There has been a pattern for UND's Penrose Cup-winning teams.
They win the Cup. They celebrate. And then, very briefly, they let up.
The first time it happened was 2015. UND won the Penrose in Oxford, Ohio, on a Friday night, celebrated the league championship in the locker room that evening, then gave up six goals the next day in a loss to Miami.
The next season, UND beat Western Michigan on a Friday night to secure the Penrose. They celebrated that evening, then gave up three goals in the first period the following day. The Fighting Hawks managed to rally and win 5-4, though.
Last season, UND won the Penrose in dramatic fashion on a Saturday night, beating Western Michigan in overtime. While they had six days to refocus, the Fighting Hawks lost their next game at Omaha, 4-1. It was one of just five losses on the season.
UND will try to avoid that Penrose-aftermath letdown this week as it travels to Omaha for a single game at 7:07 p.m. Friday in Baxter Arena.
"It's a mental approach to the game of keeping your foot on the gas and trying to keep momentum with a group that's done a pretty good job all year of doing that in a tough environment or a tough year to keep your concentration," UND coach Brad Berry said. "That goes to the leadership. That goes to our group here. That goes to us trying to do those things on a daily basis, whether it's on the ice or through meetings or just kind of keeping guys accountable or on the same page. You just don't want to go through a day hoping or thinking that it's going to go in the right direction."
UND has two regular-season games remaining before the start of the playoffs. In addition to Friday's game at Omaha, the Fighting Hawks also will host the Mavericks in a single game on March 5.
Although UND has wrapped up the league regular-season championship and the top seed for the conference tournament -- which will be held in Ralph Engelstad Arena on March 12-16 -- there are still NCAA tournament implications in the final two regular-season games.
The Fighting Hawks are trying to solidify the highest seed possible, because the better seeds are considered "home" teams for the NCAA tournament and get last line change. That allows those teams to better dictate line matchups.
"Winning the Penrose last weekend was obviously a big accomplishment," senior defenseman Matt Kiersted said. "We checked one of the boxes off on our list. The season's not over. We've still got two games to play. I think in the room we all know we can't just show up to these games and whatever happens, happens. We still have the same mindset that we want to go in and win. Even though we already have our conference locked away, we're still playing for the national ranking for the national tournament."
UND (17-4-1) also does not want to let any momentum slip away.
Since losing 4-1 at Denver on Jan. 17, the Fighting Hawks are 8-1 and have outscored their opponents 43-13.
"We've just got to keep building every single weekend," junior forward Mark Senden said. "Looking toward playoffs, we've got to continue to build each and every weekend. We've got to keep upping our game. That's just kind of our mindset right now is that we've got to keep building every single game, so when it comes to playoff time, we're rolling with our best hockey. So, we can't take a weekend off."
Will Berry hold out any players?
Berry also has to decide how to manage injuries and whether to rest players who aren't 100 percent.
Senior forward Grant Mismash has missed the last three games with an undisclosed injury. It seems unlikely that UND would bring him back for a one-game road trip.
There are other players to watch, too.
UND did not play captain Jordan Kawaguchi in the third period against Omaha. Kawaguchi didn't appear to suffer any significant injury during the game. He created a Grade-A scoring chance on his last shift of the game late in the second period and nearly scored. He remained on the bench in the third period in good spirits and accepted the Penrose Cup after the game.
But clearly the coaches either wanted to give him a little rest or, in a game that was well decided, they wanted to keep him out of any potentially chippy situations at the end of the game.
Berry didn't tip his hand on what he will do this weekend.
"Those guys want to play, and as a coach, I want them to play," Berry said. "It's a situation we'll keep going through a week here to see if that's going to happen or not. At the end of the day, they'd be available at this time of year in the playoffs. It's one of those things we'll look at our group and what's best for our group and what's best for the individual.
"I want to preface everything here by saying we're here to win games and we'll do what we want to do as a group here to get the team on the ice to perform at a high level, but yet still in mind, be conscious of a deep playoff run that we potentially have here."