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MILLER: Kawaguchi’s four-point weekend showing signs of high-scoring reputation

Fighting Hawks defenseman Hayden Shaw (second from left) celebrates his first period and first goal of the season with teammates during Saturday's home hockey game against Colorado College. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

As an Abbotsford, B.C., native, and a four-year star with the British Columbia Hockey League’s Chilliwack Chiefs, UND sophomore forward Jordan Kawaguchi had plenty of family, friends and fans utilize a rare opportunity to catch Saturday night’s game on TSN in Canada.

The Canadian viewers caught a glimpse of Kawaguchi’s scoring ability they likely remember from his glory days in the BCHL, while UND hockey fans hope they saw some of the beginnings of a budding college hockey star.

Kawaguchi scored the game-winning goal in overtime as UND beat Colorado College 3-2 at Ralph Engelstad Arena, capping a four-point weekend and turning in his first back-to-back games with a goal this season.

“I see a young man emerging,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “He came in here last year. He had dominated the BCHL as an older player. It’s a step up in college hockey -- heavier and faster. It took a while to get going.

“He dug in in the summer and got in better shape. His fitness level went up and now he’s starting to climb in college hockey.”

In the 2016-17 season, Kawaguchi was second in the BCHL in scoring with 85 points in 55 games. He added a league-best 43 points in 23 playoff games. The year before, he had 45 goals and 83 points in 56 games.

In his first season of college hockey last year, Kawaguchi had five goals and 14 assists in 38 games. He was eighth on the team in scoring.

Through UND’s first 21 games as a sophomore, Kawaguchi now leads the Fighting Hawks in scoring with five goals and 11 assists.

“We had guys like Drake Caggiula do that, too,” Berry said. “It took a while the first couple of years and then they started to get going. (Kawaguchi) has transformed into a very good player for us.”

Kawaguchi has developed some line chemistry with Ludvig Hoff and Nick Jones -- the three players involved in the overtime game-winning goal.

For Kawaguchi, Jones is an old BCHL nemesis. Their lines were matched against each other in the 2017 BCHL finals. Any BCHL fans watching on TSN on Saturday got to see how the two work together now.

“It must be weird for them. I think it’s the first time they’ve seen us since we were screaming in each other’s face on opposite teams,” Kawaguchi said. “For me, it’s been awesome playing with him. He’s a great guy on and off the ice. He’s an intense guy. He wants to win and do everything right. I’ve really enjoyed it.

“Obviously, I’m playing with some pretty good players with Nick Jones and Ludvig Hoff. They put me in some good spots and I was lucky enough to capitalize on it.”

On the game-winning play, Jones attempted a wraparound that was kicked out by Colorado College goalie Alex Leclerc. The rebound went to Kawaguchi, who buried the puck for the series sweep of the Tigers.

“Honestly, I blacked out,” said Kawaguchi, who also had the primary assist on Hayden Shaw’s first-period goal. “The whole play before Nick came around the net is a blur to me. I don’t remember a lot. I just remember seeing the puck and just trying to get it toward the open net. Jonesy made a hell of a play and (Hoff). Those two guys battled all weekend and they made that play happen.”

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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