The Comeback Kids, UND Sweeps Lindenwood

Maeve Hushman, Sports Reporter

University of North Dakota Hockey is back. The University of North Dakota swept the Lindenwood Lions with a 4-3 victory on Friday January 6th and a 4-2 win on Saturday January 7th. They outshot Lindenwood 84-39 and mounted comebacks on both nights. While the Lions and their goaltender fought for every chance and never gave up, Tyler Kleven’s back-to-back game-winning goals helped the University of North Dakota walk away with an expert sweep.  

Both games started eerily similarly, “Bill Murray, Groundhogs Day,” Head Coach Brad Berry joked in Saturday’s post-game press conference. In both games, Lindenwood scored early, making the scoreboard 3-1 on Friday and 2-0 on Saturday. After both developments, Berry called a timeout to rally the team. After that, UND would score multiple unanswered goals to win both games.  

Both games followed similar patterns, but the similarities in both games were highlighted through two nights of fantastic performances from Kleven, Nick Portz, and freshman Ben Strinden. All three players played incredibly and made noticeable impacts on the game.  

Kleven had back-to-back two-goal games, and according to him, before Friday’s game, he could not remember when his last multi-goal game was. Both goals were game winners, too, coming off the same position on the powerplay. His performance over the Lindenwood games led to him being named the NCHC’s defenseman of the week.  

“The stuff he does is just ridiculous for a 6’5” defenseman,” fellow Fargo native Strinden said about his teammate Kleven. “He has got a lot of skill, and he obviously showed it off this weekend.”  

Kleven is a defenseman who usually earns accolades for his defensive abilities and physicality. Both are well-known parts of his games and things he utilizes to his team’s advantage. However, his ability to perform offensively has been less discussed or recognized.  

“I think it has grown exponentially,” Coach Berry said when asked about Kleven’s offensive development.  

“I think when you have a big physical body and presence on the ice you always think of a stay-at-home defenseman and guy that just brings that physical element and just moves pucks,” Berry said. “He is a lot more than that.” 

Kleven attributed his success partly to his teammates on the power play. “Everyone on that powerplay just, you know, helped me out and set me up for a good opportunity, and I am just glad that I had an opportunity,” Kleven said.  

When it comes to the offensive side of his game, according to Kleven, “it has always been there.”  

“I think that that is an aspect of my game that gets overlooked and only kind of look at me as a big shutdown defenseman…I know myself and I have some skill to my game,” Keleven continued.   

Coach Berry was incredibly pleased with Kleven’s ability to generate goals on the second unit. “Our first unit has been scoring the majority of the goals. In order to win games, you need contributions from everybody and the second unit; I do not like to call them the second unit, but the other unit scored two last night and one tonight,” Berry said. “In order to win games, you must have depth.”  

Strinden also had a fantastic weekend, especially after being the 13th forward both nights. His possession plays on Friday night enabled Portz to score the game-tying goal, and he had a two-point night on Saturday, scoring a goal and getting another assist. His presence was immediately noticed when he took to the ice. His efforts and skill led to him being named NCHC rookie of the week.  

“I love that kid,” Berry replied when asked about Strinden. “He takes whatever is given to him.”  

Strinden says something quite similar regarding his on-ice philosophy. “I just wanted to take advantage of every opportunity I got,” he said.   

Even though he was playing as the 13th forward, he did not let that deter him. “I know that there are other players in the stands tonight that can do that as well, so I just got to take advantage of every opportunity I get even if that means playing 13th forward,” Strinden said.  

He took advantage of those weekend opportunities for a great showing and a conference honor.  

Portz did not receive any NCHC honors, but he also had a great weekend. While Portz did not have a big goal in the second game, he had a few dangerous attempts and did a great job of maintaining possession when it mattered most.  

When asked what he sees in Portz’s game, Berry said, “predictability and certainty and just playing simply.”   

Playing simply has been something that Coach Berry has praised players for in the past for playing simply and executing well. He continued to praise Portz’s line for being on the same page and doing their job well.  

The most important part of this game was the commitment UND showed to maintaining their systems and playing the correct way even when facing a very physical team and a goalie that did not give the team many opportunities. In Saturday’s game, Lindenwood blocked 21 shots, and in both games, Trent Burnham, Lindenwood’s goalie, held his team in the game facing 40 plus shots on both nights. Instead of getting frustrated or giving up on the practiced system, UND stuck to their game plan, leading to them winning the game.  

The team faces off against Western Michigan University on January 13th and 14th re-entering conference play with a chance to jump up in the NCHC standings.  

 

Maeve Hushman is a Dakota Student Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected]