The wake-up call to the UND men's hockey team wasn't just sent Friday night with a home loss to Omaha.
It was sent again Saturday during UND's 4-1 win in the series finale against the Mavericks.
The message: Virtually nobody's spot in the lineup is secure.
That's because the two guys who have played fewer games than any skaters on the team this season outside of rookie Carson Albrecht entered the lineup and delivered strong games to help the Fighting Hawks grab a split.
Senior forward Casey Johnson played for the seventh time this season, scoring the game's opening goal just 8 minutes, 30 seconds into the first period. He nearly scored off of a faceoff in the second -- it was stopped on a desperation paddle save by Omaha goalie Isaiah Saville -- and Johnson set up linemate Dixon Bowen for a Grade-A chance.
Junior defenseman Josh Rieger played for the sixth time this season, delivering a pair of tone-setting hits in the first period and finishing with a plus-1 rating.
With Johnson and Rieger making their case to stay in the lineup, decisions for UND's next game at Miami became far more difficult.
"Something that drives North Dakota hockey is the competition we have on a day-to-day basis," UND associate coach Dane Jackson said. "Everything is earned. Nothing is given. I think it's a good lesson for everybody. We've always got to be competing for our wins and our ice time and everything we do.
"Whenever Casey comes in, you know what you're going to get. He manages the puck well, plays hard and has a physical presence. Same with Josh. Josh was physical out there and I thought moved pucks really well."
No. 1-ranked UND (17-2-2 overall, 8-1-1 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) shook up the lineup after its 15-game unbeaten streak and 13-game home winning streaks were snapped Friday.
With defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker nursing a lower-body injury sustained Friday, the staff also scratched rookie forwards Judd Caulfield and Harrison Blaisdell, while giving Casey Johnson a spot on a regular line for the first time since Oct. 26 and Rieger a spot in the lineup for the first time since Nov. 23.
Despite the long layoffs, both players looked sharp and confident.
"We do extra work after practices -- all of us scratches," Johnson said. "I think that helps a lot. I think it's just the coaches talking to us and telling us to be ready at all times."
Johnson scored on a broken play from the slot at 8:30, kicking off a three-goal first for UND. Collin Adams finished off a Grant Mismash feed at 14:41 and Mark Senden buried a Cole Smith pass at 19:41 to give the Fighting Hawks the comfortable lead.
Shane Pinto added his 10th goal of the year, one-timing a Jordan Kawaguchi pass on the power play at 10:19 of the second.
UND sophomore goalie Adam Scheel had a strong bounce-back game after being pulled Friday for the second time in his career, stopping 18 of 19 shots. The lone goal he allowed was a shot by Taylor Ward -- son of UND legend Dixon Ward -- from the corner that hit the skate of UND defenseman Colton Poolman and went in the net in the second.
A big concern for UND
If there was a big concern that came out of Saturday's game, it was the health of the team's top two defensemen.
Poolman left the game after the second period and didn't return. He blocked a shot on the penalty kill and absorbed a big hit behind the net late in the second. UND didn't have any updates on his health immediately after the game.
"Undetermined right now," Jackson said.
Bernard-Docker also missed the game because of an injury he sustained on a knee-to-knee collision Friday.
Despite missing those two in the third, UND killed off seven minutes of Maverick power plays in the frame, allowing Omaha just one shot on goal during a five-minute major after Pinto was ejected for cross-checking.
"Those guys played with a lot of mentality," said Jackson, who coaches the penalty kill. "(Ethan) Frisch did a good job, Kiers (Matt Kiersted) was good. Basty (Gabe Bast). . . all those guys stepped up. Scheeler made some good saves, which obviously is a key to your penalty kill. All weekend, I thought we did a good job killing penalties up ice and holding blue lines.
"When they get their eyes up, when they're in full control and eyes up in the zone, they're dangerous. They have a lot of options. They move the puck quickly and they create. I thought by us really limiting their time -- because we killed up ice, held lines, had good initial pressure and we were jumping pretty good on triggers -- we didn't give them too much of that time."
Time will tell whether Poolman and Bernard-Docker will be ready to go against Miami.
But on Saturday, the Fighting Hawks showcased that they can win with their depth.
"It was a great response by our whole team," said Senden, who scored in both games. "We wanted and expected more out of everyone today. We had a gut-check this morning with meetings and what-not. I was really happy with the way we responded and came out hard."
UND 4, Omaha 1
First period -- 1. UND, Casey Johnson 1 (Ethan Frisch 2, Jackson Keane 3) 8:30; 2. UND, Collin Adams 7 (Grant Mismash 9, Mark Senden 5) 14:41; 3. UND, Senden 4 (Cole Smith 5, Gavin Hain 6) 19:41
Second period -- 4. OMA, Taylor Ward 12 7:05; 5. UND, Shane Pinto 10 (Jordan Kawaguchi 20, Westin Michaud 9) 10:10 (pp)
Third period -- No scoring.
Penalties -- Matt Kiersted, UND, interference, 8:49 first; Dean Stewart, OMA, tripping, 15:35 first; Tyler Weiss, OMA, boarding, 9:00 second; Jonny Tychonick, UND, hooking, 13:24 second; Stewart, OMA, holding, 18:11 second; Pinto, UND, cross-checking major, 7:08 third; Pinto, UND, game misconduct, 7:08 third; Hain, UND, tripping, 14:57 third
Goalie saves -- UND: Adam Scheel 7-4-7 -- 18; OMA: Isaiah Saville 11-9-3 -- 23
Penalties-minutes -- UND 5-21, OMA 3-6
Power plays -- UND 1-3, OMA 0-4
Attendance -- 11,725
Referees -- Nick Krebsbach and Ian Croft
Linesmen -- Justin Hills and Mike Eslinger