OMAHA, Neb. -- The University of North Dakota had far more pressing concerns than Friday night's 4-1 loss to Omaha in Baxter Arena.
Junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi, the team's leading scorer and Hobey Baker Award candidate, left the game midway through the first period with an upper-body injury and did not return.
After the game, UND coach Brad Berry didn't have much information on the extent of the injury.
"Not yet," Berry said. "Obviously, it's too soon right now. We've got to get him evaluated to get further information here."
Is there any chance Kawaguchi plays in Saturday's series finale?
"I have no idea yet," Berry said. "I think it was precautionary reasons that he didn't play the rest of the game. I think we'll get into it later on here to see the extent of it."
The play seemed innocuous enough.
Kawaguchi went into the corner at 10:47 of the first and was tripped up by Omaha's Brandon Scanlin. He landed on the ice and UND was awarded a power play. Kawaguchi skated to the bench on his own power, but was unable to factor into the ensuing power play.
After the power play expired, Kawaguchi went to the locker room with athletic trainer Mark Poolman. A few minutes later, Poolman returned to the bench alone.
Without Kawaguchi, the offense sputtered, just like it did Feb. 22 in St. Cloud when he sat out a game with an undisclosed injury. The Fighting Hawks lost that game 2-1.
On Friday, the Fighting Hawks managed just one goal -- a Colton Poolman point shot that went off of an Omaha defenseman's skate and past backup goalie Austin Roden, who replaced an injured Isaiah Saville late in the first period. That was the only blemish for the Maverick netminders, who combined to stop 36 of 37 shots.
Kawaguchi is the second-leading scorer in the nation with 45 points in 32 games, trailing only Jack Dugan of Providence (52 points). UND just launched a website this week promoting Kawaguchi’s Hobey Baker Award candidacy.
"Other guys have to step up and make some plays," Berry said. "It's one of those things where we're not a one-man team. We have 27 guys on our team that made plays the whole year. I know Jordan's a big part of our team, but other guys have to step up at this time. Obviously, it's having the details and sharpness of executing when the puck's on your tape to execute and finish a play. We'll be all right. We'll dial in tomorrow and get after it again tomorrow."
Worse yet, Kawaguchi wasn’t the only player who left the game with an injury. UND freshman defenseman Ethan Frisch also missed the final two periods with an undisclosed injury.
"We'll evaluate him tonight and tomorrow and see where that's at," Berry said.
No. 1 seed on the line
With the loss, No. 2-ranked UND (25-5-4, 16-4-3 NCHC) now risks sharing the Penrose Cup with Minnesota Duluth, which beat St. Cloud State on Friday.
If UND loses in tonight’s series finale (7:07 p.m., Baxter Arena) and Minnesota Duluth beats the Huskies, the Bulldogs will share the Penrose Cup and earn the No. 1 seed for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament. It would also mark the first conference title for Minnesota Duluth since 1993.
The Fighting Hawks haven't been swept yet this season and senior forward Westin Michaud said it's important that doesn't start now, because UND doesn't want to lose the top seed for the NCHC tournament.
"One-hundred percent," Michaud said. "Outright Penrose. Don't give it back to Duluth. That's one of our rivals. It's a huge game tomorrow. Huge game. We have to focus on what we do best and we have to execute that tomorrow. At the end of the day, you've got to come back and don't worry about it too much. Don't hang your head, but come ready to play tomorrow."
UND will play its final regular-season game at 7:07 p.m., then return home for the playoffs to take on either Miami or Colorado College in a best-of-three, first-round playoff series.
"The best part is we get to control our own destiny," Berry said. "We don't have to worry about the scoreboard around the country or whatever. We've just got to control what we do. We've been doing a good job of that all year. We have to make sure we focus on that tomorrow."
The Fighting Hawks remained No. 1 in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to select and seed the 16-team NCAA tournament field.
A second loss to Omaha
UND has lost just five times this season and two of them have come against the Mavericks.
Omaha beat UND 6-3 in Ralph Engelstad Arena in January -- the only home loss for the Fighting Hawks this season. Just like the Mavericks did in that game, they played with the lead Friday.
Nate Knoepke and Kirby Proctor each buried their first goals of the season to open a 2-0 lead in the second period, while Ryan Brushett tallied his second and Zach Jordan his 12th in the third to pull away.
"It was a pretty thorough beatdown by Omaha, I thought," Poolman said. "We weren't sharp to start the game. Little spurts here and there but nothing sustained. Give them credit. Whenever we'd get a chance, they'd clear it out pretty well. They flew the zone and kind of backed us off for most the game. We couldn't get anything really rolling for too long. We had a couple power-play chances, but really, that's about it.
"They really shut us down. We weren't sharp with our execution and some of our coverages just weren't there sometimes. It was not very good for us, but really good for them."
Fighting Hawks goaltender Adam Scheel stopped 21 of 25 shots in making his third-consecutive start.
UND celebrated with the Penrose Cup last Saturday, clinching a share of the title with a 2-1 overtime win against Western Michigan. The coaches stressed not to have a letdown after the celebration.
"We talked about it all week," Berry said. "You'd like to think no, but at the end of the day, we weren't sharp in a lot of different areas throughout a 60-minute game. This is a playoff game. Tonight was a heavy, hard playoff game. It takes 60 minutes to win. I thought we had some ebbs and flows in it where we were good. . . and just OK in some areas."
OMAHA 4, UND 1
First period -- No scoring
Second period -- 1. OMA, Nate Knoepke 1 (Ryan Brushett 16, Dean Stewart 9) 11:53; 2. OMA, Kirby Proctor 1 (Noah Prokop 2, Stewart 10) 16:19; 3. UND, Colton Poolman 3 18:03
Third period -- 4. OMA, Ryan Brushett 2 (Martin Sundberg 7, Joey Abate 9) 11:55; 5. OMA, Zach Jordan 12 (Stewart 11) 14:58
Penalties -- Brandon Scanlin, OMA, tripping ,10:47 first; Bench minor, OMA, unsportsmanlike conduct, 10:47 first; Cole Smith, UND, roughing, 16:43 first; Chayse Primeau, OMA, roughing, 16:43 first; Smith, UND, tripping, 19:05 first; Bench minor, OMA, too many on ice, 6:22 second; Tyler Weiss, OMA, roughing, 12:15 second; Westin Michaud, UND, roughing, 12:15 second; Kevin Conley, OMA, roughing, 12:15 second; Michaud, UND, roughing, 12:15 second; Andrew Peski, UND, roughing, 12:28 second; Martin Sundberg, OMA, holding, 18:36 second; Noah Prokop, OMA, tripping, 2:18 third; Gabe Bast, UND, slashing, 5:18 third; John Schuldt, OMA, roughing, 19:14
Goalie saves -- UND: Adam Scheel 7-10-4 -- 21; OMA: Isaiah Saville 9-x-x -- 9, Austin Roden 3-13-11 -- 27
Penalties-minutes -- UND 7-14, OMA 8-16
Power plays -- UND 0-5, OMA 0-4
Attendance -- 6,126
Referees -- Dan Dreger and Tom Sterns
Linesmen -- Scott Fitzpatrick and Nate Stanton