UND seniors take matters into their own hands, deliver win over Omaha
The Fighting Hawks will head to the playoffs on a six-game unbeaten streak.
GRAND FORKS — Ethan Frisch was happy with UND's season-long unbeaten streak Friday night, but he had one request.
He wanted a regulation win Saturday before playoffs, not another overtime victory.
On Senior Night, the seniors delivered it.
Senior Carson Albrecht set up Frisch for a goal in the third period, senior Chris Jandric scored the winner with 3:02 left and UND beat Omaha 2-1 in the final game in Ralph Engelstad Arena this season.
The Fighting Hawks (16-13-6) finished tied for fifth in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and will play Omaha in a best-of-three quarterfinal playoff series beginning Friday.
UND will head to the playoffs on its best run of the year. The Fighting Hawks are now unbeaten in six games.
"You can just see it," said fifth-year senior goalie Drew DeRidder, who stopped 28 of 29. "It's a totally different feel in the locker room. It's really nice to have that. Someone said the other day, 'This is what it feels like usually when you're here.' You're winning. Everyone's happy. Everything's going well. It just feels like that Sioux culture that was missing at the beginning of the year."
UND has turned the tide by fixing its biggest issues from the first half of the season.
Defensively, UND is much improved. In the first 17 games of the season, the Fighting Hawks allowed 3.41 goals per game. In the 18 games since, they've allowed 2.61 per game.
DeRidder has showed why UND was eager to get him out of the transfer portal last summer.
In the last three months, DeRidder has as many shutouts as losses (three). He's 8-3-3 with a .914 save percentage, 2.18 goals-against and three shutouts in that span. He is currently on the longest unbeaten streak of his college career.
UND also has found a way to win close games. The Fighting Hawks started the season 2-6 in one-goal games. They're 4-0 since.
"It's the most important time of year to be playing your best hockey," DeRidder said. "That's what you want if you have to pick the beginning or end. Obviously, you want the whole thing. But to have it now, it's everything."
UND honored Frisch, Jandric, Albrecht and Judd Caulfield — fourth-year players — on Senior Night. They met with their parents before the game and handed them flowers before getting to work.
"It was a pretty emotional night," Frisch said. "I thought we kind of dipped our toe in the water to start, but once we got rolling, we were going and building like we have these past few weekends, playing confident. It's just fun to see. For a senior, it's all we could wish for. We talked to the guys before and said, 'We know it's Senior Night, but this is about all of us here. This is the last time we'll strap up and play in The Ralph together.'"
The game was scoreless heading into the third period. Then, the seniors made plays.
Albrecht stole a puck from his old UND teammate, Omaha defenseman Jonny Tychonick, starting a quick odd-man break. Albrecht hit Frisch in space and the defenseman from Moorhead picked the corner of the net on Maverick goaltender Jake Kucharski (30 saves).
Frisch turned and skated toward the student section to celebrate.
"Frischy is a pretty happy kid, but just seeing his face after that goal he scored is incredible," DeRidder said. "You could just see the joy and the passion."
Omaha tied it just 3:23 later, when Matt Miller shoveled a puck from the top of the crease past DeRidder.
But the Fighting Hawks answered with just 3:02 remaining.
Freshman Owen McLaughlin skated a puck down the slot, dangled around Omaha defenseman Victor Mancini, then left a feed for Jandric in the circle.
"I'm going to be honest," Frisch said. "I was sitting on the bench, everyone was standing up. I didn't know what Owen was doing. I was like, 'Why has he not shot yet?' But that's why he has way better vision than me. I didn't see Jandric over there. That was a great play, great poise by him. That's the kind of player he is, making big plays in big moments. Pretty cool. Another senior scoring. Couldn't have drawn it up better."
Jandric, who transferred to UND from Alaska (Fairbanks) two years ago, said: "It's definitely emotional. It's just crazy. Definitely going to miss The Ralph. It was so loud in there. It was unbelievable. It was crazy. It was super cool."
UND finished off its fourth sweep of the season and gave a stick salute after the game.
"I started to tear up a little bit at the end when we did the circle at center ice, just looking around," DeRidder said. "This is such a special place. I wish I had more than one year here. If I could go back to freshman year, I definitely would. My five years of college hockey have flown by. I'm really happy to have this experience this past year."
After the game, the seniors stood next to the bench and watched a tribute video play on the big screen above.
"It hasn't really hit me yet," Jandric said. "I'm sure it's going to kick in pretty quick. This place is so special. The team has been unbelievable. The coaching staff is always looking out for your best interest. It's definitely going to be a piece of my heart here. It's something I'm going to miss and cherish at the same time.
"I'm just fortunate to be one of the 27 guys that get to witness this each year. I'm so fortunate to be in this situation right now."
After the video, the players did a lap around the arena, then hugged their teammates on the bench, including the fifth-year seniors who played their final game in The Ralph.
"I thought I was all good with the tears until I got to the teammates on the bench," Frisch said. "Yeah, it's not easy to get through that without some tears flowing."
UND will play Omaha once again next weekend in Baxter Arena for an NCHC quarterfinal series. The Fighting Hawks went 3-0-1 against the Mavericks during the regular season.
"I can't say enough about the senior group," Berry said. "Nobody's ever won three Penrose Cups in a row. They added to the tradition. And, again, our best chapter has yet to be written. We're going to write an unbelievable chapter to close the book and that's yet to be written."