Jade Miller may have some bad memories in Ralph Engelstad Arena. He lost three North Dakota state boys hockey championship games in the building during his high school days.
But in what may be his final game in The Ralph, the Minto, N.D., product and former Grafton-Park River standout scored a goal in Minnesota Duluth's 3-2 win over UND in the series finale.
Then, he rushed into the media room in the basement of the building to watch his little brother, Blaise, win the North Dakota state hockey title with Grand Forks Central.
"Today we had lunch together before he took off for his state championship and we kind of told each other, hey, let's both get the win tonight, and if we can, let's both try to bury one," Miller said. "Congrats to him and his team for an undefeated season. It was a good night for us overall."
Minnesota Duluth isn't scheduled to come to Grand Forks next season, which will be Miller's senior year. So, this may be his final memory.
For UND, Saturday won't be as memorable.
The Fighting Hawks handed Minnesota Duluth a pair of extended five-on-three power plays-Bulldog senior Peter Krieger scored on both of them-and it was the difference in the game.
The Bulldogs (19-9-2, 12-7-1 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) grabbed a series split and moved back into second place with the win.
UND (15-14-2, 9-10-1 NCHC) dropped into fifth place in the NCHC, three points back of Denver for the final spot of home ice for the first round of the league playoffs. The Fighting Hawks managed to stay at No. 18 in the Pairwise Rankings, though.
"Two five-on-threes. Two five-on-three goals against. And a lost draw on our end," UND coach Brad Berry said. "That's the difference. They were ready to go and I don't think we had the start that we've had in the last four or five games. We can't take those penalties. Discipline is a big thing. You can't put at eam like that on the power play, especially five-on-three."
UND's offense came on a highlight-reel goal by Colton Poolman on the power play and a snipe from high in the zone by Gavin Hain on a delayed penalty late in the second period. But the Fighting Hawks couldn't manage to tie the game in the third.
"We took a little bit to get ourselves into it," Poolman said. "They came out with some jump. I didn't mind our start, but they came out a bit more grimy, and that's our game. We've got to outwork teams at this point of the year to try to get results.
"Then, they got those five-on-threes and we obviously can't give up that. That's just so mental and it came back to bite us. Our PK (penalty kill) was pretty good last night. It's pretty tough when you try to kill off five-on-three the first five minutes and then again. We can't have that. We've got to roll five guys, four lines, six 'D' and we didn't do that. I think some guys got tired and we didn't get everyone in the game and we couldn't muster too much at the end. So, that was the result."
UND still has a shot to move into the top 15 in the Pairwise Rankings-the minimum needed to reach the NCAA tournament-but it might have to win out in the regular season to do it.
The Fighting Hawks close the regular season with a two-game series at Colorado College next week, then a two-game series at home against Omaha.
"We're in a situation where we probably want to be higher in the standings, in the Pairwise, all of that stuff," Berry said. "But the biggest thing for us is playing consistently, game in and game out. We're playing hard, but we're losing games on small details-power play, penalty kill, discipline, losing a faceoff and it's in the back of your net. We're scratching and clawing, but again, we've got to be cleaner in a few different areas."
Saturday's game was a defensive battle. Shot attempts were a meager 34-29 in favor of Minnesota Duluth. Shots on goal were 17-16 Bulldogs.
"I think, for the most part, we defended well," Poolman said. "We gave up a couple chances five-on-five, but Peter was there to stop that. He made some pretty good saves. Most of their chances came on the power play."
The Bulldogs improved to 22-1 in their last 23 games when scoring the first goal of the game. They got that on Krieger's first five-on-three power-play goal-a shot from the point that snuck just inside the post at 3:05 of the first period.
Poolman tied it on a highlight-reel, power play goal. He got the puck in space in the left circle, toe-dragged around Bulldog defenseman Mikey Anderson, made a spin move on Bulldog forward Billy Exell and shoveled a backhand past Minnesota Duluth goalie Hunter Shepard.
Miller put the Bulldogs in the lead for good, re-directing a point shot by Nick Woff at 2:49 of the second. Krieger tacked on his second five-on-three power-play goal at 6:14 of the second, sniping a shot through traffic from the point.
Hain cut the Bulldog lead to one on a shot from high in the zone that snuck through a maze of bodies in front of the net. But the Bulldogs shut things down in the third.
"We needed that one," Poolman said. "There's no kidding about it. We needed it. But mentally and emotionally, we're in a good spot right now. We know what we have to do. It's about coming each day and not thinking about the last day and all that old stuff. If we get one win Friday night, it's got to be an even bigger mentality to get the one Saturday night, because it's so hard to win two in a row.
"We're in a position now where we can't really drop a game here. We can't afford to lose three points in the NCHC right now, because we're battling for the fourth spot. Obviously, in the Pairwise, we can't afford to lose. It's a pretty tough spot we're in. But I think mentally, we've kind of done it all year. We've kind of grinded through it."