Grand Forks, ND — The University of North Dakota hockey team renewed its bitter rivalry with the Denver Pioneers on Friday night. Entering this critical conference series was a lot of buildup. First place was on the line and solidification of the all-important Pairwise Rankings. UND would impressively win the game, limiting the Pioneers to just two shots in the first period and playing its best defensive game of the year. When the final horn sounded, UND had beaten the high-flying Pioneers 5-2. Here are three things that stuck out in game one.
UND Defense Shines
How good was UND’s defense? Denver is the top offensive team in the country, and they’re averaging 5.1 goals per game. For comparison’s sake, UND is the fifth-ranked team in goals scored. Entering Friday’s game, the Pioneers scored at least three goals in every game. On Friday night, UND’s defense held the Pioneer’s high-flying offense to two goals and Massimo Rizzo and Jack Devine without a point.
“We know they’re a good rush team,” head coach Brad Berry said. “They jump four or five guys at that time. Puck management is one thing, and making sure that you close on guys quicker. When we give that team a little room, they can make plays, and our guys did a good job from start to finish, taking time and space away.”
Friday, against the Pioneers, UND played its best defensive game of the year, and they were rewarded.
Keaton Pehrson Shines with Hawks
Last season, UND lost all of their defensemen either to the transfer portal or graduation; one of the guys signed during the offseason was former Michigan Wolverine defenseman Keaton Pehrson. The fifth-year graduate student has proved to be a great addition to the UND hockey team. Pehrson is solid on the ice and marks very few mistakes. In 20 games with UND (he missed five games with an injury), Pehrson has scored (0g-5a-5pts) and is a plus-six. He plays with Jake Livanavage on the top pairing, and they’ve been solid all season long.
While Pehrson doesn’t score many points, he’s a valuable player for the UND lineup. In the preseason, his teammates selected him as an assistant captain.
“He’s a glue guy,” Berry said. “We vote for our captains, and not many guys come in as transfers, especially a one-year transfer, and get voted for by his peers to be a captain. He’s such a good, stable defenseman back there. He doesn’t get the accolades of some other guys. Winning and championship teams are laced with guys like him who will do whatever it takes. The six on five at the end of the game; we’re up a goal and score two empty netter goals. It only happens if you have guys selling out, blocking shots, and doing whatever it takes to help us win a game, and he’s been a huge part of our success here this year.”
Griffin Ness Shines in Limited Ice Time
UND forward Griffin Ness is a team-first player. At the same time, he’s not always in the lineup. According to his head coach, he never complains. He’s played in 18 of 25 games and been a healthy scratch in seven of UND’s games.
“He has a team-first mentality,” Berry told the Grand Forks Herald. “He’s always doing whatever is asked of him in any situation. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to be called upon and be expected to come in and play well. But he’s responded every time. Teams that have depth have a chance to win down the road. He has another opportunity to do that.”
Last night in the second period, he scored his third goal of the season to give UND a 2-0 lead. Ness’s goal sent the hometown fans into a frenzy. His goals also gave his teammates on the bench a much-needed lift.
“Coach (Berry) talked about it before the game: how everyone is important,” Pehrson said. “Ness has been doing a great job over his time here and doesn’t complain. It shows how good he is, and he’s ready whenever his number gets called.”
— North Dakota Hockey (@UNDmhockey) January 27, 2024