Nick Schmaltz, Drake Caggiula and Tucker Poolman watch UND and Denver go down to the wire
When Nick Schmaltz entered Ralph Engelstad Arena on Saturday night, the UND men's hockey players joked about slipping him back into his old No. 8 jersey. It was free because its current occupant, Nick Jones, is out with an injury.
Schmaltz ended up watching the game from the stands with his old teammates, Drake Caggiula and Tucker Poolman, all with a free weekend due to the NHL's All-Star Game.
So, there were no last-second, dramatic goals to beat Denver—like the one Schmaltz scored in the 2016 Frozen Four semifinals.
Instead, another Fighting Hawks game ended in a tie.
UND and Denver deadlocked for a second straight night, a 1-1 decision in front of a season-record crowd of 12,002 in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The Pioneers grabbed the extra point in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings for a second-straight night by winning the 3-on-3 portion of overtime.
"Obviously, the result, you want to win," UND coach Brad Berry said. "I thought we played well enough to win tonight. The start was just average, but I thought we got better in the second half of the first period and carried it over. That's an NCHC game in the second half. There's not a lot of time and space. That's a grind. I'm proud of the way our guys persevered and played resilient hockey all weekend here."
UND (12-8-8 overall, 6-6-4 NCHC) moved into a three-way tie for third place in the league standings with Western Michigan and Minnesota Duluth. It also stayed at No. 12 in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to select the 16-team NCAA tournament field in March.
The most encouraging sign for the Fighting Hawks is that they played toe-to-toe with one of the country's best teams, despite playing without their top two centers, Jones and Rhett Gardner.
"It's frustrating," defenseman Christian Wolanin said about the ties. "But I think for not having our full roster, playing against a great team in Denver, we did a great job of competing and showing heart and resiliency. I think two ties, at the end of the day, are OK. Just OK.
"The real second half starts now. There's no more messing around. It's time to get down to business."
UND has next weekend off before returning home to face Colorado College. After that, the Fighting Hawks have back-to-back road series against Omaha and Miami. They close the regular season at home against St. Cloud State.
UND hasn't set a timetable for a return to the lineup for Gardner, Jones and defenseman Gabe Bast—who missed his third game in a row—but the week off will move them closer.
The Fighting Hawks also played the series finale without forward Cole Smith, who was suspended for a hit to the head of Denver defenseman Adam Plant. Smith was assessed a major penalty and ejected Friday for the play. Plant didn't return Friday and was held out Saturday.
The series finale didn't start well for UND.
Pioneer forward Kohen Olischefski threw a puck from the end line toward the side of the net and it got through goalie Cam Johnson (22 saves) and in the net just 7 minutes, 21 seconds into the game.
"Obviously, that's a weak goal," Johnson said. "It was just one of those goals that finds a hole. I like to think that's how our luck is going right now. We're not getting the bounces. That one squeaked by, but I tried to shut it down after that.
"I felt good out there. I knew it was a bad goal, but I didn't feel bad about my game. I wasn't not confident. I didn't lose my confidence. I just tried to re-focus and act like it was a 0-0 game."
Johnson didn't allow a goal after that, shutting down the Pioneers' prolific offense, which entered the weekend ranked top-five in the country.
UND got the tying goal on its first power-play chance in the second period.
Forward Shane Gersich saucered a pass to Wolanin at the point. Wolanin took a step in and wired a shot through a Trevor Olson screen at 9:36.
UND had a chance to win it on the power play late in the third and early in overtime—Wolanin shot three attempts himself—but couldn't get one past Jaillet.
Although UND managed a pair of ties without key players in the lineup, UND players said they know they have to do better down the stretch.
"We're not happy with ties," Wolanin said. "I think we're being positive about it right now, but we know we have to do better than a tie, regardless of who we're fielding, regardless of what the situation is. We want to come out with wins. Ties are just OK."
Notes: Referee Nick Krebsbach, who went to Grand Forks Red River, took a puck in the face early in the second period. After getting attention from UND athletic trainer Mark Poolman, he stayed in the game. . . UND wore its traditional road jerseys for the second straight game for Green Out weekend. . . UND has tied eight games this season, one shy of the school's single-season record.