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Saunders makes 34 saves to lead UND over UMD

GRAND FORKS — Clarke Saunders doesn’t mind seeing a lot of shots.

“I kind of figured that out by now,” he said.

The goalie who once led the nation in saves per game at Alabama-Huntsville has righted the ship for UND with back-to-back big performances.

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The latest, a 34-save game to lead UND to a 4-2 victory over Minnesota Duluth on Friday night, allowed UND to move back to .500 (4-4-1) and win back-to-back games for the first time this season.

“It feels good,” Saunders said. “Not necessarily just getting the starts, it feels good to win. We kind of snapped our losing streak, so it feels good to be on the other side of it right now.”

UND entered Sunday’s game in Omaha on a four-game losing streak, the program’s longest since 2006. But the team got out of it thanks to a 36-save performance by Saunders.

The Brockville, Ont., native followed that up with 34 more saves — 11 in the first period, 16 in the second, nine in the third — against the Bulldogs. During his last two outings, Saunders has a .946 save percentage.

“He’s been good,” said sophomore defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, who scored the game-winning goal with 9:55 left in the third period. “He’s been really good. He’s battling, he’s seeing pucks and he’s making the big saves — one or two a period — keeping us in games and helping us win.”

UND coach Dave Hakstol said he’s confident in both of his team’s goaltenders this season.

“Clarke did a real good job tonight,” he said. “I think Clarke has been excellent, absolutely, the last two outings here.”

Offensively, Schmaltz led the charge with the winning goal and an assist. Rocco Grimaldi and Michael Parks also scored for UND, while Stephane Pattyn iced it with an empty-netter in the final minute.

UND got off to a good start, scoring a power-play goal at 17:59 of the first period against the Bulldogs, who entered the game with the top penalty kill in the nation. Dillon Simpson’s point shot hit traffic and trickled behind Duluth goalie Aaron Crandall. Before Crandall could lay down and cover the puck with his back, Grimaldi swept it into the net.

UND added to the lead early in the third period when Parks scored on one of his trademark wraparounds at the 37-second mark, but the Bulldogs rallied to tie the game with two goals in 20 seconds.

Alex Iafallo scored a goal on a delayed penalty at 6:37 and Adam Krause flipped a rebound home just 20 seconds later on the ensuing power play.

“Everyone’s human,” Saunders said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh crap’ for about 10 seconds. It happens. It happens in hockey. It happens in every sport. You’ve got to shrug it off and the whole team did a good job of that.”

The next shift by the line of Connor Gaarder, Stephane Pattyn and Derek Rodwell was the key to the game in Hakstol’s eyes.

That turned the momentum back in UND’s favor and UND eventually received a power-play opportunity. On the power play, Schmaltz made a fantastic hold at the line by picking the puck out of midair and maintaining possession. Eventually, the puck came back to Schmaltz at the point and he fired a wrist shot through a Drake Caggiula screen for the winner.

“You can look at all kinds of turning points — big goals, big saves,” Hakstol said, “I thought that shift (by Gaarder’s line) was the most important shift of the hockey game for our team.”

Gaarder’s line again was stuck on the ice for an extended period of time as the Bulldogs pulled their goalie in the final two minutes of the game. But they kept the shots to the outside, blocked a couple, and eventually got the puck to Pattyn for the empty-netter.

“It was a hard fought game tonight,” Schmaltz said. “I’m glad the boys could come out on top.”

Notes: UND played without injured forwards Brendan O’Donnell and Colten St. Clair for the third straight game. St. Clair will be out three to five weeks. O’Donnell is listed as week to week. . . Adam Tambellini returned to the lineup for UND after missing last weekend’s series. He played on the fourth line. . . Andrew Panzarella remained on the third defensive pairing for UND, while rookies Gage Ausmus and Keaton Thompson were scratched.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 12th 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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