DULUTH, Minn. -- Each season there are a few moments that stand out.
They are often small moments where you can learn quite a bit about a team and what makes it different from others in years past.
Saturday night in AmsOil Arena, UND had one of them.
One night after giving up seven goals and suffering its most dejecting defeat of the season, UND allowed back-to-back goals to Minnesota Duluth in the third period to go down 2-1. And just when it looked like UND's lead atop the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings and the confidence it had built up during a remarkable first half of the season was about to evaporate, the Fighting Hawks gave their fans a moment that showed this team is different.
UND scored two goals in the final 10 minutes to rally for a 3-2 win over the two-time defending national champion Bulldogs in front of the largest crowd ever to witness a hockey game at AmsOil Arena (7,711).
Junior defenseman Matt Kiersted scored the game-tying goal with 9:36 to go and sophomore defenseman Jonny Tychonick scored the winner with 8:02 left to give UND a split in the only regular-season series between these teams this season.
"It just shows the resilience of our team," Tychonick said. "We don't give up at any time of the game. We came in with a mission today after yesterday's game and we delivered. The biggest thing is the response. We needed to do that. That was a playoff hockey game and that will get us ready for the future."
UND improved to 19-3-3 overall -- surpassing last season's win total of 18 -- and 10-2-2 in the NCHC standings, where the Fighting Hawks sit six points ahead of second-place Denver and eight points up on the third-place Bulldogs.
UND also moved back to No. 1 in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to select and seed the 16-team NCAA tournament field.
More important, however, is that UND got back to its roots.
After giving up 21 goals in the last five games -- the most goals UND has allowed in a five-game stretch since 2005 -- it was much better defensively, limiting Grade-A scoring chances and odd-man rushes.
"It's a big confidence boost coming down the stretch because games are going to be more and more like that, where they're 3-2 games," said UND captain Colton Poolman, who implored his team to re-discover its identity after Friday's series opener. "You're not going to outscore opponents. You're going to defend. That's how you're going to win games. To see that out of our group right now is really something good. It's a good step and we have to keep building on that."
UND started Peter Thome in net for the second-straight Saturday and the junior delivered a 21-save victory. While the team played much better in front of him than it did for Adam Scheel on Friday, Thome still had to come up with several critical saves. The most notable ones came on an early power play for Minnesota Duluth and a clean breakaway for Cole Koepke in the first.
"Peter was awesome," Poolman said. "He was a rock back there. He made that early stop in the first on that breakaway. That fired the boys up. All night, he was making the stops he had to. He had good rebound control and I loved how we played in front of him. When you have both of those things, it's a good thing."
How the rally happened
After playing a rare scoreless first period -- only two of UND's last 27 periods have been scoreless -- Westin Michaud of nearby Cloquet, Minn., got the Fighting Hawks on the board first thanks to a hometown kind of bounce. Michaud attempted to center a pass to Judd Caulfield on top of the crease, but it hit Bulldog forward Justin Richards and snuck past Minnesota Duluth goalie Hunter Shepard, who broke the NCAA's all-time record Saturday night by starting his 105th consecutive game.
The Bulldogs rallied to take the lead early in the third on an even-strength snipe by Luke Loheit and a power-play snipe by Hobey Baker Award candidate Scott Perunovich.
But UND didn't go away.
"I loved the way we responded," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Even though they took the lead, we did a good job of having some resiliency and patience in our game, where we didn't have it last night. We chased the game last night and we were egregious in a lot of areas where we were high risk. We weren't high risk (Saturday). We believed in our system and we found a way to tie it and eventually win it."
Kiersted, who had his fourth-straight multi-point game, tied it with a point shot through a Cole Smith screen. Kiersted's nine points in the last two weeks are more than any other player in the country in that span -- forward or defense.
Then, Tychonick, who was scratched Friday night, won it on an attempt from the left circle that went through a maze of bodies.
"I think it went off like every player on the ice," Tychonick said.
UND locked down the lead after that to finish off the comeback victory.
"We had no false steps on the bench," Poolman said. "We all took it for what it was, put it in the back of our heads and kept going, because we knew we had it somewhere in our group. Kiers stepped up and made a huge play -- a great shot from the point. We got traffic there. And then Jonny to win it. . . there was no doubt. Then to seal it off, we were confident in our tender and the guys we put out there. It was just a true, gritty, 60-minute win."
'I don't think we're a team that's ever going to stop'
There were two signs that this was a total turnaround from last season's team, which missed the NCAA tournament.
For starters, it got some fortunate bounces. Two of the three goals were off of Bulldog defensemen. That was routinely happening against -- not for -- UND last season.
Also, it keeps finding ways to win close games. The Fighting Hawks have now scored go-ahead or game-winning goals in the final eight minutes of regulation or overtime seven times this season.
"For the most part, we've been doing it all year," Thome said. "We've had some adversity in games, where teams come off the line against us and we get back on our heels and we have to battle back. Obviously, that's not the way you want to play the game, but I think we have such a strong roster, four lines, six 'D' that can play that we're never really out of the game.
"Even last night, you saw they were up 6-3, we score 6-4. There was so much belief on that bench. We obviously didn't get it done (Friday), but I don't think we're a team that's ever going to stop playing no matter what the scoreboard says and I think you saw that tonight."
UND 3, Minn. Duluth 2
First period -- No scoring.
Second period -- 1. UND, Westin Michaud 12 (Matt Kiersted 19, Shane Pinto 9) 3:52
Third period -- 2. DUL, Luke Loheit 3 (Scott Perunovich 24) 3:42; 3. DUL, Perunovich 4 (Jackson Cates 13, Noah Cates 11) 7:42 (pp); 4. UND, Kiersted 4 (Jasper Weatherby 5) 10:24; 5. UND, Jonny Tychonick 4 (Cole Smith 6) 11:58
Penalties -- Cole Smith, UND, interference, :17 first; Jarod Hilderman, DUL, tripping, 6:42 first; Koby Bender, DUL, tripping, 9:39 first; Kiersted, UND, hooking, 16:21 first; Bench minor, DUL, too many on ice, 18:49 first; Pinto, UND, tripping, 4:09 second
Goalie saves -- UND: Peter Thome 8-6-7 -- 21; DUL: Hunter Shepard 8-5-7 -- 20
Penalties-minutes -- UND 5-10, DUL 4-8
Power plays -- UND 0-4, DUL 1-5
Attendance -- 7,711
Referees -- Stephen Reneau and Cameron Voss
Linesmen -- Brandon Schmitt and Jeff Schultz