Gornall lifts UND past St. Cloud State
The stress was building for the UND men's hockey team.
It was in an unfamiliar spot with one win in the last five games, two wins in the last 11 home games.
It was slip-sliding into the danger zone of finishing in the bottom half of the league standings and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years.
But Mike Gornall came to the rescue Saturday night.
Gornall, who was a healthy scratch in 19 of UND's first 24 games this season and hadn't scored all season long, buried two goals—including the overtime winner—to lift UND to a 2-1 victory over St. Cloud State in the series finale.
On the winning goal, Gornall chipped a puck past St. Cloud State defenseman Dennis Cholowski, a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, and skated toward the crease a step ahead of two Husky defenders.
When he got to the top of the crease, he made a deke, moved the puck to his backhand and flipped it just underneath the crossbar to seal the victory.
"It feels great," said Gornall, a sophomore who had one career goal coming into the night. "The big thing is that we won. Wins have been a little scarce for us lately. It's huge for us to get one in our building."
UND's players flew off the bench to celebrate with Gornall along the wall—a giant exhale after a season full of struggles at home.
"We needed it big time," said UND goalie Cam Johnson, who stopped 20 of 21 shots in returning to the net after missing three games with an injury. "We needed it for us, for Pairwise, for our fans, everything."
Junior forward Trevor Olson said there was one feeling on the bench: Relief.
"We always give him a little crap for his shootout moves in practice, but he buried that one," Olson said. "It was just relief. Monkey off our back. We finally got a little bounce and Gorny buried it for us and got us a win."
UND moved up to No. 10 in the Pairwise Rankings and stayed in position to finish in the top half of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings.
The Fighting Hawks (15-11-3 overall, 8-9-1 NCHC) moved into a third-place tie with Western Michigan with 26 points—three ahead of fifth-place Omaha and four ahead of sixth-place St. Cloud State, which had an opportunity to pass UND in the standings.
The last few weeks have been rocky for UND, even though it hasn't played poorly. It lost games to last-place Colorado College and to the Huskies, despite having a decided edge in shots on goal and shot attempts.
"The last four games, we've played well enough to win all four of those games," Berry said. "To come out of this game without a win would have been a travesty. It's huge for morale because now the guys have belief that we're doing the right things. We've got to keep building our group."
UND has next weekend off before going to Kalamazoo, Mich., to take on Western Michigan. By then, it hopes to be at full strength with Tyson Jost and Joel Janatuinen back in the lineup. Both missed Saturday night's game due to injuries.
Those injuries have allowed Gornall to step back into the lineup.
Gornall has played the last five games for UND and has come up big.
Against Colorado College, he set up the game-winning goal in Friday night's win. On Saturday, he played an even more pivotal role.
With UND trailing 1-0 late in the second period, Gornall got UND on the board.
Shane Gersich made a nice chip on the left side to get it to Gornall, who took the puck hard to the net. St. Cloud State goalie Jeff Smith (24 saves) made the initial stop, but Gornall shrugged off check by Husky defender Jack Ahcan and buried the rebound.
Then, he finished it off 41 seconds into overtime.
Rhett Gardner started the play by holding it at the blue line. Cholowski appeared in position to grab the puck, but Gornall chipped it past him and skated in and scored.
"I don't really go to my backhand too often to be honest," he said. "But for some reason, that popped in my head at the moment I was on the breakaway. I just thought that I'm not going to second-guess anything. Just play the game naturally."
Despite not playing much early this season, Gornall has been ready to step in the lineup.
"It all starts in practice," he said. "I try to just keep the same mindset every day, work hard, get better every day, be patient and wait for my time to be in the lineup. When you're ready every day in practice, it kind of carries over to the games. It's nothing new. I just try to keep the same mindset every day."