UND topples NCHC-leading Western Michigan in series opener
Cam Johnson was back in the net Friday night.
Austin Poganski was scoring goals.
Christian Wolanin was serving up scoring chances for his teammates.
This is how this season was supposed to go.
After the UND men's hockey team found ways to win without its starting goalie and big offensive production from its top returning scorers, the box score looked more routine during a 4-3 win over Western Michigan on Friday night in front of 11,156 in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Well, it was routine until the final minute anyway.
UND took three consecutive penalties in the final two minutes and survived a 6-on-3 Western Michigan advantage to close out a series-opening win against the National Collegiate Hockey Conference-leading Broncos.
UND senior Johnny Simonson took a key draw with four seconds left, won it clean and allowed his team to celebrate the victory in a game that became so heated at the end that officials waved off the new tradition of a handshake after every game.
The Fighting Hawks moved to 9-4-4 overall and 4-2-1 in NCHC play, while the Broncos dropped to 9-5-1 overall and 5-2 in league play.
Poganski, the team captain, scored his third and fourth goals of the season, while Ludvig Hoff and Collin Adams each added one. Rookie Jordan Kawaguchi had two assists.
"I thought that was a man's game," UND coach Brad Berry said. "It was fast. It was heavy. It was up-and-down the ice. It was two teams that have an unbelievable will and you could tell by the compete level. It went right down to the last faceoff there.
"I thought our team did an extremely good job of finding a way to get it done."
UND finished the game with only 16 skaters.
It started the game without senior forward Trevor Olson (upper body), sophomore forward Dixon Bowen (foot) and junior forward Nick Jones (illness).
Then, UND lost Hoff in the first period to a lower-body injury and defenseman Andrew Peski at the end of the second period to an undisclosed injury.
Berry said he's not sure if either will be able to play in the series finale at 7:07 tonight in Ralph Engelstad Arena, but he expects Jones to play.
Regardless of who is in the lineup, Berry would take another effort like Friday's.
Poganski converted a pair of power-play goals in the first period -- snapping a wrist shot home from the slot and burying a Kawaguchi feed from the inside of the circle -- to give UND an early lead.
"He did an extremely good job," Berry said of Poganski. "Things haven't been coming easy for Austin. It's not to say he hasn't been working hard. He's been working extremely hard. Tonight, he got rewarded for doing the things Pogo does. He skates fast. He's hard and heavy on pucks. Tonight, he made a couple of plays and it got us going. When your captain does that, usually the rest of the team follows. They did that tonight."
UND led 3-2 after the first period and 4-2 after the second, but things got interesting late.
After Wade Allison scored to make it a one-goal game, Western Michigan had three power-play chances in the final four minutes of the game, including a five-on-three. UND took another penalty while down three men, so if the Broncos would have tied it up, they would have started overtime with a five-on-three power play.
With Jones out of the lineup and Rhett Gardner in the penalty box, Berry turned to Simonson, a Grand Forks Central grad, to take the final defensive zone draw with four seconds to go.
"We look at our stats," Berry said. "Simo has been there. He's played a heck of a season so far. He's done everything we've asked. That shows you his leadership skills."
UND will look for its second sweep of the season tonight against a Western Michigan team that won three of four meetings between the teams last season.
"They're a tough team to play against, whether it's there or here," Poganski said. "I know they play their best game every time they come here. I think we're pretty used to that here at The Ralph. Everyone plays their best game here. That helps us be successful later in the year."