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UND shuts out Omaha in NCHC playoff opener

UND captain Austin Poganski fights with Omaha defenseman Ryan Jones (#20) for puck possession in the first period of Friday's NCHC playoff series at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald1 / 5
Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux wave to fans after the first period of Friday's first game of the NCHC playoff series against Omaha at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 5
Fighting Hawks fans celebrate a first period goal against Omaha with players (from left) Colton Poolman, Shane Gersich, Christian Wolanin, Austin Poganski and Rhett Gardner on Friday night at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald3 / 5
Fighting Hawks goalie Cam Johnson deflects a Maverick shot in the second period of Friday's first game of the NCHC playoff series at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald4 / 5
Omaha forward Fredrik Olofsson winces in pain as NCHC referees help him off the ice at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Friday, March 9, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald5 / 5

Cam Johnson went to UND operations director Pat Swanson this week and asked if the players could change the playlist of songs before Friday's playoff opener.

"Postseason, we call it the new season," the senior goalie said. "New season, new tunes."

A new Friday night result followed, too.

UND's 4-0 victory over Omaha to open the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs marked the first time UND has opened up a series with a victory since Jan. 12 at Bemidji State.

Shane Gersich scored a first-period goal and Christian Wolanin, Nick Jones and Joel Janatuinen blew the game open with three tallies in the second period to stake the Fighting Hawks to a 1-0 lead in a best-of-three series.

UND will have a chance to close it out and earn a trip to the Twin Cities for the 16th-straight season at 7:08 p.m. tonight in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

The winner of the series will advance to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.

The drive down Interstates 29 and 94 has happened every year since 2003 for UND—a streak that spans two different college hockey leagues and two venue changes.

It's a trip UND must make to have a shot at reaching the NCAA tournament for a 16th-straight year—the second-longest streak in college hockey history.

Friday's win over Omaha bumped UND up one spot to No. 14 in the Pairwise, swapping spots with the Mavericks, who fell to No. 15. Both are still on the bubble of making the 16-team NCAA tournament field.

"It's a good start. That's the key word: start," UND coach Brad Berry said. "It's just one game. I thought our guys did a lot of good things. The biggest thing is focusing on tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day and our lives are on the line still. Our guys know that. There's going to be a business-like mentality there."

One consistent for UND during its run of first-round playoff series wins has been opening night. Friday's win marked the 12th-straight year that UND has won the series opener. The last time it lost Game 1 was 2006 against MSU-Mankato.

There were several bright spots for UND in Friday's game.

Johnson stopped all 25 shots and blanked Omaha for the second time in 20 days. He has stopped 51 consecutive Maverick shots in two games, holding one of the nation's top offensive teams scoreless twice.

UND helped Johnson out by only taking two minor penalties during the game. Omaha's power play was 5-for-8 in its two regular-season wins against UND this season and 0-for-6 in the losses. The Fighting Hawks killed off both Maverick power-play chances Friday.

UND also was able to generate numerous Grade-A chances throughout the game, causing problems throughout for Omaha's defenders trying to exit the zone.

"I think energy level," Berry said was the key to creating scoring opportunities. "Having all four lines contribute. Staying on the ice short. Having short shifts, managing pucks and not taking a lot of penalties. A lot of things factor into it so you can get momentum. We have to make sure we have that discipline tomorrow and that focus and that mentality."

The other positive was that UND was able to build on a lead. Five times in the previous 11 games, the Fighting Hawks led 2-0 but gave it up.

"That's what we've been looking for all year long—hard work and consistency," said Wolanin, whose 12th goal puts him one behind the single-season school record for a defenseman currently held by Nick Naumenko, Ian Kidd and John Noah. "We want to play the same way. We don't want to play on Sunday and they do. It's going to be up a notch. They're going to be even more desperate than they were tonight. I think if we play the same way, we should come out with a good result, but it's a matter of having a full team effort and a full 60 minutes tomorrow. It's all talk until we make it happen."

The Mavericks, meanwhile, are one loss away from falling in a first-round series for the eighth consecutive year since leaving the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

"We have to hit the reset button on it," said defenseman Colton Poolman, who had two assists Friday. "They're a good team over there and they're going to come back really hard tomorrow, so we have to be prepared. We have to look at each other and say, 'What can we do better?' Let's get the same game plan going, stay disciplined and keep playing hard and keep grinding."

Notes: UND made just one change from last Saturday's 2-2 tie with St. Cloud State, using Andrew Peski on defense for Josh Rieger. . . U.S. Olympic gold medalists and Grand Forks natives Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux were recognized during the first intermission.

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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