UND lets another game slip in third period, falls to Denver in series opener
The Pioneers used a goal from rookie forward Jared Wright to beat the Fighting Hawks in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
GRAND FORKS — The UND men's hockey team has lost four times this season and tied twice.
The Fighting Hawks led in five of those six games.
The other one was Friday night in Ralph Engelstad Arena. That one was there for the taking, too.
But once again, UND could not find a way to make the deciding play and come away with a victory. It was, instead, Denver rookie forward Jared Wright who banged home a rebound with 13:27 to go in the third period to lift Denver to a 3-2 win over UND in a showdown between the two teams who tied for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's Penrose Cup a year ago.
UND now sits at 4-4-2 entering Saturday night's series finale, which is scheduled for 6:07 p.m.
The record could be much better, but UND has consistently squandered opportunities since sweeping Holy Cross in the season-opening weekend. Consider:
- Against Quinnipiac, the Fighting Hawks led the series opener with 10 minutes to go, but allowed the tying goal. The game finished in a tie.
- Against Minnesota, UND gave up game-tying goals in the third period in back-to-back nights. Both games went to overtime. Minnesota won one; UND won the other.
- Against Arizona State in Las Vegas, the game was tied in the third period. Arizona State scored the winner.
- And last weekend at Omaha, UND held a lead Saturday night with 11 minutes to go in the third and gave up a tying goal.
"It's right there, always, for us," UND captain Mark Senden said. "We have to find a way. We have to bear down on our chances. We have to find a way. It just comes down to winning those puck battles, those 50-50 puck battles in the corner, being hard and also rolling shifts, putting shifts together and hitting them in waves."
UND has outscored its opponents 12-6 in first periods this season, 14-12 in the second, but it has been outscored 10-8 in the third.
"It's just having more consistent habits and details when the game is on the line," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Situations where, I think, in all three of those goals (allowed), we didn't advance pucks. In the D-zone, we swung by and let a guy be open in the middle of the ice. And in the very last one, one guy is skating by two of our guys in front to tap a puck in. When goals are tough to come by, it's being tighter defensively and making sure you have the habits and details to play a little more in the offensive zone."
The end result obscured the fact that UND did a lot of things well Friday.
Despite losing top-pair defenseman Tyler Kleven to an injury just five minutes into the game, UND held Denver to 19 shots on goal. It was just the second time the Pioneers have been held under 20 shots in the last four seasons. The other was the 2021 National Collegiate Hockey Conference semifinals, when UND held Denver to 18 in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The Fighting Hawks kept Denver's prolific top line of Carter Mazur, Massimo Rizzo and Casey Dornbach off the scoresheet. Mazur, who entered the game ranked second nationally in goals with 10, did not even register a shot on goal.
UND won the special teams battle. Chris Jandric scored on the power play to extend UND's streak of scoring with the extra man in every game this season. His snipe from the point tied the game 2-2 in the opening minute of the third. Meanwhile, UND's penalty killers were excellent, holding Denver scoreless on six power-play chances, including a five-on-three for 1:47 in the first.
"We did a lot of things," said Berry, who did not know the extent of Kleven's injury immediately after the game. "I thought we did a pretty good job with their higher offensive players, but at the end of the day, everybody's got to do their job. If you have three, four or five guys that miss assignments or are not playing to their capabilities, that's what happens against a very good team."
For Denver, trips to Ralph Engelstad Arena have not gone well in recent years — and this one started as an adventure, too.
Denver's United Airlines flight to Fargo on Thursday afternoon was canceled because of Blizzard Alexandra. The Pioneers changed flights and found a later departure to Minneapolis-St. Paul on Southwest Airlines. They arrived in the Twin Cities at about 10:30 p.m. Thursday and spent the night at a hotel.
Denver took a bus to Grand Forks on Friday, arriving at about 4 p.m.
Despite the chaotic travel schedule, the Pioneers went on to get a win, which has eluded them in Grand Forks. They had previously lost seven straight against UND in the building and won just twice in the last 19.
The Pioneers used key contributions from their rookies. Wright, a Los Angeles Kings draft pick, had a goal and an assist. His linemate, Chicago Blackhawks pick Aidan Thompson, had a goal and an assist. Second-line center Carter King had Denver's other goal.
UND received a power-play goal from Jandric and an even-strength goal from its fourth line when Griffin Ness punched home a centering pass from defenseman Ryan Sidorski.
"I do feel we're close," Berry said. "I give Denver credit. They deserve it. They won the game tonight. But sometimes we beat ourselves a little bit. There are situations where the games in the third period are up for grabs and we give up a goal at an inopportune time by beating ourselves a little bit instead of playing the percentages and playing those situations where you can have a chance to play in the offensive zone."
Berry said some players who were scratched Friday will be in the lineup Saturday. The options are forwards Matteo Costantini, Ben Strinden and Carson Albrecht.
"We just have to buy in, whether it's blocking shots, getting pucks out or chipping it out," Jandric said. "It's unacceptable we're losing these games here."