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Not bad, not great: UND ends nonconference season with 2-2 tie against Bemidji State

Bemidji State goalie Michael Bitzer blocks a goal attempt by North Dakota's Cole Smith Saturday night, Jan. 13, at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service1 / 3
North Dakota's Nick Jones and Bemidji State captain Kyle Bauman face off for the puck in the second period of their Saturday, Jan. 13, hockey game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service2 / 3
North Dakota forward Joel Janatuinen tries to stuff the puck past Bemidji State goaltender Michael Bitzer in the first period of their hockey game Saturday, Jan. 13, in Grand Forks. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service3 / 3

GRAND FORKS—The University of North Dakota men's hockey team ended the nonconference portion of its schedule Saturday, Jan. 13, with a game that perfectly summed up its nonconference season.

It wasn't exactly what UND wanted.

But it was good enough and the Fighting Hawks will take it.

UND tied Bemidji State 2-2 in front of 11,868 fans in Ralph Engelstad Arena to put its nonconference record at 6-2-4.

UND had one sweep (St. Lawrence), three wins and ties (Alaska Anchorage, Wisconsin, Bemidji State), one split (Minnesota) and one loss and tie (Union).

When UND heads to Minnesota Duluth next weekend, it will be at No. 10 in the Pairwise Rankings.

That would be good enough for the Fighting Hawks to extend college hockey's second-longest string of NCAA appearances ever to 16 years. But it's not enough that they have a lot of room for error.

"I thought we played hard through those nonconference games," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Probably wanted back a couple of those games we tied. But, for the most part, it was respectable. Now, we're on to the NCHC for the remaining schedule and we've got to make sure we play a consistent brand of hockey and get into the national tournament."

UND senior goalie Cam Johnson added: "I thought we did pretty good. We took care of business when we had to. Nonconference play obviously is important. For example, tonight, we wanted to get that win. But a tie isn't bad. I thought we played the right way. We just got a couple of unlucky bounces there. Overall, I'm pretty happy with how we did nonconference-wise. It wasn't anything too crazy, but we didn't do so bad. So, it is what it is and we'll take it."

That also summed up the series finale against the Beavers.

UND (12-6-6 overall) received an even-strength goal from Nick Jones early in the second period and a power-play goal from Christian Wolanin late in the second.

Wolanin's goal came during a five-minute major power play after Bemidji State's Jordan Heller was tossed for checking Dixon Bowen from behind.

But the Beavers (11-7-6) came with a strong push in the third period and tied it at 10:17, when Kyle Bauman's shot from the left circle hit the skate of Bemidji State's Dillon Eichstadt, then hit the skate of UND defenseman Colton Poolman, and got past Johnson (18 saves).

Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said it was key to only allow UND a single goal on the major power play.

"Giving up one goal in that particular situation was actually kind of a win," said Serratore, whose team entered the weekend on a nine-game unbeaten streak. "After that five minute major, I thought we dictated play. I thought we played more of a 200-foot game. We were getting pucks behind their 'D', keeping pucks low. For once, we put their defenders on their heels like they put us on our heels basically the whole weekend. It was about time we did that."

UND played the game without top-line center Rhett Gardner and third-line winger Trevor Olson, who both sustained injuries during Friday night's series opener.

"I thought, for some reason, the energy ran out a little on us," Berry said. "We called upon some players to play heavy minutes over the last couple of games.

"I think (the Beavers) got stronger as the game went on. There's a reason why they were undefeated in nine games before we played them. Whether they were leading or chasing games, that's what they do. They have a history to be just like that. We knew what they were. We didn't finish the game tonight, but I'm proud of the way our guys responded with two of our leaders out."

UND will play at Minnesota Duluth, then host defending national champion Denver in the next two weekends before having a one-week break.

Then, the Fighting Hawks will close with Colorado College at home, back-to-back road trips to Omaha and Miami, and one more home series against St. Cloud State.

UND won't play a nonconference team until the NCAA tournament—should UND make it.

"Obviously, we take nonconference games very seriously," Wolanin said. "We know how important they are at the end of the year. We definitely gave it our all in every series. Hopefully, at the end of the season, it will help us in the Pairwise."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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