that going into it. But you know what? We're coming into The Ralph. This place was built for us to have success in, and there's an obligation on our part to make sure we remember that next time we step on the ice."
Notes: UND was down three forwards—junior Joel Janatuinen missed the game with an illness, sophomore Dixon Bowen missed his second game in a row with a lower-body injury and senior Trevor Olson missed his seventh game in a row with an upper-body injury. UND rookie defenseman Josh Rieger played forward to fill the void. Berry said the team will re-evaluate Janatuinen on Saturday morning . . East Grand Forks Senior High graduate Taylor Brierley, a rookie defenseman for Union, didn't make the trip because of a foot injury suffered before the season started. Brierley, who played on a state championship team with Dixon Bowen and Colton Poolman, hasn't been cleared to play yet.