With the weather turning cold this past week, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks migrated south to St. Cloud, and on Friday night, pecked and clawed their way to a 4-3 road victory over St. Cloud State to fly to the head of the flock in the NCHC conference standings.
Drake Caggiula scored a hat trick to lead his kettle of Fighting Hawks; newly named, though not yet wearing it on the crest of their jersey. The Huskies waddled to an early 1-0 lead, but Caggiula hatched a comeback with a pair of first period goals to put his team ahead after twenty minutes. The deciding goal came when the Husky defense laid an egg coming out of the locker room for the third period, and Caggiula caged his third goal by swooping to the front of the net for a rebound goal 28 seconds into the third period to give North Dakota a 4-2 lead. From there, the Hawks nested in front of goalie Matt Hrynkiw to protect their lead, and survived a final wing and a prayer from St. Cloud State for the 4-3 victory.
The two teams meet again tomorrow night at 7:07pm for the conclusion of their only regular season series.
Notes and Thoughts:
-St. Cloud State got as good a start as a team could hope to get. After winning a puck battle with a heavy forecheck, Patrick Newell fed Judd Peterson for the game's first goal. It got the big and lively crowd into the game right away. But the Huskies couldn't capitalize on the early momentum while North Dakota found their footing. The Huskies had a few opportunities to take a 2-0 lead on some defensive breakdowns that led to 2-on-1s.
Once North Dakota got into the game, they started to control the play and that led to a pair of goals for the Fighting Hawks. A good start doesn't mean all that much when you head into the locker room down a goal after the first period.
-St. Cloud State fans weren't happy about a first period penalty that led to North Dakota's second goal. On replay, I think the officials got it right. St. Cloud State's Patrick Russell was chasing a North Dakota defenseman in the UND zone, and as the defenseman tried to turn, Russell just barely caught his skate blades, which was enough to send him to the ice. Live, it looked like the defenseman fell on his own, but on replay, it looked like Russell just barely touched his skate, which was enough to trip up the defenseman.
-The difference in this game comes down to how dominant North Dakota's top line was all night. I was extremely impressed with sophomore Nick Schmaltz, who looks to have developed a lot in the past year. An increase in strength has made his skating so much better and he can attack so much more effectively because of it. Caggiula will draw headlines for his three goals, but all three were started by nice plays from Schmaltz. The Huskies had no answer for him all night.
Going +2 tonight, Schmaltz is now +18 on the season in just 13 games, with Caggiula and Boeser right behind him at +16 and +14 respectively. I've seen some good first lines this year, but that was by far the most impressive. One thing that stood out was their willingness, especially Schmaltz to always make the extra pass. That showed last week when they had that beautiful highlight reel goal. Tonight, they missed a few opportunities by over-passing, but it paid off on Caggiula's first period tic-tac-toe power play goal.
-The downside of that is that UND's other three lines weren't all that dangerous. In fact, I would say St. Cloud had the advantage in lines 2-4. Among the lower lines, I thought the Huskies third line was Eyssimont-Peterson-Newell was the best, with Newell buzzing around all night and creating opportunities.
But even if North Dakota lost that battle on the lower lines, they at least kept it close enough for their top line to take over. St. Cloud State's defense had been extremely good in the early season, but their lack of speed and muscle on the blue line got exposed a bit by North Dakota's top line.
-As for walk-on goalie Matt Hrynkiw, he played solid enough to win. He made some big saves, but his rebound control seemed iffy all night. Put him on another team and I think he might struggle, but North Dakota's defense did such a good job of tying guys up and clearing rebound opportunities quickly that it wasn't a fatal flaw.
-A bizarre situation in the second period. St. Cloud State took their timeout after North Dakota was whistled for a penalty. The reason, apparently, is that someone phoned St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko on the bench telling him to challenge a Husky shot that pretty clearly appeared to go off the cross bar. The challenge wasn't even reviewed, and it didn't really need to be because the puck wasn't close to being in the net.
The Huskies probably would have used that timeout late in the game with 5.2 seconds remaining and a face-off in the North Dakota zone too.
-A 4-3 hockey game with both teams going up-and-down the ice was extremely entertaining to watch. Both these teams are really good too. This was a really fun game to watch.
Shots on Goal: SCSU: 11-16-11 UND: 7-9-10
Even strength shot attempts: SCSU: 15-15- UND: 14-16-
Prime scoring area attempts: SCSU: 5-11 UND: 5-9-
What do the numbers tell us?
The first two periods were dead-even at even strength. St. Cloud State had more attempts on the power play, but North Dakota was more efficient, scoring twice on two attempts. North Dakota did pretty well in the prime scoring area, which is always a big key for them. All four goals were scored right at the goal crease.
2:20 Judd Peterson from Patrick Newell 1-0 St. Cloud State
Newell won the puck in the right corner and skated it out into the slot. He made a pass across the ice to Peterson who was wide open for a one-timer that he put in the back of the net.
6:20 Drake Caggiula from Troy Stecher and Nick Schmaltz 1-1 tie
Schmaltz fed the puck back to Stecher at the point. He took a high slap shot that Lindgren knocked down, but Caggiula was on the doorstep to put the rebound back into the net.
13:37 Drake Caggiula from Rhett Gardner and Nick Schmaltz (power play) 2-1 North Dakota
Schmaltz worked the puck from the right point down low to Gardner at the bottom of the circle. He made a cross ice to Caggiula on the weak side that Caggiula shot in for his second goal of the game.
5:48 Rhett Gardner from Brock Boeser and Troy Stecher (power play) 3-1 North Dakota
Boeser fired a slap pass to the front of the net from the high slot that Gardner stopped with his stick, then directed into the goal shortly after a 4-on-4 had expired, leaving North Dakota on a shortened power play.
16:29 Jimmy Murray from David Morley and Jimmy Schuldt (power play) 3-2 North Dakota
Morley passed the puck to Murray at the right circle and Murray slapped a one-timer over the shoulder of Hrynkiw
0:28 Drake Caggiula from Christian Wolanin and Nick Schmaltz 4-2 North Dakota
Wolanin's shot from the blue line missed wide to the right of the net, but Caggiula picked the puck up as it came off the back boards and roofed a puck over Lindgren for the goal.
14:52 David Morley from Jimmy Murray and Niklas Nevalainen 4-3 North Dakota
The Huskies were pressing in the North Dakota zone after a power play had just expired. Murray took a low angle shot from the right wing that deflected off Hrynkiw's pads to Morley, who was waiting on the left side of the net to jam home the rebound.