Grand Forks, ND — On Friday night, the University of North Dakota reunited with an old foe. The Colorado College Tigers. It’s becoming a yearly event, UND and C.C. meeting in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs. UND has hosted CC in 2014, 2015, and 2016. In March of 2020, The Tigers were on a bus halfway between Minneapolis and Grand Forks, when they found out the playoffs had been canceled due to Covid.
In 2022-21, during the Covid shortened season, C.C. traveled to Grand Forks like everyone else in the NCHC. A depleted Tigers team would play the SCSU Huskies and lose 2-1 in the first round of the NCHC playoffs.
We fast forward to the present. It’s like Déjà vu all over again. Once again, the Tigers and the Fighting Hawks are playing in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Lately, CC hasn’t been very successful against UND. The Fighting Hawks have won 11 straight games against the Tigers. This season UND went 4-0 against the Tigers, outscoring them 16-5.
It’s been a rough season for the Tigers. They entered Friday’s game on a four-game losing streak and have won just twice in the last 12 games 2-10-0. Their two wins were in overtime against last-place Miami University.
On Friday night, UND defenseman Jake Sanderson returned to the lineup for the first time in 10 games (Olympics and Injury). For those keeping track at home, it had been 41 days since Sanderson last played for UND. Sanderson might have been a little rusty, but it didn’t show.
“I felt good,” “Sanderson said. “Jax (coach Dane Jackson) has been bagging me a lot. So I feel pretty good.”
The layoff or not, it didn’t matter, Sanderson immediately returned to the score sheet. At the 2:25 mark of the second period, Sanderson scored his 8th goal of the season, to give UND a 1-0 lead. Assisting on Sanderson’s goal, Judd Caulfied, and Jake Schmaltz. The Tigers would tie the game a minute and 12 seconds later when Tigers forward Jordan Biro would score his sixth goal of the season.
For the second weekend in a row, UND defenseman Tyler Kleven would score the game-winning goal. This time, it was at the 12:54 mark of the second period. Chris Jandric and Schmaltz would add assists. It was a hard shot from the top of the right faceoff dot. CC goalie Matt Vernon never saw it.
“It’s explosive,” UND head coach Brad Berry said. “It jumps off his stick.
On Friday, against the Tigers, there wasn’t a lot of time and space. It was a close checking game.
“They came out hard,” Sanderson said. “We knew they were going to come out hard. Their season is on the line right now. Credit them, but I think we’ve got to be a lot better. We’re going to bring it tomorrow.”
“I thought they played a pretty good road game,” Berry said. “They played hard. They checked hard. They played well. At the end of the day, we have to create a little bit more (offense) without being high risk. We have to have a better start tomorrow.”
How Did Sanderson Keep Busy During his Injury
While Sanderson was out of the lineup due to his injury, what did he do to keep himself mentally sharp?
“I watched a lot of hockey,” Sanderson said. “I read a couple of books. I tried to keep myself busy. I was able to skate which was kind of nice. just not shooting a lot. I kept my legs under me. I was able to practice with the guys, not do a lot.”
It wasn’t easy sitting on the sidelines.
“It’s tough any time you have to sit out and miss games,” Sanderson said. “But watching your team do well, makes it a lot easier.”
Kleven has scored the game-winning goal in two of the last three games. On the season, Kleven has three game-winning goals. He’s tied for the team lead with three other players. In 36 games, Kleven has scored (7g-3a–10pts), he’s also a plus-16.