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UND bounces back to beat St. Cloud State, stay atop the NCHC standings

The Fighting Hawks used goals from Jackson Kunz, Riese Gaber, Gavin Hain, Louis Jamernik and Connor Ford to beat the Huskies 5-3 in the series finale.

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The puck bounces in front of North Dakota goaltender Zach Driscoll as St. Cloud State's Kyler Kupka puts on pressure during the first period of the game Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Dave Schwarz/dschwarz@stcloudtimes.com

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — It was an unpleasant Saturday morning for UND.

The Fighting Hawks addressed all of the things that went wrong Friday night in an 8-1 loss to St. Cloud State. And when it's the program's most lopsided defeat since 1998, there are a lot of things to cover.

But then, they held a team meeting at noon. UND coach Brad Berry's message changed at that one.

"Blank slate, new page," he said. "Let's write a new chapter right now."

UND did just that.

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The Fighting Hawks answered the bell for a third-straight Saturday, beating St. Cloud State 5-3 in the series finale at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center to gain a series split.

Jackson Kunz, Riese Gaber, Gavin Hain, Louis Jamernik and Connor Ford scored goals as the Fighting Hawks maintained their perch atop the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings.

"We're super proud of our team that we didn't get super rattled from that loss last night, because obviously that was a very embarrassing loss," said Hain, who had a two-point game. "A loss is a loss, no matter how bad it is. We came back this morning. It's a new day. And we were able to accomplish what we wanted today."

Griffin Ness, who had two assists, said: "We just needed to turn the page. Obviously, last night was not pretty at all. It was kind of embarrassing. We just had to come in today ready to work with a clean slate and that's what we did."

UND improved to 11-6 overall and 6-2 in the NCHC, where the Fighting Hawks are aiming for a third-straight Penrose Cup.

In each of the last three weeks, UND suffered a Friday night loss to a top-15 team, but managed to gain a series split Saturday. The last two weekends, it came at home in Ralph Engelstad Arena. This time, it happened on the road.

"Huge bounce back," Hain said. "We've talked about it the last three weekends now, having a tough day on Saturday. We've done a great job as a team battling back and bouncing back from a Friday loss. But enough is enough with that. We've got to start winning Fridays."

UND goaltender Zach Driscoll, who got pulled Friday night in the first period, responded with a 30-save effort to beat the team he played for as a college freshman.

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Driscoll earned the distinction of becoming the first goalie in college hockey history to beat two of his former teams (Bemidji State, St. Cloud State). He also beat a fifth Minnesota-based school in this calendar year.

"I commend him for his resiliency," Berry said. "That guy cares. He's a worker. He cares. He's a great human being. When things are a little bit tough in the first period over the last few games, he's been digging in here and doing the things he has to do. I'm glad he made those saves in the third period to preserve the win, because obviously we needed them at that time."

It didn't start well on Saturday.

UND gave up a goal in the opening 20 seconds of the game for the second night in a row, when Kevin Fitzgerald scored at the 17-second mark.

But UND answered three minutes later when Kunz banged home a goal from the top of the crease. Then, UND had its first lead of the weekend when Gaber sniped a power-play goal at 8:37.

St. Cloud State's Kyler Kupka made it 2-2 in the final minute of the first period, but UND took control in the second. Hain scored shorthanded and Jamernik scored at the side of the net to make it 4-2. Ford added the fifth goal in the third, burying a feed from St. Cloud native Nick Portz.

"Today, we talked a lot about being mentally tough, because last night, we got down early," Hain said. "We got that first goal (Friday) to make it 3-1 and we had a chance, then we broke down again and it turned ugly. Today, we talked about being mentally tough. For our line, it was unacceptable to give up that early goal, but it was a great job by the guys being mentally tough and we battled back."

UND just completed a three-week stretch where it faced all highly ranked foes, current No. 1 Minnesota Duluth, No. 11 Minnesota and No. 5 St. Cloud State. It has one weekend left before Christmas break — a road series at Colorado College.

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"We look at the competition and embrace it, but we have a high bar," Berry said. "What I mean by a high bar is we want to win both games. We realize the group we have. We're building and growing here. We went through a gaunttolet of teams that are very good, especially coming into this building against a very good, experienced team. But we're not satisfied with one win. We want two wins in a weekend. I think that's what separates us from a lot of programs. The accountability and expectations are high.

"We have to learn from that in order to build and grow. We have two games left before the first half is done. We've got to make sure we focus and build and have some mental toughness going into CC."

Notes: UND played without defenseman Chris Jandric, who was suspended by the National Collegiate Hockey Conference for a game for a spearing major Friday night. . . UND juggled all four lines and two of the three defensive pairings. Luke Bast entered the game for Jandric, while defenseman Brent Johnson was the extra skater in place of Carson Albrecht.

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UND forward Jackson Kunz (29) scores during the first period of UND's 5-3 win over St. Cloud State as Griffin Ness (11) looks on. Photo by Jason Wachter / The Rink Live
www.jasonwachter.com

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