LAS VEGAS — On Saturday night in Las Vegas, North Dakota called and raised its own standard for destination college hockey games.
In front of 7,412 mostly green-clad fans at Orleans Arena, UND (2-2-1) used a pair of Colton Poolman goals to come away with a 3-1 victory over the Minnesota (1-1-1), the latest triumph in its series of splashy games at marquee locations around the country.
After victories in Winnipeg in 2012 (Clarkson), the outdoor game in Omaha in 2013 and a 4-3 victory over Boston College at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 2015, there was a ton of buzz in North Dakota when the school announced the next destination: Las Vegas, against the rival Golden Gophers.
The night didn’t disappoint. The sold out Orleans Arena hosted another fierce chapter in the storied rivalry, with big hits and big controversies. For the Fighting Hawks players, it was an unforgettable experience.
“It was crazy,” senior Rhett Gardner said. “I’ve been to a Frozen Four, played a ton of games at the Ralph and the Fargo regional — that was the craziest atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of. It was incredible. I’m so glad we got a win to reward all the people that came down here and wore green all week.”
UND coach Brad Berry and his team knew that the miles traveled by one of college hockey’s strongest fan bases was worth rewarding, just as it was in New York, Omaha and Winnipeg. That point was driven home when the team walked past the buzzing pregame tailgate party in the warm Las Vegas sun Saturday afternoon.
“There’s an obligation on the part of our program here to give back to the players, to the fans that came before us,” Berry said. “They laid the blocks and foundation for our program here. When you walk over and see that tailgate party. Hundreds and hundreds of people in there. We walked right by it today on the way to the rink. Our guys didn’t want to let them down. They felt like there was a big obligation, and I think that’s a reason we do well in these types of games.”
This game, played as the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game, showcased the college game to a burgeoning hockey town.
However, the Orleans Arena hadn’t seen a hockey game since the demise of the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers in 2014, and at times it showed. The game was interrupted multiple times to repair various parts of the dashers around the rink.
UND found itself down early in the second period. Grant Mismash received a checking from behind major and game misconduct at 3:39 of the second, and a five-on-three ensued due to a concurrent too many men penalty. Minnesota’s Brent Gates Jr. cashed in quickly on the ensuing five-on-three power play to put the Gophers on the board first.
But from that point, the No. 5 ranked Gophers couldn’t sustain much offense through all the penalties and delays for dasher maintenance.
“Even in the second period when we had the five-minute power play, guys started sitting on the bench,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “We got discombobulated. Guys were sitting for a long stretch, not getting a lot of playing time. There was no flow. Part of that might have creeped into us.”
— UND Insider (@undinsider) October 28, 2018
Poolman’s point shot at 15:11 of the second woke the partisan crowd back up, and UND controlled the game the rest of the way, feeding off the crowd at every turn. Poolman then potted the eventual game-winner on a power play goal at 10:14 of the third — sending the crowd into a frenzy that only grew until Joel Janatuinen’s empty net goal with 42 seconds left clinched it.
“It’s huge, especially nonconference against a top-five opponent like that is going to be critical coming down the stretch there,” said Berry. “These ones matter just as the wins coming down the stretch. Getting a win like that, in a big setting like this, it’s huge for this team to realize how to play in settings like these.”
Fans at the tailgate party are already planning for the next big trip, wherever it may be.
“That was crazy,” Poolman said. “I’ll remember that noise forever. That was really loud. That came close to what the Ralph sounds like. They made it such a cool experience and I’m so happy we all came down here and played the way we did, because that’s how we’re going to remember it.”
Around the nation
No. 3 Minnesota Duluth 3, No. 1 Notre Dame 1
It will likely be a short-lived stay at the top of the USCHO.com poll for Notre Dame as the Irish fell to No. 3 Minnesota Duluth, 3-1, completing the weekend sweep of the two-game series for the Bulldogs.
Minnesota Duluth jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a first-period tally by Kobe Roth and a Noah Cates goal early in the second.
After Bobby Nardella drew the Irish within a goal with 15:17 remaining, it was another Cates, this time brother Jackson, who added the insurance goal for Minnesota Duluth.
Both Jackson and Noah Cates finished the game with a goal and an assist each for the Bulldogs.
Hunter Shepard stopped 27 shots to earn the win while Cale Morris saved 20 in defeat for the Irish.
No. 18 Northeastern 3, No. 2 St. Cloud State 2
Trailing 2-0 late in the second, Northeastern scored the game’s final three goals to upset second-ranked St. Cloud State, 3-2, handing them their first loss of the season.
St. Cloud grabbed a lead on a first period goal by Blake Lizotte and a tally by Jack Ahcan with 4:49 left in the second.
But an Eric Williams goal with 1:38 left in the second gave host Northeastern life.
Early in the third, Biagio Lerario knotted things on the power play and Grant Jozefek’s fourth of the season with 6:25 remaining was the game-winner.
— Northeastern MHKY (@GoNUmhockey) October 28, 2018
Cayden Prime stopped 25 shots for Northeastern.