North Dakota back strong
North Dakota has, over the last 15 years, established a reputation as one of the best second-half teams in the country. After a by their standards middling first half, the Fighting Hawks have returned with a vengeance. After starting with a 3-1 win over No. 10 Union on Dec. 31, they swept No. 18 Omaha in Omaha this weekend in convincing fashion, 9-1 and 7-3. Having sophomore forward Brock Boeser back in the line-up healthy after he played much of the first half injured and then needed wrist surgery may have been the spark North Dakota needed. In Friday’s 9-1 win, Boeser scored just 3:30 into the first period, leading to a five-goal explosion from the Hawks. Boeser also scored at 14:22 of the first, North Dakota’s fifth goal of the period. North Dakota chased starting goaltender Evan Weninger at just 13:57 of the first, after the fourth goal, which came on North Dakota’s 10th shot of the period. Boeser added a goal and assist on Saturday in a 7-3 win, while Tyson Jost, back from playing for Canada in the World Juniors, had two goals and an assist.
North Dakota has now moved into third place in the NCHC standings, three points ahead of fourth-place Western Michigan and four ahead of fifth-place Miami.
Colorado College rides momentum
Colorado College had earned just three wins in the first half of the year, but started the second half by beating Merrimack and Cornell to win the Florida College Hockey Classic. The Tigers used that boost in their confidence to take four of six conference points this weekend on the road at No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth. Friday, the Tigers took a 2-1 lead into the third period after rallying from a 1-0 deficit, with Sam Rothstein scoring at 15:36 of the first short-handed and Matt Hansen scoring a power-play goal at 7:40 of the second. It looked like CC would take the win, but Neal Pionk scored an extra-attacker goal with 42 seconds left in the game, and then Pionk scored in the three-on-three overtime to earn Duluth the extra point. CC learned its lesson from that game and held on Saturday for the 2-1 win. Mason Bergh put CC on the board at 3:46 of the first. Adam Johnson tied it for UMD on a five-on-three power play at 4:45 of the second, but CC got a five-on-three power-play goal at 8:57 of the second for a 2-1 lead, and Alex Leclerc made nine saves in the third period to preserve the win.
The Tigers got success from two areas that have been a focus. CC coach Mike Haviland said last week in an interview that his team wanted to improve the power play by working to “simplify it and just outwork teams on the power play and have that mentality, because it’s going to be crucial for us in the second half in our conference to win those special teams’ wars.”
He also had praise for freshman netminder Alex Leclerc, saying of his play of late that “He’s starting to settle in and he’s got an extremely high work ethic, and he’s a very dedicated young man trying to get better and better in his craft.” Leclerc has held opponents to one or less goals four times in CC’s last six games, and held teams to two and three goals in the other two games.
Miami starts strong
Like other teams in the conference, Miami was looking to hit the reset button coming out of the break, and the RedHawks have done so, following up a 6-3 win over in-state rival Ohio State with a sweep of St. Cloud State over the weekend. Friday, the RedHawks rallied from a a one-goal deficit twice, getting a tying goal from Josh Melnick on an extra-attacker goal with just 57 seconds left in the game after Blake Winiecki had scored on a power play at 17:01 of the third to put St. Cloud up 2-1. Melnick then scored on a power play at 1:23 of the OT to get the RedHawks the win. Miami then came out in impressive fashion Saturday, getting a short-handed goal from Kiefer Sherwood at 10:09 of the first and what turned out to be the game-winner from Gordie Green at 1:02 of the third, with Sherwood getting an assist. St. Cloud pulled to within one on a goal by Jake Wahlin at 13:58, but Melnick scored on a power play at 15:10 of the third and Grant Hutton added an empty-netter at 19:17 to seal the win.
After a stretch that began on Oct. 29 that saw Miami go 0-7-3, Miami has now won four straight games, including three in the NCHC, to move up to fifth place in the standings. The RedHawks trail Western Michigan for the final home ice spot by one point. Two of Miami’s NCHC wins have come in overtime. The RedHawks will travel this weekend to Grand Forks to take on red-hot North Dakota.