OMAHA, Neb. -- They were first placed together on Oct. 26, 2019.
Looking to spark his team offensively after scoring three goals in two games, UND coach Brad Berry opted to try classmates Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams and Grant Mismash on the team's top line. They produced two goals that night in a 4-1 win over Bemidji State.
So, Berry kept them together.
The next week, Kawaguchi scored a game-winning goal against Michigan Tech. The week after, they had 10 points in a sweep of Miami. Then, they grabbed a series victory at Denver, swept St. Cloud State on a Kawaguchi overtime winner and delivered a Thanksgiving Day beatdown of rival Minnesota with an eight-point night in Mariucci Arena.
Any time all three of them were in the lineup, they were together (the lone exceptions were the two games Kawaguchi missed due to injury).
UND won the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and posted the fourth-best winning percentage in program history. Kawaguchi became a Hobey Baker Award Hat Trick finalist.
In the offseason, all three opted against signing pro deals to come back for their senior seasons.
But that doesn't mean the magic is automatically going to repeat itself.
So, on Thursday night, after 32 games spanning 410 days across two seasons, Berry finally split up his top line. Searching for more offense at five-on-five after a loss to Denver on Tuesday, Berry put Kawaguchi with rookie Riese Gaber and sophomore center Shane Pinto. He kept Adams and Mismash together and gave them a new linemate in sophomore Brendan Budy.
It resulted in a 2-2 tie against Minnesota Duluth in the NCHC Pod in Omaha's Baxter Arena. The Bulldogs grabbed the extra point in the league standings in a shootout.
But the new top line might just be here to stay for a bit.
Gaber scored a nice goal on a feed from Kawaguchi. Pinto scored on a nice pass from Matt Kiersted on the power play. And they generated more chances than that. Kawaguchi hit the post on a terrific setup by Pinto in the second period.
"It's not that we'd been playing bad," UND coach Brad Berry said about the line shuffling. "But we just wanted to kind of push our guys a little bit, (give them) situations with playing with other guys early in the season, trying to see if we can build some chemistry.
"I thought that line played pretty well. I thought all the lines played pretty well, getting some chances. We had a lot of Grade-A chances -- Grade-A and Grade-B chances in front of the net -- we just didn't finish tonight. It's a different story if you put a couple of those in. I thought all four lines contributed. I thought the Pinto line with Gaber and Kawaguchi did a good job. They scored a big goal. It's one of those things where we're trying to find more information here early and hopefully get set on some lines to build some chemistry throughout the season."
Berry had the right-handed Gaber play on the left wing and the left-handed Kawaguchi play on the right wing.
But that's not out of the ordinary for either. They both played on their off wing last season -- Kawaguchi with UND and Gaber in junior hockey with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League.
"With the line changes, we needed to get more stuff five-on-five going," Gaber said. "It's a really tough league and nothing comes easy. I think, for me, I've just really been trying to figure out how to create more five-on-five. Change is good sometimes. I think me, Shane and Guch kind of clicked well tonight. Obviously, the other lines had great looks, too. I think change is good and we're just looking for more ways to create five-on-five."
Pinto, the NCHC's leading scorer with eight points, said: "I thought me, Guch and Gaber had some chemistry there. I thought we created a lot. Having Guch on your line, he's an ultra-skilled player and he's really smart with the puck, so obviously, he's going to make plays. I thought it went well. We'll see where it goes. We've just got to keep building on that and we'll see what happens."
UND (3-1-1) has Friday off before returning for back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday against St. Cloud State and Western Michigan.
Minnesota Duluth, which used a game-tying goal by Cole Koepke with 4:25 left in the third period, remained as the only unbeaten team in the NCHC Pod at 4-0-1.
"It was about what we expected," Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. "We've had a lot of great games with these guys, a lot of tight games."
Trouble holding leads
The game marked the second time in three days where a late goal cost UND.
The Fighting Hawks, who opened the Pod with three-straight wins, lost to Denver on a power-play goal with 2:02 left in the game Tuesday and tied the Bulldogs because of Koepke's late goal Thursday.
"I thought from the 10-minute mark in the first, all the way through the rest of the game, I thought we did what we had to do," Berry said. "We were heavy on the forecheck, heavy on pucks in the offensive zone, didn't play a lot in our end of the rink. I thought we did all the right things to deserve a win tonight, and obviously we didn't (get it). We didn't close out the game tonight in the last few minutes and we need to be better at that."
Minnesota Duluth jumped out to the early lead at 7:03 of the first period on a harmless-looking play. Third-line center Jesse Jacques entered the zone up the middle and snapped a shot from beyond the dots that trickled through UND goalie Adam Scheel, who played his fourth game in eight days.
UND turned the tide in the second period and eventually was rewarded for it. Minnesota Duluth freshman defenseman Connor Kelley attempted to exit the zone with a pass, but Kawaguchi intercepted it and took it the other way. Kawaguchi left the puck for Gaber, who picked it up, skated to the slot and wired a shot past Ryan Fanti, who became the first Bulldog goalie outside of Hunter Shepard to play against UND since March 2017.
Pinto gave UND a 2-1 lead with 7:36 left in the third period when he blasted a Kiersted feed for a power-play goal, continuing UND's great play with the man advantage. UND's power play is now converting at 36.4 percent, which ranks No. 1 nationally.
But the lead didn't last. Koepke found a loose puck at the side of the net and took swat at it and it went in to tie it.
The sudden-victory shootout lasted three rounds. Kawaguchi, Gaber and Pinto missed. Minnesota Duluth's Kobe Roth and Noah Cates missed before Nick Swaney scored.
"We just have to do a better job closing out games," Pinto said. "Bubs (Berry) came in after and just told us we've got to work on that. It's a big part of the game. You've just got to be ultra detailed, I think. When you do all the right things in all three zones, you're going to get those bounces. Just clean up on some details and it will go our way eventually."
UND forward Gavin Hain, who was reunited with longtime linemate Mark Senden, left the ice with an injury after the third period and did not return.
Berry said he would soon get an evaluation on the extent of Hain's injury from athletic trainer Mark Poolman.
UND is already down to the 19 available skaters, which is what college hockey teams dress for each game. That means there are no healthy scratches left to go in the lineup.
The Fighting Hawks played their second game without rookie defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven, who are at the U.S. World Junior Championship camp. They also missed Harrison Blaisdell, who was injured Sunday against Western Michigan.
"Harrison Blaisdell is getting better," Berry said. "I would say he's day to day. He's doing some rehab and different things. I think he's getting close here."