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UND HOCKEY: Saunders keys UND's 3-2 win over Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- Dillon Simpson was vomiting on the bench. A couple of forwards couldn't finish the game because of injury. Three others were back at home in Grand Forks. Just when it looked like things couldn't get much worse for UND on Sunday, it...

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OMAHA, Neb. -- Dillon Simpson was vomiting on the bench.

A couple of forwards couldn't finish the game because of injury.

Three others were back at home in Grand Forks.

Just when it looked like things couldn't get much worse for UND on Sunday, it managed to pull off a 3-2 win over Nebraska Omaha -- under less than optimal conditions - and end a four-game losing streak in front of 6,963 in CenturyLink Center.

Derek Rodwell, Michael Parks and Drake Cagguila scored the goals, while junior goaltender Clarke Saunders stole the show in net, stopping 36 of 38 shots, including a pad save in the final seconds of regulation.

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"It feels good," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "Gutsy team win. It's good to see some smiles on the faces for all those guys that worked real hard.

"We seem to be having all kinds of things happening right now from guys throwing up on the bench to other guys not available. Sometimes, it's a game like this that gets you headed in the right direction. You face a bit of adversity and just compete your way through it."

UND jumped to a 3-1 lead -- scoring a couple of goals in odd fashion -- then dug in for the final 30 minutes of the game. Playing without Simpson for the final 20-plus minutes, UND leaned heavily on its top four defensemen of Jordan Schmaltz, Paul LaDue, Nick Mattson and Troy Stecher to keep Omaha's offensive attack at bay.

"It's an emotional lift winning," Mattson said. "But I'm sure I'll pass out pretty fast on the bus tonight."

Mattson said he knew the team had to step up without Simpson.

"Simmer (Simpson) is so steady, so reliable, we really had to come together," he said. "That was huge. It's kind of hard to describe to somebody who hasn't been a part of that. But you kind of band together. It was fun."

With the win, UND moved to 3-4-1 overall and 2-4 in National Collegiate Hockey Association play, ending that four-game skid, which was the team's longest since 2006. It also handed Omaha (5-5, 3-1) its first NCHC loss.

UND got off to a good start when Rodwell took advantage of a miscue by Omaha goaltender Kirk Thompson. Rodwell lightly deflected a shot on net from the blue line that Thompson easily stopped and tried to cover. Unknowingly, he missed covering the puck and Rodwell slid in and knocked it home for his first goal of the season.

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Omaha tied it at 15:21 of the first when defenseman Ian Brady rifled a point shot through a screen and past Saunders for a power-play goal, snapping UND's run of 32 consecutive penalty kills.

But in the second period, UND scored twice in the span of 2:41 to open up a two-goal lead.

At the 6:11 mark, Parks skated the puck on a two-on-one, which soon became a two-on-none after defenseman Michael Young fell down. As Parks neared the crease, he thought that Young may be able to skate back into the play, so instead of passing, he came to a complete stop in front of Thompson, saw the five-hole open and slid it in. Omaha coach Dean Blais pulled Thompson after allowing that one.

"We've been having some pretty good laughs about it since the game ended," Parks said. "We'll chalk that up as lucky. It's not exactly how we draw it up in practice."

Rocco Grimaldi connected with Caggiula at 8:52 to make it a 3-1 game.

But the Mavericks got a power-play goal from Josh Archibald with just 12 seconds left in the middle frame to make it a one-goal game.

In the third period, UND held off three Omaha power plays, including a five-on-three advantage that lasted 1:46 and a six-on-four advantage for the final 1:24. At the buzzer, Saunders let out a fist-pump full of relief.

"It feels like years since we got a win," Mattson said. "So, it's huge. Now, we can finally start building on it and we can push out those negative vibes that have been surrounding us for the last couple weeks."

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Notes: UND played its second straight game without forwards Colten St. Clair (out four-to-six weeks), Brendan O'Donnell (week-to-week) and Adam Tambellini (week-to-week). . . Omaha's starting goalie from Friday's game, Ryan Massa, was a healthy scratch. . . UND, which returned to Grand Forks via bus after Sunday's game, hosts Minnesota Duluth next weekend in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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