UND loses its shutdown line, a third-period lead and the series finale against Omaha
The Fighting Hawks lost when leading by two goals for the second time in a month.
GRAND FORKS — UND coach Brad Berry put together a shutdown line in the first half of the season.
Its purpose was to match against opponents' top lines and help grind out victories in close games.
Gavin Hain, Mark Senden and Louis Jamernik did just that over and over again for the Fighting Hawks.
But by the end of the second period Saturday night, Berry was without all three of them. Hain was injured in January and is out longterm. His two linemates, Senden and Jamernik, sustained injuries in the second period and didn't return.
Nobody filled their role and a three-line UND let a 2-0 third-period lead slip away. The Fighting Hawks eventually lost to Omaha 3-2 in overtime in front of 11,632 fans in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Davis Pennington scored on a point shot on the power play at 5:43, Kevin Conley deflected a point shot to tie it at 8:39. Then, fifth-year senior Brannon McManus buried a Taylor Ward feed in three-on-three overtime to finish the comeback.
"Frustrating result," UND forward Connor Ford said. "I thought we played a better game than we did last night actually. But obviously they came back with more. . . as is expected in college hockey on the second night after a loss. No matter how you split it, we've got to win that game. You've got a two-goal lead in the third period. You've got to win that hockey game.
"We can split it however we want it. We should have gotten another one. We should have kept it out of our own net. We had every reason to win that hockey game and we found a way to lose it."
UND dropped to 15-11-1 overall and 10-5-1 in National Collegiate Hockey Conference play, where it sits in second place. The Fighting Hawks are five points back of league-leading Denver and one point ahead of third-place Western Michigan.
Because overtime are not counted as full value — UND received 45 percent of a win and Omaha 55 percent — the Fighting Hawks stayed at No. 12 in the Pairwise Rankings.
That didn't make UND feel any better, though.
After going unbeaten in 47-straight games when leading after two periods, the Fighting Hawks have lost twice in that scenario since the new year.
"We have to be able to close out those game," UND alternate captain Ethan Frisch said. "We were telling the guys in the locker room afterwards we're up by two in our home building on a Saturday night in the third period. That's just not acceptable. We've got to be better. That's what every game is going to be like from here on out. So, we've got to figure that out."
UND also has lineup issues heading into next weekend's home series against Colorado College.
The Fighting Hawks ended Saturday without defenseman Jake Sanderson (Olympic Games, COVID-19 protocol), defenseman Brady Ferner (upper body), forward Brendan Budy (upper body), Hain (lower body), Senden (undisclosed) and Jamernik (undisclosed).
The injury to Jamernik, in particular, irked Berry.
It occurred in the second period on an after-the-whistle check from Omaha forward Joey Abate, who led the NCHC in penalty minutes last season. Jamernik dropped to the ground for a couple minutes, then left on his own accord and went straight to the dressing room. There was no penalty on the play.
"I'm just kind of a little emotional right now because one was a preventable play after the whistle to a guy that's done it time and time again," Berry said. "So, yeah, disappointing in the fact that I didn't think it was within the rules."
Berry didn't know immediately after the game when Senden and Jamernik might be back in the lineup, but said it was "not good."
UND will find out in the next few days whether Sanderson will get out of COVID-19 protocol in time to head to Beijing for the Olympic Games or whether he'll be back in Grand Forks for the series against the Tigers.
Berry indicated Budy will be available next week after skating this week.
The Omaha comeback spoiled a good effort by UND's top line and goaltender Zach Driscoll. Riese Gaber scored and added an assist for a five-point weekend, while Connor Ford had two assists and Judd Caulfield a power-play goal.
Driscoll, meanwhile, stopped 27 of 30 shots on the night and 53 of 57 on the weekend.
"Zach Driscoll played an outstanding weekend of hockey," Berry said. "He kept us in the game to get a win (Friday) and he played well enough to win a game tonight. It's a situation where you're up two goals in a game. It doesn't matter who is in the lineup. We've got to find a way to close out the game. We've got to reset and regroup with the guys we have here."