UND moved within one win of the Penrose Cup in signature fashion for this team.
Among the elements in UND's 4-1 win over Omaha on Friday night in Ralph Engelstad Arena:
- The Fighting Hawks scored the first goal of the game. They've done that in 15 of 21 games this season. They're 15-0 when scoring the first goal.
- They took a lead into the third period for the 14th time. They're 14-0 when leading after two periods.
While UND teams have been pretty good historically at locking down leads, this team has been particularly dominant as of late.
In the last two games, while protecting leads, UND has outshot Denver and Omaha -- two pretty good teams -- by a combined 27-5 in the third period.
The Fighting Hawks outshot the Pioneers 10-2 in the third last Saturday. Both Denver shots came on the power play. The Pioneers were unable to muster an even-strength shot on goal for the final 23 minutes. On Friday against Omaha, UND outshot the Mavericks 17-3 in the third while pulling away.
"I think we did a really good job of skating and using our sticks -- not hooking or slashing too much," said UND defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker, who leads the National Collegiate Hockey Conference with a plus-17 rating. "We're playing aggressive. We're not playing back on our heels. We're playing to win all the time. I think that's a big reason we were able to come out with a win."
After a bit of a slow start to the game -- Omaha outshot UND 14-10 in the opening frame -- the Fighting Hawks slowly took over. The Mavericks had fewer shots in the final 40 minutes of the game (11) than they did in the first 20 minutes (14).
"I think it's a team mentality," Berry said. "When you get up a goal or two, sometimes you think, 'I want another goal' or 'I want an extra goal or assist.' That's an individual thing. I firmly believe it's a team concept of trying to do whatever you can to get the win. That's a team thing, getting the win, and not looking after your stats of getting a goal or an assist or an extra point.
"It's something you can see in the game, tracking back through the neutral zone, guys blocking shots, guys taking short shifts. . . all the things you need to preserve a win. It's kind of reassuring to know they're doing it on a consistent basis. We need to continue to do that."
UND stays disciplined
It's no secret that penalties have been a problem at times for UND this season.
The Fighting Hawks rank first in the NCHC and third in the nation in penalty minutes per game (13.8).
"To tell you the truth, we've been going through meetings," Berry said. "It's what a family does. We're accountable to each other. It might be pretty easy to gloss over some things, but we don't do that. We really pull the layers back."
Berry said they looked at plays along the wall, goalie interference penalties and stick infractions.
"All those things add up that we were taking too many penalties," Berry said. "It's something we keep talking about and showing video and having discussions, men to men, about trying to be better in that area. I thought they heard it and took effect tonight. Now, the challenge is doing it tomorrow again. We've got to keep playing the same way.
"You know as well as I do, when you get down to the playoffs and the national tournament, it's one of those things where you can't be in the penalty box all night. You have to make sure you're disciplined throughout a 60-minute game."
On Friday, Omaha had just two power plays, which ties the fewest for a UND opponent this season. UND killed off both of them.
A change to the second PP unit
UND's power play numbers have been pretty good this season, but the production has come almost exclusively from the first unit (Matt Kiersted, Jordan Kawaguchi, Shane Pinto, Riese Gaber and Collin Adams).
Entering this weekend, second power-play unit hadn't scored a five-on-four goal since the final game of NCHC Pod, when Jasper Weatherby scored off the rush against Miami.
The Fighting Hawks finally shook up that group and the new-look unit delivered, scoring their first goal in exactly two months when Weatherby beat Omaha goalie Isaiah Saville in the third period.
One of the notable changes to the second unit was the addition of Mark Senden, who isn't exactly known as a pure goal-scorer, but he is excellent at puck retrievals and puck possession. That could help the second unit retain puck possession more often.
Senden also showed some very good skill on the power-play goal, making an excellent play to hold the zone, spinning to protect the puck from a defender and threading a pass while under duress to Bernard-Docker. From there, Bernard-Docker found Weatherby in space for the goal.
But that goal doesn't happen without Senden's outstanding play.
At the end of UND's 5-1 win at Denver in January, Berry decided to put together a power-play unit of Senden, Louis Jamernik, Gavin Hain, Josh Rieger and Cooper Moore, because the game was already in hand. But Rieger scored on that advantage and Senden drew an assist.
So, despite spending almost zero time on the power play this season, Senden now has two power-play points, which is just as many as second-unit mainstays Jake Sanderson, Bernard-Docker and Weatherby.
When Grant Mismash comes back from injury, he will likely jump back on that unit, but perhaps Senden will stay.
Fourth line gets on the board
It was hard to believe, looking at goal totals of UND's fourth line entering Friday night.
Harrison Blaisdell: 0. Louis Jamernik: 0. Jackson Keane: 0.
But from their first shift of the game, they played like they were all determined to break those zeros.
"I think we were just skating well, honestly," Keane said. "We were creating turnovers and being physical. For us, it's just making sure we are taking our chances and making the most of our opportunities. I think for Blaiser, Jammer and I, we put in our dues and we work hard, but for the most part, the biggest thing is making you're taking advantage of your opportunities."
Keane scored on a rebound in the second period to snap a 33-game goal drought. His last goal was Oct. 18, 2019 at Minnesota State-Mankato, when Keane re-directed a pass from Andrew Peski for a goal (strangely enough, that game also is the last time Blaisdell has scored a goal).
Blaisdell made a nice pass to Bernard-Docker to start the play and drew an assist.
That line had numerous other scoring chances, too. Blaisdell looked as dynamic as he's been all season.
There might have been another reason for their success Friday. The lack of penalties meant there was much more five-on-five play, and that unit was getting regular shifts.
In recent weeks, they've had very little ice time because of the amount of special teams.
"Those games where it's five-on-four the whole game, I think some guys get lost a little bit," Keane said. "For us, I think if you ask anyone on the team, when you're rolling and you've got that confidence of going out every shift and not sitting, that makes a big difference for sure."
Other notes and quotes
- Weatherby has the longest goal streak in the NCHC at five games. Pinto's six-game goal streak came to an end.
- Bernard-Docker had a goal and three points. Berry had a lot of praise for Bernard-Docker's game. "I thought it was one of his best (games) all year," Berry said. "He was just solid in every avenue of the game. He defended very well. He moved pucks efficiently. He was quick. When Jacob Bernard-Docker is assertive on the ice, I don't know if there are many D-men better in the country. I thought he had a really good game. That's the bar for him. It will be outstanding for us to know he can put those back-to-back games together."
- Goalie Adam Scheel looked strong coming back into the lineup after missing last Saturday night due to a leg injury. His best save could have been on a partial breakaway for Omaha's leading scorer, Chayse Primeau. "I thought he didn't miss a beat. He had to make some tough saves early in the first," Berry said. "They had a power play. They were zipping it around a little bit. He had to make some key saves at some key times. It was an unfortunate bounce on the goal against, but it is what it is. He played a solid, 60-minute game. That's what he's been doing consistently throughout the year here. He's done a good job preparing for every game."