Grand Forks, ND – After clinching the Penrose Cup last weekend in Oxford, Ohio, the University of North Dakota hockey team came into the Friday’s game looking to take a 1-0 series lead against the Colorado College Tigers.

Wins don’t come easy in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. I know it sounds cliche’, but every game is a war and you can’t take a night off. Games against the eighth place teams aren’t a gimme, either. When the NCHC playoffs start, every team in the league is battle tested and ready to go. To get the win, you have to play a 60-minute game. This has been a re-occurring theme all season long.

At the 08:01 mark of the first period, UND would strike first with a power play goal from senior forward Brendan O’Donnell. O’Donnell would blast a shot from the slot to give UND a 1-0 lead. Assisting on O’Donnell’s 12th marker of the year was defensemen Paul LaDue and Nick Mattson.  UND would lead 1-0 after one and out shot C.C. in the first period 6-5.

UND would push the lead to 2-0 with a blast from Mattson from the top of the left faceoff circle. UND wasn’t satisfied with a 2-0 lead, senior forward Conner Gaarder would extend the lead to 3-0 with a goal at the 19:56 mark of the second period. UND would out shoot C.C. 15-12 in the middle period.

In the third period, the Tigers would get some temporary life with an unassisted goal from sophomore forward Matt Hanson.

But that was all the closer C.C. would get as sophomore defenseman Paul LaDue would stop the Tigers momentum with a blast from the blue line to give UND another three-goal lead at the 04:01 mark of the third period. UND wasn’t done yet, they would score another goal three minutes later to give UND a 5-1 win and a 1-0 series lead.

Head coach Dave Hakstol seemed somewhat pleased with his team’s effort after the game.

“Tonight, we certainly weren’t at our best,” Hakstol said. “Especially in the first 30 minutes of this game. We worked hard to work our way into the game. Fortunately, we were able to build a lead at the end of the second and through the third. We had to really challenge ourselves. Not as a group of forwards. Not as a group of defensemen. As a team, we have to challenge ourselves to be a little bit better tomorrow.”

Seniors come up big for UND

Earlier in the season, senior defenseman Nick Mattson was a healthy scratch for nine games. After sitting out four straight games, Mattson returned to the lineup on December 13, 2014 against the Denver Pioneers. Since his return, the Chanhassen, MN native has been on fire.   He’s been smoking not. In the 18 games since, Mattson has scored (3g-14a—17pts). That leads the team.

“I think especially at Christmas, I just felt like… it was really frustrating – I knew I could help the team,” Mattson said. “But even when I was getting a chance to go in, I was just playing too passive. I just kind of decided to throw all of the doubts and fears out of my mind and just let it all hang loose and see what happens. It feels pretty good to be able to play up to the standard that I think I can and help the team win.”

Mattson isn’t the only on playing well. During that same time frame, senior forward Connor Gaarder has also been on a tear scoring (5g-7a—12pts). Gaarder credited his line mates for his success.

“I guess our line is just clicking pretty well here,” Gaarder said. “O’D and Pogo there are doing the things that we need to do – getting pucks in – playing simple hockey and capitalizing on the opportunities we are given. It’s a team game and it just goes from there.”

“His line has been consistent,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “They’re a hard-nosed group. They go out and play the same way every day and every shift. It’s been a real good combination and scored some big goals for us. As importantly, they’re just a hard group to play against.”

UND will attempt to get the series sweep as the same two teams play again tomorrow night at 7:07 p.m. CT.

Stats

With the win, UND improves to 26-7-3. With the loss, the Tigers drop to 6-23-6.

From the interesting stats department: The University of North Dakota has never lost a hockey game when senior forward Brendan O’Donnell has scored a goal during his career. Over the last four years, UND is 21-0-1 when O’Donnell dents the twine.

(Offical Box Score)

About The Author

College Hockey Writer, Contributing Editor

Eric Burton is a 1996, 1999 graduate of the University of North Dakota. Eric covers college hockey and the University of North Dakota for Inside Hockey. Eric is the editor of the SIN BIN. Lastly, Eric was the college hockey writer for The Hockey Writers.

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