Miller: Top-end talent overshadowed by a walk-onGRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota’s weekend series against Boston University features two of the most storied college hockey programs in the country with a combined 12 national championships. The teams also have a combined 23 National Hockey League draft selections.
By: Tom Miller, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota’s weekend series against Boston University features two of the most storied college hockey programs in the country with a combined 12 national championships. The teams also have a combined 23 National Hockey League draft selections.
Some have called it the closest thing to NHL games we’ll get to see this season.
With all that top-end talent and all those highly recruited prospects, it was a second year walk-on UND added last July who propelled North Dakota to its biggest win of the season in a fast-paced 4-2 victory over the Terriers on Friday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Connor Gaarder, a sophomore from Edina, Minn., scored at 4 minutes, 24 seconds of the third period to trigger a litter of hats onto the ice to signify his third goal of the game.
Gaarder tied for the team lead with five shots, finished with a plus-two rating and had a potential fourth goal taken away. When Boston pulled its goalie in the final moments, Gaarder was trusted to be on the ice to protect the lead.
Gaarder narrowly missed a four-goal night. With 18 minutes left in the second period, Gaarder appeared to jam a shot through the five-hole of Boston goalie Sean Maguire. However, referees had whistled the play dead and wouldn’t review the sequence.
Gaarder entered the day with four career goals in 36 games. Prior to the weekend, the most noteworthy section of his biography page is that he’s the grandson of former Minnesota Vikings coach Jerry Burns.
That changed Friday as he captured the game’s first star and stole the show in a pivotal non-conference series.
“He was unbelievable,” said teammate Rocco Grimaldi, who set up Gaarder’s third goal. “The kid was flying around out there. He had a huge game for us. Two of his goals came right at the net, so it shows he was battling hard. I’m really happy for the guy.”
Gaarder, who skated on the second line against Boston, came to North Dakota as an unheralded prospect. He joined UND on the day the team announced NHL first-round draft pick J.T. Miller was bolting his college options to sign with the New York Rangers.
Gaarder said he didn’t gain any additional satisfaction out of his big night coming against some of the most highly sought recruits.
“I just play my game and work hard,” Gaarder said. “I have a gritty style and the first goal was off my foot, so that’s just luck. It feels good to come out with a win and help the team to a victory.”
UND coach Dave Hakstol also shied away from the walk-on storyline with Gaarder.
“Those things don’t matter; he’s just a good hockey player,” Hakstol said. “He goes to the hard areas. He wasn’t the only one who played a good hockey game. He’s that type of player, though. He’s a gritty kid who goes to those greasy areas.”