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Alaska Anchorage ties UND with late goal

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- In the end, there were plenty of things that led to UND’s season-opening 1-1 tie against Alaska Anchorage in Sullivan Arena.

There was the Alaska Anchorage defense, which blocked more than a third of UND’s 79 shot attempts on Friday night.

There was the brilliant senior goalie Olivier Mantha, who seemingly had an answer every Grade A scoring opportunity.

And there were all those missed opportunities -- like Shane Gersich’s backdoor re-direct that sailed over an open net in the second period -- letting the Seawolves hang around until rookie forward Jordan Xavier scored a late, game-tying goal with just 1 minute, 15 seconds left in regulation.

Although dominant in offensive zone time, the Fighting Hawks only scored one goal in the opener -- and it took a perfect passing play between four players to do it -- before coming away with a tie.

“In a nutshell, I thought our tenacity was there, our intensity was there, I thought defensively we played pretty well,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “It’s just that our offensive game has to mature. Our execution wasn’t there. Obviously, we were in the offensive zone and we had some open nets and looks and we didn’t bear down. That was the key.”

The lone goal was scored by UND senior and Grand Forks native Johnny Simonson, who finished a pretty feed from junior defenseman Christian Wolanin in the second period.

The Fighting Hawks, who held a 33-16 advantage in shots on goal and a 79-30 advantage in shot attempts, were unable to tack on an insurance goal and it cost them a win against college hockey’s second-oldest team, which finished in the basement of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association a year ago.

“It’s always frustrating when the chances are there and you feel like you’re in the O-zone the whole game and you’re so close, then they get one right at the end,” Simonson said. “It’s very frustrating. That’s something we’re going to have to learn is to close out games. When it comes down to the last couple of minutes you just have to keep things super simple and make sure you’re bearing down on every puck.”

There were many opportunities to extend the lead.

UND had five power-play chances but didn’t bury any. Including last Saturday’s 6-2 exhibition win over the University of Manitoba, UND is 0-for-10 on the power play this season.

The Fighting Hawks changed some personnel on the power play from last week to this week.

“That’s something we’re going to have to continually work on to get better,” Berry said. “When you lose a couple of key players from last year, you have to fill those voids and find the strengths of your team. We’re getting some information now. Hopefully, if we can have success -- get one or two power-play goals -- we can get some momentum with those units.”

Wolanin said: “I think we need to get more shots to the net. We’re holding onto it a little bit. There’s not a lot of movement. We don’t need to over-complicate things. Just simple things. Get the puck to the net.”

Gersich, UND’s leading scorer, lamented his second-period chance, when he had an open net, but his deflection went over the crossbar.

“I had a wide-open net and I have to put that in,” Gersich said.

The Seawolves had a great chance to win the game in overtime, when East Grand Forks Senior High graduates Dixon Bowen and Colton Poolman were called for consecutive penalties.

But the Fighting Hawks killed a lengthy Seawolves 5-on-3 of 1:34.

“We’re disappointed in a tie,” Wolanin said. “That’s not what we shoot for at North Dakota. But it’s early in the season. There’s no need to panic or overthink things. We just have to come back tomorrow and get the win. Come back, play a similar game and bear down.”

Berry said there are a few adjustments UND can make before the series finale.

“I thought (Mantha) made the first save,” Berry said. “I thought his team defended pretty well in front of the net. They packed five guys in. We’re going to have to try to find ways to have some more offensive zone spacing and get more pucks on the net. And probably move the puck laterally against him, so we can get some open looks.

“He’s a good goaltender. We have a good goaltender, too. It’s going to be a game where, if you have an opportunity, you better bear down and score.”

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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