OMAHA, Neb. -- Jake Sanderson has played in 11 college hockey games for UND.
Most of the time, the freshman defenseman has spent third periods locking down leads. UND is a perfect 11-0-0 when leading after two periods this season.
But Saturday night presented a fairly new situation.
For just the second time in Sanderson's career, UND trailed by a goal or two in the third period and needed to push for an equalizer. Both times, Sanderson showed an elite offensive ability that not many college hockey players possess.
The first time UND faced a one-goal, third-period deficit with Sanderson was Game 2 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Pod against Denver.
Sanderson made a key play to tie it up. While his teammates changed lines, Sanderson took the puck to the corner in the offensive zone, protected it from Denver players, then fired a brilliant backhand pass to Ethan Frisch, who picked the corner of the net.
On Saturday, UND again faced a narrow deficit and let Sanderson roam free.
Less concerned about staying at home and defending, we saw just how dynamic of a presence Sanderson can be from the back end. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft was dominant in the third period, creating chances on nearly every shift.
He made one end-to-end rush, picking up the puck in his own zone, circling his own net, blowing past Omaha's Martin Sundberg in the defensive zone to create space, zipping by Omaha's Joey Abate in the neutral zone and carrying it all the way to the left circle for a scoring chance.
He made another play settling down a puck in the right circle, dangling around Omaha's best defenseman, Brandon Scanlin, carrying it to the crease and attempting to flip it past Omaha goalie Isaiah Saville, who made a shoulder save. When that didn't go, Sanderson tracked down his own rebound in the left circle, stole the puck from Omaha's Kevin Conley, skated into space and fed teammate Mark Senden for a Grade-A scoring chance on top of the crease.
Jake Sanderson creating offense Saturday night. pic.twitter.com/OknEh8bYDc— Brad Elliott Schlossman (@SchlossmanGF) February 1, 2021
"Boy, Sanderson is taking this game. . . or trying to take this game over," Omaha color commentator Terry Leahy said on the television broadcast. "He's getting close."
UND never ended up tying the game, losing 5-4 to the Mavericks.
Sanderson wasn't rewarded for his work, but the third period showed a way the Fighting Hawks will be able to use their prized rookie defenseman.
If UND needs a goal late in games, it can let Sanderson roam, and he can create offense out of nowhere. It's a rare ability these days for players to be able to single-handedly break down defenses, but Sanderson possesses it.
Of course, coach Brad Berry would rather Sanderson assume his other role more often: shutting down opponent attacks to maintain third-period leads and seal victories.