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UND's Berry doesn't tip hand on goalie starter

Fighting Hawks goalie Peter Thome tracks a flying puck in the second period of Saturday's home win over Omaha. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D.—It hasn't been uncommon for the UND men's hockey team to give playing time to two goaltenders during the college hockey season.

But given the time of the season, the current situation is a bit unusual.

It is unknown whether senior goalie Cam Johnson or freshman goalie Peter Thome will play on Friday night, Feb. 16, when UND takes on Omaha, one of the country's best offensive teams, in Baxter Arena.

Johnson (8-6-5, .904 save percentage, 2.16 goals-against average) has been the established starter throughout the season. He already has an NCAA national championship and an All-American designation under his belt. He's a perfect 4-0 in his career in Baxter Arena.

But Thome (5-3-3, .917, 2.15) has come in on a pair of Saturday nights in the second half and delivered for UND. He earned a shutout against the upcoming opponent, Omaha, and he was in net for UND's 5-1 win over Colorado College in the team's last outing.

"We're going through practice here," UND coach Brad Berry said. "It's not a cliche, but it's one of those things where we're finding out more information this week about what we want to do, and we'll put a lineup together for what we think has the best chance to win Friday night in Omaha."

There's only been one time in the last decade when UND hasn't had a clear-cut established starter at this point in the season.

During the 2012-13 season, goaltenders Zane McIntyre and Clarke Saunders traded starts all the way to the NCAA tournament with neither player establishing himself as the clear-cut starter.

At this point, it's unclear whether UND will pick one starter or rotate.

"Both those guys bring it," UND defenseman Andrew Peski said. "We have confidence in both of them. Both are impeccable goalies. We know whoever goes in that night is going to give us our best and our best chance of winning."

UND has been better at supporting Thome's starts offensively, averaging 3.3 goals per game during his 10 starts. The Fighting Hawks are averaging 2.7 goals per game in Johnson's 20 starts this season.

The Mavericks are the best offensive team in the nation in their home building, averaging 4.86 goals per game in Baxter Arena this season.

Jones to make trip

UND junior Nick Jones, who was the team's top-scoring forward when he went out with an injury three weeks ago, will make the trip to Omaha.

Berry was noncommittal on whether Jones will be able to play in the series, but he did confirm that he'll be with the team when they leave for Omaha.

Either way, it's an encouraging sign. Jones is currently on a five-game point streak and is the team leader in both goals and points per game.

Berry was less optimistic about the chances of defenseman Gabe Bast returning this weekend. Berry said Bast is still day to day, but he did not say whether Bast would make the trip. Bast hasn't played since Jan. 19 at Duluth.

UND also will continue to be without forward Ludvig Hoff, who is currently at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, playing for his native Norway.

UND to zone in on Pope

After facing prolific scorers from Denver and Colorado College in the last two series, UND has a new challenge going against Omaha's David Pope, who is having a breakout senior season.

Pope has scored 12 of his 19 goals this season on the power play.

The Fighting Hawks went through major struggles on the penalty kill during the middle portion of the season, but have been one of the five best in the nation during the last three weeks, allowing just one opponent power-play goal.

"First of all, you have to try to eliminate the number of opportunities they get on the power play," Berry said. "No. 2, Rhett Gardner is a big part of our group, as well as other guys, in winning draws. If he can win a draw and get a clear, you don't start in your end. You have to try to have up-ice pressure, neutral zone pressure, so they don't get in your zone. Those are some of the ways to try to eliminate it.

"Finally, when they do get it in the zone, it's one of those things where we do have to know the plays they try to execute and where he's at. He's very deadly on the power play and has a shot-first mentality."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 14th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman 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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