UND secures home ice with win
GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota will celebrate its seniors tonight in Ralph Engelstad Arena. But it won't be the last game they play there. UND secured one more home series in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Confer...
GRAND FORKS - The University of North Dakota will celebrate its seniors tonight in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
But it won’t be the last game they play there.
UND secured one more home series in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs by beating St. Cloud State 3-2 on Friday night.
Nick Schmaltz, Brendan O’Donnell and Austin Poganski scored goals to build a three-goal lead, then UND withstood a late Husky push to clinch a top-half finish and home ice in the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season.
“There’s really not one team in this league that you feel is a sure thing playing in the playoffs, so any advantage is huge,” said UND defenseman Nick Mattson, who tallied two assists in the series opener. “So it’s huge. We’re more comfortable playing at home. It took a lot of hard work and we earned it.
“I think we play the best when we’re excited and we’re on our toes. Obviously, it’s a lot easier to do when we’re here. The times we’ve played poorly are the times we’ve sat back and played a little too defensive. Whenever we’re on our toes and playing with a little more edge, we’re at our best. That comes along with playing at home.”
UND also is chasing bigger prizes.
It stayed in control of the race for the Penrose Cup and the NCHC’s regular season title. UND improved to 23-6-3 overall and 14-5-2 in league play, remaining three points ahead of second-place Miami. UND could clinch a share of the league title with a win in tonight’s series finale (7:07 p.m.) coupled with a Denver win over Miami.
UND, which jumped Minnesota State-Mankato for the No. 1 spot in the Pairwise Rankings on Friday, finishes the regular season with a series at Miami next weekend.
After that, it will be back at home for the best-of-three series.
“That’s a tough thing to do in this league,” Hakstol said of locking up home ice. “You’ve got to take advantage of it. It’s the little things you have to take advantage of. We’ll worry about that once we get to the three-game series. That’s what it will be. We know that we’ll be at home. For the time being, we’ll worry about the back half of a two-game series here.”
UND, which hadn’t beaten St. Cloud State in Ralph Engelstad Arena since October 2011, jumped on the Huskies early, outshooting them 10-3 in the opening frame while building a 2-0 lead. Early in the third, it became a three-goal advantage.
“We were ready to go,” said Mattson, whose team is 10-1-1 in the last 12 games. “We know what’s on the line. We have pretty lofty goals for ourselves and we’re chasing after it. It’s fun to see. It’s fun to see when we play to our potential.”
Schmaltz, known as more of a passer, scored a highlight reel goal to put UND in front early. He took a no-look backhand feed from Stephane Pattyn, used his quick hands to get past a St. Cloud State defenseman, made another deke on goalie Charlie Lindgren before sneaking it inside the post at 11:44 of the opening frame.
UND made it 2-0 on its first power-plaly chance of the game when Mattson skated a puck from the point to the left circle before putting it on a tee for O’Donnell, whose blast deflected off of Husky defenseman Ben Storm at 17:36.
Senior Connor Gaarder, playing in front of his brother who flew in from Thailand to watch Senior Weekend, tacked on the third goal, deflecting an Austin Poganski shot at 5:57 of the second.
St. Cloud State got back into the game thanks to stellar goaltending by Lindgren (27 saves) and its NCHC-best power play.
Storm launched a point shot off of Pattyn for a goal at 7:58 of the second period and Joey Benik snuck a shot five-hole for a power-play goal at 4:47 of the third. But Zane McIntyre (22 saves) shut the door the rest of the way.
McIntyre made key saves on Jonny Brodzinski and Ethan Prow late in the third as UND withstood a strong push from the Huskies (15-15-1, 10-10-1 NCHC).
It was yet another down-to-the-wire finish for this UND team.
“It’s not very fun,” Mattson said with a laugh. “I’m having a heart attack on the bench. But I’ll take it. I’d rather have a blowout, but in this league, it’s not going to happen very often. These teams are too good. We found a way. As hard as it is on the fans, we found a way.”