University of North Dakota men's hockey shuts out Denver to get sweep

GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota cruised through the first month of the Brad Berry era without losing.It plugged along through November, staying atop the polls, but the questions still lingered because of a weak early-season schedule...

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Brock Boeser, left, fires a goal past Denver goalie Evan Cowley during Friday’s NCHC game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. (FNS Photo by Jesse Trelstad)

GRAND FORKS - The University of North Dakota cruised through the first month of the Brad Berry era without losing.
It plugged along through November, staying atop the polls, but the questions still lingered because of a weak early-season schedule.
Exactly how good is this team? What will happen when UND starts playing good teams?
Now, we know.
UND dismantled a top-10 ranked Denver team on back-to-back nights, shutting out the Pioneers 4-0 in front of 11,842 in Ralph Engelstad Arena on Saturday night.
Austin Poganski scored two goals and the red-hot top line of Drake Caggiula (goal), Nick Schmaltz (two assists) and Brock Boeser (goal) lit up the scoreboard for two more as UND improved to 14-2-2 overall and moved into first place alone in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference with a 7-1 record.
Ralph Engelstad Arena has been a House of Horrors for the Pioneers, who haven’t won in the building since October 2010, but none have been quite like this.
UND handed the Pioneers their worst weekend in a decade.
It was the first time they lost back-to-back games by four-plus goals since November 2003, when a Zach Parise-led UND team did it in Denver.
“Any time you can get two wins against a quality team like Denver, who is very good in college hockey every year, we’re very happy and appreciative of that,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “I thought tonight was probably our best game of the year for a 60-minute game.”
The Pioneers (7-5-2, 3-2-1) entered the weekend with just three losses - two came in overtime and the other with 36 seconds left in the third period. But they had no answer for this Fighting Hawks squad in any aspect of the game.
The Pioneers couldn’t solve sophomore Cam Johnson, who stopped all 18 shots to earn his first-career shutout. He became the first goalie to hold Denver to one goal on a weekend since Michigan Tech’s Cam Ellsworth in January 2005. Since coming back from a groin injury, Johnson has made four starts and allowed just three goals.
Denver couldn’t get anything going on special teams. It had 10 power plays on the weekend and got outscored on them (1-0). Poganski buried a shorthander with 0.6 seconds left in the first period Saturday night to give UND the lead for good.
The Pioneers, like everyone else, had no answer for UND’s top line, either. That unit scored a pair of goals in the third period - snipes from Caggiula and Boeser just 27 seconds apart - and that trio now has 19 goals, 43 points and a plus-48 rating in the last eight games.
“I thought it was a great weekend,” said UND defenseman Paul LaDue, who had three assists in the series. “We came off of a couple of weekends, where we were slow on Saturdays, and I thought we responded well. We knew they were going to come out hard. I thought this was one of the best 60 minutes we’ve played all year and that’s what we needed.”
UND dominated the series finale from the start, outshooting Denver 19-3 in the first period - its largest shot disparity in any period this season - and 37-18 for the game. Shot attempts were 73-39 Fighting Hawks. UND also held down Denver’s top players - its only goal on the weekend came from the fourth line on Friday.
“Our biggest thing this whole weekend was tracking through the neutral zone,” Berry said. “We work on it every single day in practice. When we don’t have the puck, we track hard with our forwards. Sometimes, when you’re in the neutral zone, you maybe have a mindset of not coming back hard. Our forwards come back hard all the time.”
North Dakota is now 21-2-1 in the month of December dating back to 2010 and 22-3-3 at home in its last 28. It will head to Minnesota Duluth next weekend for its final two-game series before a three-week Christmas break.
“I think tonight, we took another step as a team,” Berry said. “I talked to the guys after the game, and we’re not done. We’re not done yet. We have two games to go before Christmas. We have a good thing going here.”
Notes: Defenseman Will Butcher, who entered the weekend as the team’s leading scorer, returned to the lineup for Denver. He missed Friday serving a one-game suspension for an illegal hit a week earlier. . . Gabe Levin also returned to the lineup for the Pioneers. He missed Friday’s game preparing for the LSAT test, which he took in Grand Forks on Saturday morning. . . Coltyn Sanderson returned to the lineup for UND in place of Shane Gersich. Hayden Shaw replaced Christian Wolanin on the back end.

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