The University of North Dakota hockey team headed to Omaha minus 72 points (Shane Pinto 28 pts, Jordan Kawaguchi 26 points, and Grant Mismash 18 pts) from their lineup. The three high-end players from UND’s top-six forward positions didn’t even make the trip. They sat this one out.
With clinching the Penrose Cup, UND had the luxury of resting some of their players that were banged up. Make no mistake about it, if this had been an NCHC or an NCAA playoff game they would’ve played tonight. On Friday night, shorthanded or not, it didn’t seem to matter.
At the 7:29 mark of the first period, UND’s Mark Senden scored the game’s first goal on the power play. The Mavericks would get the game-tying goal 27 seconds into the second period. The Fighting Hawks would re-take the lead with a power play goal from Jake Sanderson at the 8:41 mark of the second period.
The Mavericks kept pressing.
At the 17:17 mark of the third period, the Mavericks tied the game with a goal from Sophomore forward Jack Randl. It looked like the game was headed to overtime, but it wasn’t meant to be. With 3:43 remaining in the third period, Maverick defenseman Jason Smallidge took an ill-advised two-minute minor for interference. Fighting Hawks forward Jasper Weatherby scored the game-winning goal on the ensuing power play to give UND a 3-2 lead. Sophomore forward Judd Caulfield would ice the game with a shorthanded empty-net goal.
In the post-game press conference, Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet expressed his displeasure with the penalty at the end of the game.
“It’s disappointing,” Gabinet said. “I think that close in the game, you’d always like to see the players dictate the outcome of the game. I feel for our guys, that’s a tough way to lose the hockey game, but at the end of the day, nobody cares about it and we can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”
In the end, the game came down to special teams.
“You got to give their power play credit,” Gabinent said. They got one of the top power plays in the country and they’re capitalizing on it.”
When it was all said and done, nothing changed, the Fighting Hawks again ended up on top of the Omaha Mavericks, 4-2. The Hawks scored three on the power play and one shorthanded into an open net. Moreover, in the last three games against the Mavericks, the Hawks have dominated them, outscoring them 15-4. Against the Mavericks, the Hawks have also gone 7-for-15 on the man advantage. The Mavericks penalty kill (78/91) has given up 13 power play goals all season long, UND has scored 8 of those.
During January, the puck wasn’t going in junior forward Jasper Weatherby. He went scoreless in six games the Hawks played in January. During the last seven games, the Ashland, Oregon native has been on a torrid pace scoring (8g-4a–12pts), in the last seven games. During those seven games, he’s also had three multi-point games. On Friday, he surpassed his career-high in goals.
So what is going on with Weatherby?
“He exudes confidence, head coach Brad Berry said. “There’s a maturity process. Having a letter. Being a leader on our team, one of the leaders on our team. And now, he’s had some success offensively, and I think it’s one of those things for him and Juddy Caulfield. To be specific, they’re playing with a lot of confidence, and they’re not worried about making a mistake. They just play it free, but you know committed to what our structure is and that’s good to see.”
Weatherby’s play hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.
“He’s tearing it up,” Freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson said. “That’s what he’s doing.
This really was a character win for the Fighting Hawks. They were missing some key guys and didn’t miss a beat. The players that traveled to Omaha embraced the next-man-up philosophy.
“We’ve had a lot of wins this year, 18 of them, but this has to rank way up there, with one of the sweeter ones just because of a lot of influential players out of our lineup, and not missing a beat,” Berry said. “We did not score a 5-on-5 goal … we scored three power play goals and I think an empty netter. It’s one of those things where we did what we had to do. And you’re right, it builds your team and builds the character of the team and, we’re gonna be better for a year going down the stretch.”
With the win, UND improves to 18-4-1 and leads the NCHC with 53 points. With the loss, UNO falls to 10-9-4 and sits in fourth place with 38 points.