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UND makes statement by sweeping Denver

The Fighting Hawks used goals from Matteo Costantini, Tyler Kleven, Riese Gaber and Ashton Calder to get past the Pioneers.

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UND's Riese Gaber (17) and Mark Senden celebrate Gaber's goal in the third period in their game against Denver Saturday, Nov. 7, 2021 at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

UND players heard the whispers this week.

They heard some of the doubts about their team after a loss to Penn State in Nashville a week ago.

They paid no mind.

The Fighting Hawks came back home, got to work and showed their potential by sweeping No. 11 Denver in Ralph Engelstad Arena. UND finished it off with a 4-1 victory Saturday night in front of 11,337 fans.

"Obviously, people have been talking," forward Ashton Calder said. "They're questioning us a little bit, so it was big to get the sweep. I think in our locker room, we just never had a doubt. We knew what we could do. I think this weekend kind of helped prove it a little bit and keep going from here."

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Matteo Costantini and Riese Gaber scored goals and added assists. Tyler Kleven also scored, while Calder sealed it with an empty-netter and added an assist.

The Fighting Hawks improved to 6-3 overall and 2-0 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, where they finished the league's opening weekend the same place they ended it the last two seasons — at the top.

"That was huge for us confidence-wise," Gaber said. "Probably not a lot of people expected that. I know we have a lot of belief in our team here. We definitely showed that tonight. We're ready to get rolling next weekend in Miami."

UND continued its home dominance, improving to 33-3 in its last 36 games in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Denver (4-4) has been on the wrong end of several of them. The Pioneers have won just two of their last 19 games against UND in Grand Forks. The last three times they've been swept? In Grand Forks, in Grand Forks and in Grand Forks.

UND wasn't flashy, but it took the lead from its newly formed shutdown line of Gavin Hain, Louis Jamernik and Mark Senden, which held Denver's prolific top line off the scoresheet all weekend.

Carter Savoie, Cole Guttman and Bobby Brink, who played together Friday but were split up Saturday to avoid that matchup, entered the weekend with a combined 30 points in six games. They left Grand Forks with no points, a minus-8 rating and frustration that boiled over in the end. In the final minutes Saturday, Savoie took a run at Senden and was called for a five-minute major for contact to the head.

"Obviously, we played hard," Gaber said. "We play that hard skill game. That's the culture here at North Dakota. I think we played that to a T. Obviously, we came out with a good result."

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Goaltender Zach Driscoll covered up the few mistakes UND did make. Driscoll stopped 43 of 45 shots on the weekend. The lone goal he allowed Saturday was an open look for Ryan Barrow on top of the crease in the second period.

With UND holding a 2-1 lead in the third period, Gaber scored a highlight-reel goal to give UND a two-goal cushion. The sophomore forward flew up the left side with speed, beat Denver rookie defenseman Sean Behrens wide, skated the puck across the crease and snuck a shot just inside the post.

"I felt like I was due," said Gaber, who has 11 points in nine games. "I kind of got my feet going. Once I realized I had some space, I knew that I was going to get a step and beat him to the far post. Luckily, I squeezed that one in. It was a pretty exciting moment."

UND played most of the weekend without top-line center Connor Ford, who left Friday's game with an injury after the first period.

Berry said the Fighting Hawks should know early in the week whether Ford will be ready for next weekend's two-game series at Miami. Berry also seemed optimistic about Senden's prognosis after the Savoie hit. Senden returned to the bench and wanted to play, but Berry held him out.

"It's a character-builder and a team-builder for the coming year here," Berry said of the sweep. "I told the guys at the end of the game here I'm just proud of the way they battled up. Obviously, there was a little bit of adversity with Ford going down and guys shifting around a little bit and playing different roles. I thought our guys did a good job."

The game had several melees at the end. Kleven was called for a major for contact to the head with 1:32 left in the game. Kleven will be available for Friday's game at Miami unless there's supplemental discipline from the league.

More than half of UND's roster this season is new players, so this weekend marked their first time experiencing the UND-Denver rivalry.

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"It was awesome," Calder said. "Obviously, we talked about it this week as a team and how big this weekend is. It's penciled in, always. Denver and North Dakota is a pretty big conference rivalry. It was nice to play that hard and get those six points."

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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