UND HOCKEY: Hat trick for homecoming
Joel Janatuinen and Cole Smith took turns doing their best Drake Caggiula impressions.
The offense pumped in five more goals—three on Janatuinen's first-career hat trick.
But perhaps the most encouraging sign during UND's 5-2 victory over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Saturday night was the fact that this young squad—and its youthful defensive corps—has made generating offense very difficult for opponents early this season.
UND allowed RPI just 14 shots on goal (11 at even strength) in winning the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.
For the season, the Fighting Hawks have allowed just 42 shots in three games—17 in the opener against Canisius, 11 in the series finale against Canisius and 14 against the Engineers.
It is the first time in six seasons that UND has held a team to under 20 shots on goal for three consecutive games.
"It's a mentality," UND coach Brad Berry said. "It's a way of playing away from the puck—and not just defensemen and goaltenders. It's a five-man unit that goes up and down the ice together. It's a mindset that offense starts when you get the puck, and if you don't have it, you have to get it back to play offense. It's tough to buy in sometimes, but it's a reality.
"A lot of times, pretty goals don't just happen with offensive zone plays. A lot of times, it happens with breakouts, transition or turnovers in the neutral zone. That happens with great defense. Our guys have done a great job practicing that."
UND's biggest question mark heading into the season figured to be the defensive corps, which lost Troy Stecher, Paul LaDue and Keaton Thompson early to NHL contracts in the offseason.
But with a group of forwards that backcheck frantically and like to play a puck possession game offensively, the new-look defensive unit has had more ups than downs in the first three games of the season.
"I think all of the guys are solid with the systems," Janatuinen said. "We're doing the right things, blocking shots and just trying to make Cam's life a bit easier."
Cam Johnson's toughest task thus far has been staying in games when seeing sporadic work.
Through three games this season, the national title-winning goaltender has allowed three goals, posting a .929 save percentage.
UND (3-0) has yet to lose an October game under coach Brad Berry, improving to 9-0-2 in the first month under the second-year coach. RPI, which got swept by Maine to open the season, dropped to 0-3.
As much as the defense helped, UND continued to pour on the offense (15 goals in three games).
Janatuinen was the star on this night, scoring a goal in each period. The Finnish forward buried a pair of feeds from Norwegian freshman Ludvig Hoff (two assists) in the first and second period. He saved his best for last.
Midway through the third period, Janatuinen chased a puck at full speed up the right wall. As an RPI defenseman prepared to cut him off in the boards, Janatuinen stopped and pulled the puck to his left to dangle the defenseman. With some free space, he walked two steps and fired the puck past RPI goalie Chase Perry, a Grand Forks native, for the game's final goal.
"I thought about going wide, but I felt like he was going to be there," Janatuinen said. "I just tried to get the puck around him and I got a good scoring chance."
Hoff said: "I was just laughing on the ice when I saw him do that move."
Janatuinen had four goals all of last season.
It wasn't the game's only pretty goal.
Smith, a freshman from Brainerd playing in his first collegiate game, also scored a highlight goal in the third period. Chris Wilkie chipped a puck to the neutral zone, where Smith skated around RPI defenseman Will Reilly, then poked it past a second RPI defenseman, Mike Prapavessis, to get space. Smith then fired it past Perry's blocker.
"I was so happy for him, finally getting rewarded with an opportunity to play," Berry said. "You could see with his off-ice training and preparation what he is off the ice. He does it on the ice, too. He plays with pace for a big guy and it's great to see him have success out there."
UND captain Gage Ausmus accepted the J. Lawrence Cain Award after the game as winner of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game. UND has won the game each of the last five times it played in it—2016, 2014, 2010, 2007 and 2003.
Notes: Former UND national champion and two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist forward Jason Blake dropped the ceremonial first puck alongside former UND goalie and Olympic silver medalist Lefty Curran and Miracle on Ice gold medalist Buzz Schneider.