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UND begins quest for fourth-straight Penrose Cup with win at Omaha

The Fighting Hawks used two goals from Riese Gaber and two assists from Nick Portz and Owen McLaughlin to win the NCHC opener.

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UND forward Jackson Blake skates with the puck as Omaha's Kirby Proctor defends on Nov. 4, 2022, in Baxter Arena.
Mark Kuhlmann / UND athletics

OMAHA, Neb. — What happened in Vegas, stayed in Vegas.

Six days after mustering only 15 shots on goal in a loss to Arizona State on the Las Vegas Strip, UND reached that shot total in less than 22 minutes Friday against Omaha.

Then, shot No. 16 went in the net and UND marched to a 4-1 win over the Mavericks in Baxter Arena.

Junior forward Riese Gaber scored twice, while Nick Portz and Owen McLaughlin each added two assists. Ethan Frisch continued UND's torrid run on the power play — it has scored on the advantage in every game this season — with a goal in the second. Grand Forks native also Jackson Kunz scored once.

"As tough as it is (to lose in Vegas), we can grow from that," Gaber said. "We know we've got better. We know that wasn't acceptable. I think coming into this week, it was just a mindset of playing for each other and having that pride and integrity, dig deep and turn it around. We have two choices. We can be complacent with what we were or strive for better. Tonight was a good step in the right direction."

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Returning to the building where it won a third-straight Penrose Cup in March, UND immediately started its quest for No. 4 in this year's National Collegiate Hockey Conference opener.

It finished with a 38-22 shots on goal advantage and fifth-year senior goalie Drew DeRidder (21 saves) kept the Mavericks at bay when they did get chances.

Omaha's only goal was on a point shot by former UND defenseman Jonny Tychonick in the second period.

"We were spitting nails after last weekend," Frisch said. "Monday was tough coming to the rink. It was a whole great week of building, getting back to our game and our structure. I thought we played pretty well for the most part. It was not quite a full 60 minutes but pretty darn close. It was good to see that we're getting on the right track."

UND (4-3-1) is trying to make program history by winning a league title four years in a row. That has never been done.

It has won three in a row twice. Former coach Dean Blais's teams won the MacNaughton Cup as Western Collegiate Hockey Association champs in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Brad Berry's squads won the Penrose in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

"We feel it's the hardest trophy to win in college sports," Frisch said. "We have a great league. Night in and night out, teams are battling. You've got to play a full 60 (minutes) or close to it. It's a hard thing to do, but getting that first one under us, taking it one game at a time — we know it's a 24-game schedule in conference and they're all going to be hard — but taking it one game at a time is going to be important."

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UND was forced to juggle its lines with the absence of Gavin Hain to a lower-body injury.

The new units seemed to click Friday.

McLaughlin set up Gaber for a second-period goal, while Portz sent Kunz on a rush for one.

"I think we simplified the game a little bit," Berry said. "We put pucks to the paint. There were a couple of jam plays early in the first period where I thought maybe we could have had a little bit more success and put one in, but we stuck with it. It wasn't just one or two lines. It was all four lines doing it. When you play in the offensive zone, it alleviates a lot of energy that you have to spend in the defensive zone."

It was a big change from the last four games, when UND generated 21, 18, 20 and 15 shots on goal.

UND scored first at 1:52 of the second period when Frisch one-timed a Chris Jandric pass into the net on the power play. That goal extended Jandric's point streak to a career-high eight games. Just 15 seconds later, Portz sprung Kunz on a partial breakaway. Omaha goalie Jake Kucharski (34 saves) made the initial stop, but Kunz followed it up and scored on his backhand.

The Fighting Hawks made it a 3-0 lead when Gaber sniped one from the left circle after McLaughlin left him a pass.

Gaber iced it at 11:33 of the third, putting away a feed from Portz for his second even-strength goal of the game.

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"Obviously, our five-on-five play has been lacking," said Gaber, who also had a disallowed goal. "Obviously, props to the guys on doing a good job there and just getting more pucks and bodies to the net and playing harder inside. It's been a lot of perimeter stuff lately. Getting there is tough, but nothing good comes easy. We've just got to keep doing that, and that's got to be the standard every night and every practice."

Notes: UND played without five injured players — Hain, forward Ben Strinden, forward Carson Albrecht, forward Dane Montgomery and defenseman Luke Bast. . . Omaha played without injured forward Matt Miller. . . The game was penalty-filled. UND was called for 10 penalties for 31 minutes. Ty Farmer was ejected for hitting from behind in the second period. . . Omaha was called for nine penalties for 29 minutes. Maverick forward Cameron Berg was ejected for contact to the head in the second period.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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