Jake Sanderson provides a little bit of magic for UND before heading to the Olympics
The UND sophomore defenseman scored a highlight-reel, game-tying goal as the Fighting Hawks nabbed five of six points from St. Cloud State.
GRAND FORKS — Jake Sanderson will board an early-morning flight Sunday at Grand Forks International Airport and begin his journey to the Olympic Games.
But the UND sophomore defenseman provided a little bit of magic in Ralph Engelstad Arena before heading out.
Sanderson scored a highlight-reel, game-tying goal in the third period as the Fighting Hawks rallied from down two goals to tie St. Cloud State 3-3 in the series finale on Saturday night. UND won the shootout to grab five of six National Collegiate Hockey Conference points on the weekend.
On the tying goal, rookie forward Nick Portz dished the puck to Sanderson in the right circle. Sanderson walked toward the slot, pulled the puck around St. Cloud State's Veeti Miettinen, shifted it back to his forehand and snapped it just inside the post with 8:58 to go.
Sanderson gave a big fist pump as his linemates jumped on him in front of a raucous student section.
"Pretty special," UND defenseman Chris Jandric said. "He's going to go to the Olympics for a reason. That shows you right there. Unbelievable talent on him and super humbling."
"He's fun to watch," captain Mark Senden said, laughing. "Something special, that's for sure."
"He's a stud," goalie Zach Driscoll said. "There's a reason why he's going overseas this week. Big-time players make those type of big-time plays and it's just fun to watch from my end, honestly. He battles so hard every single day. He's a leader on our team. It just shows when a guy steps up like that and can make a big play."
That's our Olympian! #UNDproud | #LGH pic.twitter.com/dkUbBxqQeo— North Dakota MHockey (@UNDmhockey) January 30, 2022
Sanderson's goal capped a rally for the Fighting Hawks, who trailed the Huskies 3-1 after the opening period.
Defenseman Ethan Frisch scored in the first and Chris Jandric buried his first as a Fighting Hawk in the second before Sanderson tied it in the third.
Ashton Calder scored the lone goal in a the shootout to give the Fighting Hawks an extra point in the standings, where they sit alone in second place. They're three points back of first-place Denver and three ahead of third-place Western Michigan.
"We took a step forward again," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Obviously, the first period tonight wasn't our sharpest of the weekend, but the resolve and resiliency and the character in the locker room came out in the second and third, and you know, we found a way to get a couple points out of it. We'll keep building on that."
After starting the 2022 calendar year with four-straight losses, the Fighting Hawks appeared to right the ship against the NCHC's preseason favorites. UND (14-10-1, 9-4-1 NCHC) scored 10 goals on the weekend and took eight of 12 points from the Huskies during the regular season.
"I'm proud of our guys as far as handling adversity through the last couple weeks and trying to get back on track," Berry said. "I thought our guys did a great job this weekend."
UND started freshman goalie Jakob Hellsten for a third-straight game, but pulled him for fifth-year senior Zach Driscoll after the first period. Hellsten allowed two goals on clean breakaways and another on St. Cloud State's nation-leading power play.
Driscoll, who played one season at St. Cloud State, was perfect for the remainder of the game, stopping all 20 shots during 45 minutes of play and going four-for-four in the shootout.
"I found out (I was going in) right there when coach came in after the first period," Driscoll said. "Obviously, he wasn't very happy. We weren't very happy with ourselves. Hats off to Helly. I think he played a really good weekend for us, especially Friday. We kind of left him out to dry there to start the game. I think it was more of just kind of a motivation thing for the group."
It marked UND's first time coming back from a two-goal deficit this season.
"I think it's obviously huge for us," Driscoll said. "I really hope it's something we can learn from. If you have resolve, if you stick to the game plan, we're a really good team. There have been instances in the past where if we've been down, we let it get to us and we crumble a bit. For us to be able to erase that two-goal deficit and just battle back and find a way to get those two points, we can look back at this game down the stretch, for sure."
Now, UND will begin a four- or six-game stretch without Sanderson, who will represent Team USA in the Beijing Olympics. One of his coaches there will be St. Cloud State's Brett Larson.
Sanderson will be gone for UND's next two home weekends against Omaha and Colorado College.
If the Americans are ousted early, Sanderson might be back for the Feb. 18-19 series at Minnesota Duluth. But it's more likely he will return for a home series Feb. 25-26 against Western Michigan.
Before heading out, Sanderson gave UND fans a play to put in their memory banks until he returns.
"It was a high-end play," Berry said. "He's a difference-maker — his skating, his vision, his defending is elite. He's a total all-around player."