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Cornell finishes rare two-game sweep in Ralph Engelstad Arena

UND dropped from No. 4 to 11 in the Pairwise Rankings this weekend after back-to-back losses to the Big Red

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Cornell's Ondrej Psenicka (26) tries to get the puck past UND goaltender Jakob Hellsten in the third period of a men's hockey game at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks on Saturday, January 8, 2022.
Nick Nelson / UND Athletics

GRAND FORKS — UND entered the weekend as one of the country's top four teams in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to select and seed the NCAA tournament.

It left the weekend as a bubble team.

Cornell finished off a rare two-game sweep in Ralph Engelstad Arena with a 3-1 victory Saturday over the Fighting Hawks in front of 11,192 fans.

The Big Red became the first opponent to sweep UND in Grand Forks since Western Michigan in November 2018. They're the first nonconference opponent to do it since Maine in October 2006.

"We're just having a little trouble scoring right now," UND defenseman Jake Sanderson said. "It's as simple as that. Little habits, too. They got two easy goals on backdoor tap-ins. From a defensive side, we need to sharpen that up. Every little detail is important. We'll be on that this week in practice."

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It was a damaging weekend for UND's Pairwise Ranking.

The Fighting Hawks dropped from No. 4 to No. 11 as they went 5-6 in nonconference play this season.

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UND goaltender Jakob Hellsten traps the puck in the first period of a home hockey game in Grand Forks versus Cornell on Saturday, January 8, 2022.
Nick Nelson / UND Athletics

"Pairwise is very important," Sanderson said. "It's a bummer we lost this weekend. But we've got to stay positive and stick together."

UND's season will now rest upon its play in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, where the Fighting Hawks were excellent in the first half. They posted an 8-2 record and built a six-point lead atop the standings as they search for a third-straight Penrose Cup as league champions.

The Fighting Hawks are scheduled to host Omaha next weekend.

"We're right back into the NCHC, so we've got to bring our 'A' game and be ready," said forward Riese Gaber, who scored UND's lone goal Saturday. "Obviously, these ones hurt for the Pairwise. All we can do now is just kind of stick together and look forward to this weekend."

UND took an early lead on Gaber's power-play snipe just two minutes into the opening period, but couldn't score again on Cornell rookie goalie Ian Shane, who stopped 32 of 33 shots in his second-career start.

"I think execution comes to mind," Gaber said. "Obviously, we had lots of shots on net. I think the quality of those shots. . . we need guys in front if they're from the perimeter. If not, we've got to bear down and get to areas in front of the net and have high-danger chances."

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UND freshman goalie Jakob Hellsten earned his second-career start, stopping 17 of 20 shots.

He allowed a goal on a deflection in the slot and two on plays where the Big Red had two forwards alone on top of the crease.

"I thought he was sharp," UND coach Brad Berry said. "I thought he was really sharp. He did have to make a couple of saves tonight that were hard, tough saves. The ones he gave up tonight, those were tap-in goals that we have to have better coverage in front of him on. When he handled the puck, he was sharp. There were a number of plays where he snapped the puck up the ice and we went the other way and played in their end of the rink a little bit. I thought he did pretty well tonight."

Although Hellsten didn't start a game until the first-half finale, he's worked his way into a goalie competition with fifth-year senior Zach Driscoll early in the second half.

"That's good, though," Berry said. "It's good to have a situation where you have a couple of guys that can play that position and play it well. It creates a little competition. For us, that's fine."

Cornell played the game without head coach Mike Schafer, who stayed back at the hotel because he was "under the weather." Associate coach Ben Syer served as acting head coach. He's now 8-0-4 in his career as acting head coach.

UND played without senior winger Gavin Hain, who suffered a lower-body injury during the third period Friday. Berry said Hain is week-to-week.

"We have a really good medical team here and we'll try to get him back as soon as we can," Berry said.

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UND could be without two forwards — Hain and Brendan Budy — for an extended period of time, leaving the Fighting Hawks with 13 healthy forwards on the roster.

Considering the second semester hasn't started yet, the Fighting Hawks could theoretically add a player this week, but Berry indicated that's a longshot.

"We did last year with Louis Jamernik," Berry said. "That was a great move there. He added right away to our group. If we do, it's got to be selective. It's got to be the right move and it's always tough taking a player from another organization halfway through the year. We haven't considered it as of now, but the semester hasn't started yet. It would have to be pretty quick. But right now, we haven't (talked about it)."

Related Topics: UND HOCKEY
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