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If UND's Jordan Kawaguchi played his final game at The Ralph, his home career ends in fitting fashion

Kawaguchi scored two goals and added an assist as UND beat St. Cloud State 5-3 in the championship game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at REA on Tuesday night.

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(Clockwise from left) UND men's hockey players Ethan Frisch (15), Jake Sanderson (26), Shane Pinto (22) and Collin Adams (18) celebrate captain Jordan Kawaguchi's empty net goal which propelled the Fighting Hawks to a 5-3 NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship victory over St. Cloud State Tuesday, March 16, 2021 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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UND senior Jordan Kawaguchi and his classmates make the same walk together to the locker room before every game at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

On Tuesday night, the group took some time to soak in the moment.

"We kind of thought, 'This is our last time making this walk before a game,'" Kawaguchi said. "It was a little emotional."

If this was it for Kawaguchi in Grand Forks, what a way to go out.

Kawaguchi scored two goals and added an assist as UND beat St. Cloud State 5-3 in the championship game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at REA on Tuesday night .

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UND didn't seal the program's first Frozen Faceoff championship until Kawaguchi directed the puck into an empty net with eight seconds remaining to send home fans into a frenzy.

"Happy to get this win, and it's pretty special to win our last game in the Ralph," Kawaguchi said. "It's nice personally but just knowing that we won, for me, one last game at the Ralph ... that means a lot more to me than getting that empty-netter."

If the game was Kawaguchi's last at REA, it was a fitting finish to a home career for a player who was dominant in the building both personally and team-wise.

"This young man played four years of junior hockey," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Then he came to North Dakota as an older player and now he played four years here, and he's got a lot of experience.

"Those couple of years when we didn't make the national tournament and get into the postseason, I think that's a burning fire inside him. He feels obligated to lead this team and do something special."

Kawaguchi, who's tied for fourth in the nation in scoring, now has 13 points in his last seven games.

Berry said after the game it was like Kawaguchi was shot out of a cannon, despite the championship game coming one day after a late overtime semifinal win over Denver. UND scored the game-winning goal against the Pioneers after 11 p.m. Monday.

Kawaguchi now leads the team in scoring with 34 points on the year. If Kawaguchi holds on to the team scoring lead, he'd become just the second player since the 1960s to lead UND in scoring for three straight seasons, with Greg Johnson (1990-93) being the other.

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In 19 home games a year ago, Kawaguchi scored 30 of his 45 points at REA. In 10 home games this season, Kawaguchi has 15 points.

As Kawaguchi goes in the REA, so does UND. The Fighting Hawks are 29-2 in their last 31 games at REA, a stretch that dates back to the final home series of Kawaguchi's sophomore season.

"It's a complete transformation from the first two years," Kawaguchi said of his career. "It's crazy to really think how far, not only our class, but this program has come. It's a great feeling to know we left this place better than how we found it. I'm pretty happy with how the last four years have gone."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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