Gaarder, UND roll past Beavers
GRAND FORKS — Connor Gaarder started the game with a goal. Andrew Panzarella and Derek Rodwell followed.
“Sounds about right,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s what it has been through the year. We’ve got some guys who score more than others, but any time we’ve had good nights, we’ve always had guys chipping in from different areas. It’s not a surprise. It’s not something that’s off the charts. That’s becoming the calling card of this team.”
The trio of players who have helped UND generate possession and momentum in recent weeks helped on the scoreboard during the series finale against the Beavers as UND extended its unbeaten streak to nine games (8-0-1).
UND hasn’t lost since a home game against St. Lawrence on Nov. 29, when the players held a lengthy postgame meeting to hash out the team’s problems.
UND has gone from 4-7-2 to 12-7-3 and will hit the stretch run only two points back of St. Cloud State in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings. UND also is No. 19 in the Pairwise Rankings, within striking distance of the top 15 — the minimum ranking UND needs to attain to make its 12th consecutive NCAA tournament.
There have been big differences on both ends of the rink during UND’s current run.
During the first 13 games of the year, UND was allowing 33 shots on goal per game. In the last nine, it is allowing 23. Goaltender Zane Gothberg, who has started all of the games in the streak, has a 1.76 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.
Offensively, UND was averaging 2.62 goals per game before the streak. Since, UND is averaging 3.22, in large part thanks to the contribution of players like Gaarder, Panzarella and Rodwell.
“I definitely think we were a team that was struggling for an identity early in the season,” Panzarella said. “Someone asked me last night what kind of team we are. We’re not a team that’s going to go out and out-skill someone. We have to be ready every single game. We have to be hard to play against.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost to keep going like this. We’ve had some great second-half teams here. That gives us confidence. We’ve been able to do it in the past. We can do it going forward.”
UND finished off the nonconference portion of the schedule with a 5-2-3 record, getting a win and a tie against the Beavers (7-12-7). Now, it’s all NCHC play, starting with a series at the University of Denver next weekend.
“You can’t go and get any points back,” Hakstol said. “I look back on a couple and maybe you want a little different result. Overall, it was a tough nonconference schedule and we came out of it with a pretty sound record.”
UND pressured Bemidji State goaltender Andrew Walsh throughout Saturday’s game. Unlike Friday’s game in Bemidji, which Walsh stole with a 42-save performance in a 1-1 tie, UND was able to crack the junior netminder.
At 6:27 of the opening frame, Pattyn centered a pass from the right wing to Gaarder, who was driving the net. Gaarder re-directed it past Walsh for a 1-0 lead.
Just 55 seconds later, UND scored on an identical play with Mark MacMillan setting up Panzarella for a tip. It was Panzarella’s first college goal and his first tally since Nov. 10, 2010, when he was playing junior hockey with the Waterloo Blackhawks in the United States Hockey League.
Cory Ward cut UND’s lead to 2-1 before the end of the first period, but UND tacked on two quick ones in the second — a wrist shot by Rodwell and a wraparound by Michael Parks.
“I think the biggest thing at this time of year is that you want to try to get better every game,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “We got a tie last night and came in here optimistic. You want to come in this building, which is a very, very difficult building to play in, but you want to respond. I thought there were some bright spots, but at the end of the day, we lost.”
Notes: Panzarella played for Wade Murphy up front and Keaton Thompson replaced Gage Ausmus on defense. . . Bemidji State didn’t make any changes. . . Rocco Grimaldi’s eight-game point streak came to an end. . . Dillon Simpson led UND with six blocked shots. . . Paul LaDue registered a plus-3 rating.