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UND continues to fall on tough times talking 4th straight loss

OMAHA, Neb. — Gage Ausmus was 11 years old growing up in East Grand Forks.

Luke Johnson was only 12, living right across the river.

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Yes, it has been quite a while since the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team has lost four games in a row.

But after Saturday night’s 4-2 loss to Nebraska-Omaha, that’s just what happened for a UND team that has come up short in all different manners during the last month.

This time, a team missing three regular forwards put forth a push strong enough to win, but a late power play turned into the game-winning goal for a Mavericks team that has won three straight with late tallies.

Detroit Lakes, Minn., product Tanner Lane scored with 7:29 remaining in the third period — seconds after an Omaha power play had expired — to send UND to 2-4-1 overall and 1-4 in National Collegiate Hockey Association play.

“When I was a little kid, I was taught to hate to lose, not love to win,” UND defenseman Troy Stecher said. “Everyone’s got to start hating to lose. It sucks. That’s the only way to put it. (Losing four) in a row is something this program doesn’t like doing. It doesn’t sit well with us.”

UND coach Dave Hakstol said his team has to stick with it.

“You can’t allow yourself to get frustrated,” Hakstol said. “That’s not part of it. We’re mentally tougher than that. We’re going through a tough time. Things aren’t coming easy right now.

“Tonight was a good hockey game, a hard-fought hockey game. They made a play to go ahead.”

The last time UND lost four straight was in December 2006 when the team got swept back-to-back by Wisconsin and Michigan Tech. That squad later righted the ship and reached the NCAA Frozen Four.

In today’s rare Sunday afternoon game (4:07 p.m.), UND will try to avoid losing five straight for the first time since 1993.

“We’ve just got to find a way to get on the other side of the score sheet, find a way to get three points,” Stecher said. “There are no excuses. We’ve got to bear down, mature and find ways to win hockey games.”

UND, playing without injured forwards Colten St. Clair, Brendan O’Donnell and Adam Tambellini, received second-period goals from Johnson and Jordan Schmaltz, who Hakstol said played an outstanding game. Their tallies came as UND outshot Omaha 19-7 in the frame and rallied to tie the game 2-2.

But in the third period, Connor Gaarder was called for an offensive-zone interference penalty off of a faceoff with 9:49 to go.

UND killed that power play — its 32nd consecutive penalty kill — but the Mavericks scored before UND could get a line change. Complicating matters was that goaltender Zane Gothberg lost his stick on the play.

Right as a teammate retrieved his stick, Omaha standout Ryan Walters made a perfect backdoor pass to Lane, who shot stick side before Gothberg could get a handle on his stick.

“Their guy made a play,” Hakstol said of the winning goal. “Mentally, a little bit tired on that play.”

UND, which got swept by St. Cloud State in Ralph Engelstad Arena last weekend, got off to a bad start Friday.

The Mavericks got a fourth-line goal from James Polk just 3:05 into the game, and they added to their lead on a bad-angle shot from the boards by Dominic Zombo, son of former UND great Rick Zombo.

“It was a tough one,” Hakstol said of the bad-angle goal, “but nobody blinked. We weathered the storm the first 10 minutes. You don’t want to see it (a bad goal), but our guys just kept playing. I thought we played an excellent second period from start to finish.”

Ultimately, it wasn’t enough.

“I thought, last week, we were a big part of our own problem,” Hakstol said. “I thought, tonight, we worked hard, we executed well, and we lost a real hard-fought hockey game.”

Notes: St. Clair is expected to be out four-to-six weeks. O’Donnell and Tambellini are listed as week-to-week. . . UND’s scratches on the trip were Keaton Thompson and Andrew Panzarella. . . Omaha (3-0) and Western Michigan (2-0) are the only undefeated teams left in NCHC play. They were picked to finish seventh and eighth in the league by the media. . . UND captain Dillon Simpson blocked a season-high eight shots. . . Omaha goalie Ryan Massa and Gothberg made up the goalie tandem for the Fargo Force in 2011-12.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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