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Saunders makes 36 saves against Nebraska-Omaha as North Dakota snaps losing skid

 Saunders makes 36 saves against Nebraska Omaha as North Dakota snaps losing skidOMAHA, Neb. — No. 11 North Dakota put to bed Sunday its first four-game losing streak in almost seven years, thanks to a gritty 3-2 win over Nebraska-Omaha at CenturyLink Center.

With an increasingly short bench – UND only had 12 available forwards coming into this weekend and lost senior defenseman and captain Dillon Simpson in Sunday’s second period – things have been rough early on this season for UND. Senior goaltender Clarke Saunders stepped up Sunday, though, making 36 saves in the winning effort.

The victory boosted UND’s record to 3-4-1 overall and 2-4-0 in the NCHC. With its first NCHC loss, UNO fell to 5-5-0 and 3-1-0 in the league.

UND coach Dave Hakstol said after the game that he wasn’t so much relieved to see his team snap its losing skid as he was happy that his group was rewarded for its efforts Sunday evening.

“It’s a sense of being happy for the guys,” Hakstol said. “We’ve worked hard and we can’t go back and get last weekend back. You can’t do it over. We shot ourselves in the foot last weekend [being swept at home by St. Cloud State], but we wanted to put that behind us and come in here and play hard.

“We did that last night, but ended up on the short end, so we wanted to come in tonight and play as hard as we could, play as a team and get a win, and that’s what we did. This is a real good win tonight for our team.”

UND was looking Sunday to put an end to its first four-game losing streak since December of 2006 and its first goal of this game came on the first of two soft goals UNO netminder Kirk Thompson gave up.

The lead-up to Sunday’s opening goal, coming just 2:26 into the game, was innocuous enough, but ended disastrously for the hosts. UND’s Coltyn Sanderson dumped the puck into the UNO zone for a line change, but when Thompson fumbled it and didn’t seem to know where it was, UND forward Derek Rodwell raced in and swatted home from the top of the crease.

UNO defenseman Ian Brady leveled the score at 15:21 of the same period with a power-play goal, but the visitors canceled out Brady’s tally and then some in the second period.

First, UND’s second goal of the night came on another goal Thompson will want to have back. UND forward Michael Parks raced into the Mavericks’ zone on a 2-on-1 and kept the puck despite running out of room near the goal line, but he made a cut towards the net and, from no more than a few feet, slid the puck between Thompson’s legs at 6:11.

Life got even better for the visitors 2:39 later when forward Drake Caggiula crashed the Omaha net and redirected a Rocco Grimaldi shot past UNO backup goalie Reed Peters to extend the lead to 3-1.

Josh Archibald pulled a goal back with 12 seconds remaining in Sunday’s middle frame with a power-play goal. Wristing a shot from the top of the crease over Saunders’ glove and into the net did the trick for Archibald’s eighth goal in 10 games so far this young season.

Unfortunately for the Mavericks, though, a second equalizer never came. UNO had its opportunities, including a 5-on-3 power play for 1:46 in the third period, but Saunders and the defense in front of him held on.

Hakstol was generally pleased with, apart from the penalty issues, his team’s performance in the final 20 minutes in the series.

“I liked our third period,” Hakstol said. “Five-on-five, I thought we did a very good job and I thought we ran the clock and I thought we limited opportunities and [UNO's] time in our zone, but we got ourselves into some trouble with penalties and had to weather that storm.”

On the other side of the dressing room divide, UNO coach Dean Blais said he’d been hoping for a late equalizer for the Mavericks that never came.

“I thought we were going to tie the game in the third period and we seem to have the magic in overtime,” Blais said, also referring to a pair of 3-2 overtime wins UNO had last weekend at Denver.

“But I was just hoping we’d get to be in overtime because, obviously, being down 3-1, if you tie the game, you’ve done something good, and we had our opportunities.”

Both teams will be at home next weekend against ranked competition. UND welcomes No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth to Grand Forks, N.D., next Friday and Saturday, while UNO is at home to No. 2 Michigan.

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