OMAHA, Neb. -- The year 2020 has brought about a lot of strange things.
But there was a sense of normalcy Friday night: Jordan Kawaguchi is still scoring overtime goals.
Kawaguchi made a nifty shot underneath the crossbar from in tight at 1:17 of overtime to give UND a 4-3 win over Denver in Omaha's Baxter Arena.
It marked the fourth overtime winner of Kawaguchi's UND career, which is the most of any player since at least 1987. The other three came in 2019: against St. Cloud State (Nov. 23), Omaha (March 9) and Colorado College (Jan. 12). This was his first away from Ralph Engelstad Arena.
"That was pretty sweet," UND freshman Jake Sanderson said. "Jordan's a pretty clutch player, just watching videos of him scoring OT goals all the time for North Dakota hockey. We're super fortunate to have him on our team. He's a great captain as well."
It was UND's first overtime experience under college hockey's new rules.
Games that are tied after the third period go directly into a three-on-three session. Any game decided in the three-on-three counts as a win or a loss. The goals and assists count in official stats. But the win is not worth the same value as a regulation win in either the RPI or the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings.
No. 1 UND, which also received goals from Sanderson, Ethan Frisch and Jasper Weatherby, improved to 2-0 and grabbed two points in the league standings. No. 4 Denver, which received two goals from rookie Carter Savoie, fell to 0-2 but grabbed one point.
On the winning goal, UND senior Collin Adams carried the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone, where he left a drop pass for Kawaguchi and drove the net. Kawaguchi protected the puck from Savoie, beat him wide, pulled the puck to his forehand and flipped a shot over 6-foot-5 Denver goalie Magnus Chrona.
"He's a difference-maker," UND coach Brad Berry said. "When the game was on the line, he made a big play."
Kawaguchi said: "Three-on-three is something we've practiced a lot over the last few months. We were just going in, attacking the zone and C.A. made a good little play there, a drop pass, and kind of made a play on the D-man's stick, which allowed me to get around and make a play on the net. So, 1-8 (Adams is number 18) made a good play and that's kind of what made the whole goal happen."
Although the game was played behind closed doors, emotions were as high as they usually are between longtime rivals UND and Denver. As the players left the ice after the game, they were jawing at each other from across the ice.
"We always talk about it, and I think they'd be the first to admit, too, that it's a rivalry that goes back into the old WCHA days," Berry said. "As much as there are heated words that go on, whether it's players or coaches or whatever, it's the ultra compete level of two elite teams that are going after it. At the end of the day, there's an ultimate respect level from both sides. We ultimately respect what they do as a program and I know they do for us.
"It's the beauty of college hockey and it's one of those things that raises the bar each and every game, and I think you saw a pretty good one tonight."
It was, indeed, a good one.
The game between two teams picked to finish 1-2 in the NCHC and both sit in the top five in the national polls was back-and-forth and down-to-the-wire.
It was tied 1-1 heading into the third period, which turned out to be a wild one.
Denver took a 2-1 lead on a goal by Brett Edwards just 30 seconds into the final frame.
Then, UND scored back-to-back goals in the span of 2:31 to steal the lead away. Frisch scored from the point with 6:57 to go and Weatherby scored on his backhand with 4:26 left.
But Denver came back to tie it with a power-play goal by Savoie with just 2:52 remaining.
Then, Kawaguchi won it in the extra session.
"They've got a lot of really good weapons throughout their lineup," Denver coach David Carle said. "Their D core is very active. They're good at getting pucks through.
"In big moments, we played on our backhands through the middle of the rink and a real good team like North Dakota is going to make you pay and they certainly did. They were there to capitalize on our mistakes. They're a hard enough team to beat when we're doing everything right. When you feed into their transition game, it makes things really difficult, because they have players who can make you pay the price."
As noted by @SchlossmanGF, Jordan Kawaguchi (@Guch_29) has now scored four overtime goals in his UND career, the most by any North Dakota player in the last three decades.— Alex Heinert (@AHeinertMidcoSN) December 5, 2020
...And here's the proof. @MidcoSN | @UNDmhockey | @TheNCHC pic.twitter.com/obY9uiaNkv
UND has won both of its games in the NCHC Pod.
The Fighting Hawks have Saturday off. They play Western Michigan at 12:05 p.m. Sunday in their next game.
Then, they'll play Denver again on Tuesday in a game where two key players from Friday night will be gone.
Sanderson, who had a goal and an assist Friday, will leave for the World Juniors after the Western Michigan game. Denver forward Bobby Brink, who had two assists, also will leave Sunday.
Denver took advantage of a Grant Mismash offensive zone penalty to take first lead of the game on the power play.
Freshman defenseman Mike Benning fired a shot from the point that hit traffic in front of the net. Brink dug the puck out of the scrum and made a feed to rookie Savoie, who was wide open in the left circle.
UND evened it at the end of the second period on its third power-play chance of the game.
The Fighting Hawks moved the puck around the outside of the zone from Mismash in the left circle to Matt Kiersted at the top to Sanderson in the right circle. Sanderson hammered a one-timer past Chrona for his first-career goal.
Denver answered right away in the third period, scoring just 30 seconds in.
The Pioneers had a three-on-two rush with Brink carrying the puck up the right side. Brink fired a pass all the way to the left side, where Edwards collected it and fired it high over UND goalie Adam Scheel (19 saves).
UND tied it with just 6:57 left on another outstanding play by Sanderson, the No. 5 overall pick in October's NHL Draft.
As his Fighting Hawk teammates went for a line change, Sanderson took the puck into the corner in the offensive zone, held it as he waited for reinforcements, then fired a cross-ice pass to Frisch at the point. The sophomore from Moorhead launched a shot past Chrona, who may have been screened by his own defenseman.
UND briefly took the lead with 4:26 left in the third period when Weatherby stole the puck from Brink, walked to the top of the crease, moved it to his backhand and put it away.
But on the next shift, Kawaguchi was called for a hook, trying to negate a Denver scoring chance and the Pioneers evened it on the power play when Savoie scored his second of the night.
Notes: Denver played without first-line center Cole Guttman, who was a late scratch (undisclosed). Guttman was listed on the initial line chart about two hours before faceoff, but was removed soon after that. . . Denver also scratched defenseman transfer Bo Hanson. . . UND made slight changes from Game 1, moving Josh Rieger into the lineup as the extra skater for Jackson Keane. The Fighting Hawks also flipped Judd Caulfield and Griffin Ness on right wing at the third and fourth lines. . . UND wore its road green jerseys. Denver wore its home white jerseys.