OXFORD, Ohio -- Brad Berry and Chris Bergeron played a cat-and-mouse game all weekend.
Bergeron, Miami's head coach, tried to keep his top line away from University of North Dakota's shutdown line of Gavin Hain, Mark Senden and Cole Smith. Thanks to having last line change as the home team -- the ability to wait to see who UND puts on the ice after whistles -- Bergeron was mostly successful.
But thanks to a keen eye and quick decision by UND coach Berry, a big-time shift from the Senden line and another timely goal by Smith, UND beat Miami 5-3 on a third-period rally to take five of six National Collegiate Hockey Conference points on the weekend.
Smith scored the go-ahead goal, redirecting a Matt Kiersted centering pass, with just 64 seconds left in the third period to complete the rally from down 2-0 in the first period and down 3-2 after two.
No. 1-ranked UND improved to 18-2-3 on the season and 9-1-2 in NCHC play, increasing its lead in the standings to eight points ahead of Minnesota Duluth, which was swept at St. Cloud State.
Judd Caulfield, Shane Pinto, Jordan Kawaguchi also scored goals, while Westin Michaud iced it with an empty-netter.
"I think we just battled," Smith said. "We have that mindset on our team that we're never out of it and that we're going to win. I really like that. We battled all the way to the end. We came out with five of six (league points). One short. But we'll take it for now."
Berry made a quick decision at the end of the game that paid off.
There was a whistle with a faceoff in Miami's defensive zone. While Miami has the ability to wait to see who UND puts on the ice, the RedHawks' top line quickly started skating on the ice. Before the referee put his arm up, Berry made a last-second change.
Berry originally was going to throw out the Kawaguchi, Collin Adams and Grant Mismash line. Instead, he decided to throw out the Senden line to neutralize Miami's big unit of Casey Gilling, Karch Bachman and Gordie Green, who combined for 14 points on the weekend. Then, Berry planned to use the Kawaguchi, Adams and Mismash line against Miami's second line for the last shift of regulation.
But the Senden line did one better than just neutralizing the Gilling line -- they scored the winner.
"We got our match at the end of the game," Berry said. "And they made the most of it."
After controlling the puck in the offensive zone, Smith threw a wild cross-ice pass to Hain, who managed to settle it down, then thread a nifty feed to Kiersted. The junior defenseman skated into space and fired a pass to the top of the crease, where Smith re-directed it past Miami goalie Ben Kraws (31 saves).
"We got behind early, which we didn't like," Smith said. "But we really like the determination and resilience of our team. We battled back in the first, second and third. To be able to get that game winner, that was huge for us."
A few differences in the series finale
There were a few differences in the series finale after UND and Miami tied 4-4 Friday.
For starters, UND broke out its lucky black jerseys for the fifth time this season. The Fighting Hawks are now 5-0 in them, outscoring opponents 25-8 in those games.
There also was a different starting goalie for the first time this season. Junior Peter Thome, whose mother attended Miami University and made the trip to Oxford, earned his first start since the 2019 playoffs at Denver.
He turned in a solid performance, stopping 19 of 22 Miami shots. All three goals he allowed were on the power play.
"It feels pretty good to get that start," Thome said. "It's not exhibition. It's a pretty cool moment getting that. Bubs (Berry) told me this morning. It's something I worked really hard for this year with K.G. (goalie coach Karl Goehring). I did extra after practice, extra workouts. To see that rewarded, it's a pretty good feeling, for sure."
But one thing was all-too-familiar. UND got behind early for the fourth time in six games since Christmas break.
Miami's Derek Daschke and Phil Knies converted on the power play at 7:16 and 9:16 of the first to stake the RedHawks to a two-goal lead.
UND rallied to tie it 2-2 on a first-period, even-strength goal by Caulfield and a power-play goal in the opening minute of the second period by Shane Pinto, who had to sit out Friday's game due to an NCHC-imposed suspension for an illegal hit.
But the RedHawks regained the lead late in the third, moments after a five-on-three power play went to five-on-four. Green hit Bachman with a backdoor feed with 50 seconds left in the middle frame.
During the second intermission, Berry urged his team to not take selfish penalties and to play for each other.
"You've got to put yourself before the team," Berry said. "Our guys are a team-first mentality, a team-first culture. We had a couple of situations where we took penalties that weren't team-first. Our guys responded in the third period the right way. The guys that took the penalties made some big plays in the third to help us get the win. So, again, it's what a family does as far as being accountable and making sure we play the right way."
The third-period rally
In the third, UND responded by storming back for the win.
The rally started with a key goal by UND's Hobey Baker Award candidate, Kawaguchi. The junior from Abbotsford, B.C., picked up a puck in the neutral zone, entered the offensive zone on a rush, pulled up high in the zone and let Mismash drive the net to create space. Kawaguchi then cut across from the right circle to the left and sniped the glove-side corner of the net.
Kawaguchi, the No. 3 scorer in the nation with 35 points, now has 13 points during his seven-game point streak.
"That's a big-time play," Berry said of the tying goal. "He's done it time and time again. We were sitting here yesterday talking about how big-time players make big-time plays. He's been doing it constantly throughout the season. It's not just by chance. He does it every game. I'm glad he's on our team.
"I thought that whole line played well this weekend with Adams and Mismash, too. They were a force out there."
That allowed the Smith line to win it in the end.
"In the second intermission," Kawaguchi said, "we said, 'Let's go out there and play for each other. Whatever it takes.'"
UND 5, Miami 3
First period -- 1. MIA, Derek Daschke 7 (Casey Gilling 14, Gordie Green 16) 7:16 (pp); 2. MIA, Phil Knies 3 (Gilling 15, Matt Barry 2) 9:16 (pp); 3. UND, Judd Caulfield 3 (Harrison Blaisdell 7, Shane Pinto 17) 9:59
Second period -- 4. UND, Shane Pinto 11 (Jordan Kawaguchi 23, Matt Kiersted 16) :20 (pp); 5. MIA, Karch Bachman 8 (Green 17, Daschke 11) 19:10 (pp)
Third period -- 6. UND, Kawaguchi 12 (Jacob Bernard-Docker 13, Collin Adams 13) 4:24; 7. UND, Cole Smith 9 (Kiersted 17, Gavin Hain 8) 18:56; 8. UND, Westin Michaud 10 (Adams 14) 19:33 (en)
Penalties -- Dixon Bowen, UND, hooking, 6:45 first; Kawaguchi, UND, slashing, 7:38 first; Green, MIA, elbowing, 12:07 first; Andrew Sinard, MIA, holding, 19:43 first; Grant Mismash, UND, high sticking, 2:28 second; Rourke Russell, MIA, hooking, 9:52 second; Matt Barry, MIA, tripping, 13:29 second; Bowen, UND, tripping, 17:04 second; Gabe Bast, UND, boarding, 17:58 second; Chase Pletzke, MIA, hooking, 14:11 third
Goalie saves -- UND: Peter Thome 5-8-6 -- 19; MIA: Ben Kraws 16-9-6 -- 31
Penalties-minutes -- UND 5-10, MIA 5-10
Power plays -- UND 1-5, MIA 3-5
Attendance -- 2,241
Referees -- Sterling Egan and Joe Sullivan
Linesmen -- Eric Frank and Joe Hutek