UND wins series opener against St. Cloud State
Considering that the UND men's hockey team earned home ice for the first round of the playoffs, coach Brad Berry had a strange request.
He asked his team to play like it was on the road.
UND responded with a workmanlike 5-2 victory over St. Cloud State in Game 1 of their National Collegiate Hockey Conference first-round playoff series to move the Fighting Hawks within one win of a 15th consecutive trip to the Twin Cities.
UND will have a chance to earn that trip to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at 7:07 tonight.
"We talked about coming home and having a road mentality and making sure we play the game the right way," Berry said. "I thought our guys did that."
The reason for Berry's request: UND has, oddly, been better on the road than at home this season.
After starting the year 5-0 in Ralph Engelstad Arena—taking its record to 31-2-2 at home in a 35-game span—UND is just 4-8-2 in The Ralph since October.
Away from The Ralph, UND is 9-3 in the last 12.
With students on Spring Break and the atmosphere of The Ralph toned down, maybe Friday's game felt more like a road game, too.
UND jumped out to the lead in the first period and never trailed in beating St. Cloud State for the fourth time in five games this season.
Rhett Gardner, Shane Gersich, Brock Boeser and St. Cloud native Austin Poganski scored goals, while Joel Janatuinen iced the win with an empty-netter in the final minute.
Defenseman Tucker Poolman had two assists and blocked four shots. And goalie Cam Johnson stopped 26 of 28 shots, allowing just a pair of power-play goals to Grand Forks Red River's Jacob Benson and defenseman Jimmy Schuldt.
"I thought it was a solid effort," Berry said. "I thought we had good jump in the first period and had some opportunities. I thought the second period got away a little bit just from taking a few penalties in a row. That's where they gained a little bit of momentum. I thought, in general, in the third period, we got our feet back on the ground and we started working again. I thought, for the most part, it was a solid effort through and through."
UND, which likely needs to win this series to have a shot at making the NCAA tournament, improved to 19-14-3. St. Cloud State, which needs to win this series to keep its season alive, dropped to 16-18-1.
"Tomorrow's going to be another challenge," Berry said. "We're going to need to up our level. Tomorrow's going to be a harder game. We have to make sure our level goes up."
UND got a little bit of a boost Friday morning, when Berry told Boeser that he would be able to return to the lineup after Boeser missed last weekend's series at Miami due to injury.
Boeser played limited minutes on the fourth line with Ludvig Hoff and Zach Yon. He also played on the power play, where he blasted a one-timer by St. Cloud State goalie Jeff Smith (31 saves) in the second period.
"My wrist felt good in the morning skate," said Boeser, who had surgery on his wrist in December. "I felt really good. I think, last weekend, it maybe was hurting a little bit there. I took the week off. Tonight, I wanted to come in and bring energy and help the team have success and build off of last weekend."
UND was able to play with the lead in the series opener.
At 13:39 of the first period, UND caught a break when Gardner's pass attempt hit Schuldt's stick and went into the corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Just 74 seconds later, a Husky miscue ended up in a breakaway for Gersich, who buried a wrist shot five-hole for his 20th goal of the season. He is the first UND sophomore to score 20 since current New York Islander Brock Nelson.
Benson cut the lead to 2-1, putting home a cross-crease feed from Mikey Eyssimont for a five-on-three power-play goal, but Boeser answered with a one-timer on the power play.
The Huskies made it 3-2 again with Schuldt's power-play goal, but Poganski answered on a breakaway just 1:30 later to give UND a two-goal lead again.
"The toughest thing in hockey is to end someone's season," Poganski said. "That's what we're hoping to do tomorrow. They're going to be coming back a lot stronger than they were today. I know we're going to take a step stronger, too, so it's going to be a good battle."