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TOM MILLER: O'Donnell's return provides jolt

Tom Miller portrait

BOSTON -- UND coaches, trainers and junior forward Brendan O'Donnell were trying to walk a fine line as the injured playmaker mapped his road to recovery.

If inserted into the lineup, could he add enough offense to warrant the possibility of a setback to the upper-body injury that has sidelined O'Donnell the previous five games?

In the end, O'Donnell was given one game this weekend.

The result was O'Donnell earning the game's second star in a promising 3-3 tie Saturday with Boston University in which UND deserved a better result by dominating most of the play.

O'Donnell provided a jolt to an offense that went from powerless Friday night to pumping out nearly 60 shots on Saturday against the Terriers. He registered seven shots on net and served up UND's third goal for freshman Adam Tambellini.

"He gives us a veteran presence," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "He obviously brings pace to that line. He was a hungry player tonight. We've been missing that the last three weeks. We need to get him back in the lineup consistently."

O'Donnell, a Winnipeg native, was the early-season feel-good story for UND as he emerged with three goals in the first six games after scoring just two goals in an injury-plagued sophomore campaign.

With his assist to Tambellini on Saturday, O'Donnell now has five points and is still tied for third on the team in goals with three.

"Brendan has been one of our better players every game he's been in," Hakstol said. "He's playing with lots of confidence and hunger. That's what we saw tonight."

On Saturday, O'Donnell joined Rocco Grimaldi and Drake Caggiula on UND's top line.

"It's huge to have a skilled guy like that with Drake and I," Grimaldi said. "That's a big boost for our team. Our team gets excited and loves to see guys come back from an injury."

Grimaldi said he was impressed with the little rust shown by O'Donnell, who didn't shy away from contact along the boards.

"That's not easy; especially coming off of two weeks without playing," Grimaldi said. "Hopefully he continues to get better (health-wise) because he makes our team better."

The coaching staff was confident enough in O'Donnell's health and ability that he was thrust right back into power-play minutes, which turned out to be huge when he slid a slick pass to Tambellini on the power play for a 3-2 UND lead 6 minutes, 45 seconds into the third period.

"I was watching on the jumbotron and didn't see who it was," Grimaldi said. "But that was a perfect pass."

After the game, O'Donnell said mentally he wasn't feeling great because he was disappointed the team didn't get a win. But, he said physically he felt fine.

"I felt like I could help the team," said O'Donnell, a sixth-round NHL draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010 . "The biggest thing you want to do is play, but you don't want to set the team back by not contributing or being ineffective.

"(Tonight) I wanted to get a win, especially with 60 shots on goal. As a team, we played hard, though. We set the bar to how we want to play."

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department for the past 13 years. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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