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MEN'S HOCKEY: UND wins 4-2 in series opener against Nebraska Omaha

UND's Nick Mattson is tripped up by UNO's Justin Parizek during Friday's game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 3
UND's Mark MacMillan, second from left, celebrates with his line after scoring UND's first goal against UNO at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks Friday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 3
UND's Michael Parks looks for the puck in front of UNO goalie Reed Peters and UNO defenseman Ryan O'Rourke during Friday's game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald3 / 3

Zane Gothberg sustained an injury a couple weeks ago and it became clear that he wasn’t going to play this weekend against Nebraska Omaha.

Surely, the Mavericks weren’t celebrating.

They got Clarke Saunders again on Friday night.

They lost to Clarke Saunders again on Friday night.

The UND senior goalie put forth his latest strong effort against the Mavericks during UND’s 4-2 win in the series opener, stopping 31 of 33 shots, including 17 in the second period alone.

On the other end, Mark MacMillan, Michael Parks, Brendan O’Donnell and Rocco Grimaldi scored goals for a UND team that is all of the sudden tied for first place in the National Collegiate Hockey Association standings.

Since losing to St. Lawrence at home on Nov. 29, UND is 10-1-1 and has won seven consecutive home games, pushing its record to 14-8-3 overall and 9-6 in NCHC play (27 points). St. Cloud State also has 27 points and Denver is one back with 26.

Omaha, meanwhile, fell from second to fifth place, which would put the Mavericks on the road in the first round of the league playoffs if the season ended today.

“That’s what good teams do – they find a way to win,” Saunders said. “It probably wasn’t our overall best effort here. We had some lulls in the second period as a team. But like I said, good teams find a way to get a ‘W’ and that’s what we did tonight.”

Saunders was a big reason for that.

In the three games since Gothberg’s injury, Saunders has a .933 save percentage and a 2.03 goals-against average. He is now second in NCHC games with a .925 save percentage in league play.

It was more of the same against the Mavericks.

When Saunders was at Alabama Huntsville, he had a 58-save performance in a 2-1 upset victory over the Mavericks in 2010-11. His sophomore season, Saunders had a 44-save performance in a 3-1 Charger victory over the Mavericks.

His first start against Omaha as a UND player was in November and he stopped 36 of 38 shots to help UND steal a victory.

“I don’t know what it is,” Saunders said. “I have just played well. I try not to dwell on that too much to be honest. I just prepare the same way that I always do.”

Saunders also got a little help from his teammates. Moments after Parks put UND in front 2-1 just 35 seconds into the third period, Omaha’s Dominic Zombo had the puck on top of the crease with an open net to look at, but UND defenseman Paul LaDue deflected it with the shaft of his stick.

“That was probably the save of the year,” Saunders said. “Kind of funny that a goalie didn’t do it.”

At 8:48 of the third, O’Donnell gave UND a 3-1 lead, lifting the stick of Omaha defenseman Jaycob Megna and sweeping a loose puck past goaltender Reed Peters (18 saves) to snap a 14-game goal drought.

The Mavericks made it a one-goal game when Ryan Walters’ attempt to jam a puck in the side of the net lifted 10 feet in the air, hit Saunders’ back and rolled in.

But Grimaldi iced it with an empty-netter.

“I thought our second period was a sloppy 20 minutes,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “We created a lot of our own problems. We were under a little bit of pressure against a team that pushes the pace. We’ve got to have a cleaner period than we did in the second.

“Our goaltender did a great job getting us through that period and getting us to the third period.”

Notes: UND gave up 18 shots on goal in the second period – tied for the most of any period this season. UND also allowed 18 in the season-opening series against Miami. . . MacMillan has three goals and seven points in seven games since returning to health after Christmas. He had five points in 14 games while battling injuries in the first half. . . UND’s scratches were Keaton Thompson, Andrew Panzarella, Mitch MacMillan, Coltyn Sanderson and Gothberg. . . Ryan Massa, Omaha’s top goalie, did not dress because of an injury but he did make the trip. Peters, a rookie, made his third-career start. . . Grand Forks native Alex Simonson was in the lineup for the Mavericks. Simonson is a senior.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 12th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He 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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