Things are not well in Grand Forks.
After a Friday shutout by former UND verbal commit Cam Rowe and a blown three-goal lead defeat on Saturday, the Fighting Hawks are looking for answers as they fight for their tournament lives. Friday night was a game where North Dakota had all the chances in the world, but couldn’t find a way to bury them. Saturday night, the Hawks got on the board quickly and looked to have broken the defensive spell of Western Michigan– until their own defensive faults lead to a 7-6 loss and getting swept at home for the first time in the new calendar year.
One story on Friday was Cam Rowe’s play in net, as he looked solid between the pipes, stopping all UND threw at him and captured his second shutout of the season. Another story was Tyler Kleven taking a major penalty and game misconduct at the end of the second period, which resulted in a Jason Polin insurance goal for Western Michigan to secure the first win of the weekend. The Kleven penalty resulted in a suspension for himself and diminished an already depleted UND roster in the blue line.
Saturday started as a feel-good story with Grand Forks native and redshirt freshman Kaleb Johnson getting his first start for the Hawks. Johnson played well to start the game, while the Hawks were able to support him with a 5-2 lead through 43:15 of play. Then Luke Grainger came into the fold and took over, starting with his goal with 5:28 remaining in the second. Then Grainger had a hand in four of the last five Broncos goals, as they came all the way back to take the lead before an Ethan Frisch power play game-tying goal. Then Carter Berger scored with under three minutes left and UND snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Not only was this a blow to the Pairwise ranking for UND, but in the NCHC standings, as well. North Dakota is looking at a playoff series on the road if they can’t run the table in the remaining conference games. With how inconsistent the Hawks have been this season on both sides of the puck, it’s a big question mark to see whether or not this team can flip the switch as the stretch run goes onward.
“We know what we need to do,” UND captain Mark Senden said. “We talk about all the right things. We just have to go out there and execute.”
“We know our structure,” Frisch said. “We play it well most the game. Once we get on our heels, we don’t have confidence in ourselves. It creeps back in our game where we’re not being responsible. We’re not being mentally tough enough. It’s mental toughness and overall mentality of our group.”
So with a team that has a bit of mental toughness questions– how does this team not go into full panic mode??
“We got to keep guys positive, keep guys up on the bench,” mentioned Senden. “Whether some guy makes a blocked shot or makes a nice play; we got to cheer for those little things and make sure guys know those small details matter. We just have to believe in ourselves, have trust in ourselves that we’re all good hockey players here. We just got to go out and play to our abilities.”
“It all starts with leadership,” Frisch added. “We can be better. Everyone on the bench. Just positive talk and making sure we’re addressing the things we need to be addressed and not getting down on each other.”
Now, as the season winds down and their hope to get into the NCAA tournament starts to fade; it almost seems like it’s too late to go back to the drawing board. With Duluth coming into The Ralph this coming weekend; the mental toughness will be at the forefront and the panic button may be hovered over.
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