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UND pulls into first place in NCHC with tie, shootout win at St. Cloud State

UND forward Cole Smith scores the game-tying goal in the third period underneath St. Cloud State goalie Jeff Smith. Photo by Russ Hons, UND athletics.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- UND emphasized the importance of not allowing St. Cloud State very many power-play opportunities.

It emphasized not falling behind in a rink that the Huskies haven't lost in all season.

So, the fact that UND was able to gain a 2-2 tie on Friday night after allowing the Huskies six power plays in the first half of the game and falling behind on the scoreboard twice left UND feeling content in the National Hockey Center.

Perhaps part of those good feelings were due to the fact that Christian Wolanin's shootout goal gave the Fighting Hawks an extra point in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings, pulling them even with St. Cloud State in first place.

Or perhaps UND was just happy to survive all of those power plays and show that it can match up with any team in the country.

"Happy about getting the extra point," UND coach Brad Berry said. "They haven't lost in this building this year and it's for a reason. They're a tough team, experienced. I thought we did a good job of handling adversity the right way -- adversity being the penalties. We can't take that many penalties tomorrow, that's for sure. It taxes too many guys and doesn't let guys get in the flow of the game. But I thought our guys battled.

"There was a response tonight and that was a big deal."

UND, which received goals from Rhett Gardner and Cole Smith, moved to 10-4-5 overall and 5-2-2 in league standings (19 points), while St. Cloud State moved to 11-2-1 and 6-2-1 (19 points).

The Huskies entered the weekend a perfect 8-0-0 in the National Hockey Center.

In those eight games, St. Cloud State averaged five goals per game, a power play that was at 32.7 percent and it won by an average of more than three goals.

But UND was able to slow down St. Cloud State's potent power play and offense.

The Fighting Hawks killed off all six St. Cloud State power plays in the first half of the game, including a pair of five-on-three advantages.

"It was a team-first mentality," Berry said. "Blocking shots. Making sure we were playing hard against the five guys on the other side."

Junior forward Nick Jones, a regular on the penalty kill, said: "We knew how lethal their power play is, especially at home. We weren't moving our feet as much as we could have been and we took some penalties, but our penalty kill was great as it's been all year. We battled through and it gave us a chance to win the game."

Jones said the team's goal was to try to get in the passing lanes, because the Huskies like to move the puck laterally on the power play.

It also helped to have Cam Johnson back in net.

UND's junior goalie, who returned last weekend after missing eight games due to a lower-body injury, was the first star of the game, making 31 saves.

Six of those saves came during Husky power plays.

"Our penalty kill did a tremendous job," Johnson said.

The Huskies got the first lead of the game at 11:31 of the second period when Patrick Newell sent a pass to the slot area that hit off of Easton Brodzinski's leg and went in the net.

That goal snapped Johnson's scoreless streak in the National Hockey Center at 151:26. He posted back-to-back shutouts in St. Cloud last season.

UND evened it less than four minutes later skating four-on-four. Wolanin sent a pass to the offensive zone blue line, where Gardner picked it up, skated to the left circle and sniped a shot far side over the glove of St. Cloud State goalie Jeff Smith (30 saves).

The Huskies took the lead again at 6:15 of the third period when Ryan Poehling converted a Wolanin turnover on a breakaway, but UND answered once again.

Wolanin carried the puck behind the net and sent a drop pass to Johnny Simonson in the left circle. Smith stopped Simonson's one-timer, but Cole Smith put the rebound five-hole to tie the game.

"Time and time again, that line is doing a good job, not only defensively but also offensively," Berry said. "They scored the tying goal. One thing we know in that locker room is that's a good team over there, but we can be better tomorrow. I didn't think our legs were there tonight as far as our quickness and being on our toes. We were OK but we weren't great. I think we can be a lot better tomorrow."

UND had an opportunity to win the game in overtime with a power play but couldn't convert. 

After a scoreless 3-on-3 overtime, UND earned the extra point in the NCHC standings when Wolanin made a deke and scored five-hole on Smith in the sudden-death shootout.

It was UND's second shootout win of the year. Wolanin also gave UND the victory in the other one -- only last time he scored on a slap shot.

"He's kind of a wild card," Cam Johnson said. "I didn't know what was coming. He's creative. He's scored a lot of goals in our little shootouts we do on Thursdays. Seeing him go, it's no surprise when he's able to pull off a move like that."

Notes: UND senior forward Trevor Olson returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with an upper-body injury. He played right wing on a line with Smith and Simonson. Sophomore defenseman Andrew Peski also returned to the lineup after missing Saturday night's game against Western Michigan. Sophomore centers Ludvig Hoff and Dixon Bowen both missed the game with injuries. Hoff missed his second-consecutive game. Bowen missed his sixth-straight game. Both were injured blocking shots. Rookie Josh Rieger, who moved to forward last weekend, was back on defense. Defensemen Matt Kiersted and Casey Johnson were healthy scratches. Center Blake Winiecki was a scratch for St. Cloud State.

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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