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St. Cloud State upends UND 3-1 in NCHC series finale

North Dakota's Shane Gerich skates with the puck behind St. Cloud State Goaltender David Hrenak and defenseman Jack Ahcan during the first period of the Saturday, Dec. 9, game at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. Photo/Dave Schwarz, St. Cloud Times

ST. CLOUD, Minn.—There was plenty to reflect upon after UND's 3-1 loss to St. Cloud State in the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center on Saturday night.

There was the six-minute breakdown where UND gave up all three of its goals.

There was the fact that UND lost a series to St. Cloud State in this building for the first time in 16 years.

But there also was the big picture.

UND completed the first half of the college hockey season with a 10-5-5 overall record, sitting in second place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference—ahead of heavy preseason favorite Denver—with a 5-3-2 mark.

UND also is sitting in sixth in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to determine the 16-team NCAA tournament field.

"I love our team as far as where we're at," UND coach Brad Berry said. "A lot of good, young guys have had some reps. I like our leadership. We're building as team. This was a heavy, hard weekend against a good team and I thought we passed the test. I know the result wasn't what we wanted tonight. Tonight, we came up a little short. It was about a two- or three-minute span where we gave up a couple of goals. You have to play a 60-minute game to win against a good team.

"Tonight, I'm not disappointed in the effort and the compete. Obviously, the result (I am). There are a lot of good things going forward here in the second half."

During the first half of the season, UND played series on the road at the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country. They also played teams ranked No. 7, No. 11, No. 12 and No. 19 in the most recent USCHO national poll.

Those series gave UND a look where they compare against the country's best.

"I think we're right there," Berry said. "I think there's a few areas of our game where we can sharpen and focus and get better at. But collectively, as a team, the depth of our team, once we get everyone back in our lineup, it's going to be a tough chore to try to put a lineup together just because we have so many options. We're happy with the first half, knowing that we have to get better. I know we'll have a great second half just because of the character in the room."

Captain Austin Poganski said: "When we're playing hard and fast hockey, we're at our best. When we stay out of the (penalty) box, we have a chance against anybody. We have the speed and we have the physicality to stick with anybody in the country."

As has been the case in a number of losses and ties this season, UND could point to a short timespan when the game got away Saturday.

The Huskies scored three times in 6 minutes, 24 seconds early in the second period. Robby Jackson scored the first one on a rebound and Mikey Eyssimont scored back-to-back goals a minute apart—one on a delayed penalty and the other on the ensuing power play.

UND got a goal back from Cole Smith—the team's top-scoring forward over the last nine games—with :00.6 left in the second period. But the Fighting Hawks couldn't inch any closer.

UND outshot the Huskies 35-18, but St. Cloud State rookie goaltender David Hrenak stopped 34 shots. He also got help from a post, a crossbar and his defensive corps, which blocked 30 Fighting Hawk shot attempts.

"Besides a few minutes in the second period, I thought we played really well," senior forward Trevor Olson said. "They're a good team. They're fast. If you have some breakdowns, they're going to get on you. That's exactly what they did. We can take a lot from this game going to break.

"We're in a pretty good spot. We had a few rough patches there early on, but as a team, I think we're in a pretty good spot. We're playing pretty good hockey."

The other good news from Berry is that he expects the team to be at full health the next time they step on the ice Dec. 30 for an exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 team. Forwards Dixon Bowen and Ludvig Hoff missed the series against the Huskies.

"When building a team, you look for different types of players," Berry said. "We've got them in our locker room. We've got the skill, we've got the character and we've got the compete. If you have all of those things together, we'll be hard (to beat) in the second half."

Notes: UND made one change in personnel, going with Matt Kiersted for Josh Rieger on defense. It also switched Zach Yon and Grant Mismash to different lines. The Huskies put center Blake Winiecki in the game for Jake Wahlin.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 14th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman 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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