Saturday shutout ends unbeaten streak

North Dakota splits series with Denver last weekend, suffers first loss in 10 games.

After a 10-game unbeaten streak, the North Dakota men’s hockey team suffered its first loss since late November last weekend when Denver took away its chance of a road sweep — shutting out UND 3-0 Saturday evening at Magness Arena.

Despite 43 shots on goal Saturday and none in the net, feeling frustrated is not something the team will experience.

“The word frustration doesn’t enter into anything,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “We’re playing well. We’re playing really hard. We have to be more consistent with some individual play from game to game.”

With an off-weekend this weekend, UND will focus on feeling healthy and preparing for a series against Nebraska-Omaha Feb. 7-8 — though Hakstol said he would rather keep playing.

“We don’t need it, but it is what it is,” he said. “It’s a week off. We’ll have some good work days, and we’ll get ourselves ready to play next week here back at home. That’s the bottom line. I’m not trying to make more or less of it than it is.

“If you want frustration, I’m a little frustrated that we’re not playing this weekend. I would like to play — I think our team would like to play.”

Senior goaltender Clarke Saunders got his chance to play — standing between the pipes in a game for the first time since November — after UND’s Zane Gothberg sustained an injury and remains out of the lineup indefinitely.

Saunders made 52 total saves last weekend and made a quick adjustment back in the net.

“I was a little rusty the first few minutes,” Saunders said. “But I settled in pretty quick. After the first few minutes, I felt pretty good.”

With the added pressure that came alongside not having played in a few months, Saunders battled through.

“I think he plays well under pressure,” Hakstol said. “I think he thrives on that. I think he thrives on a challenge. It’s what I’ve said all the way along — he’s a battler. Not an easy situation for him to go into this weekend, not having played in this long as it had been for him, but he went in and battled.”

In Friday’s 4-2 results, Saunders gave up a goal midway through the second period and another in the closing minutes of the final frame. The pucks found the back of the net, but Saunders’ persistence allowed him to remain on top of his game.

“Friday night, every puck that he saw, he stopped,” Hakstol said. “One was one of the strangest bounces I’ve seen in a building in 10 years. The other was a wraparound that bounced off a defenseman’s knee up front. He battled hard and gave us a chance to win. Everybody else did their job and we won (on Friday).”

Saturday was a different story as Denver tallied a goal minutes into the second period, followed by two in the third period.

It was a difference in goals scored, but North Dakota’s level of compete seemed to remain unchanged.

“I thought our team played hard both nights,” Hakstol said. “We ran into a hot goaltender Saturday night, and we lost the specialty teams battle. That was the difference in the game. We played very well and very hard Saturday night.”

A power play goal by Denver just over a minute into Saturday’s game contributed to a losing battle of specialty teams, but Saunders said UND’s improvement on capitalizing is evident.

Since the beginning of the year, Hakstol never wanted to label the team as “young,” but the seven freshmen and the rest of the team are showing signs of maturity.

“The whole team is playing a lot better,” Saunders said. “The chances that we’re giving up are so few now, and how we’re taking care of the net. I think we’ve really matured as a team.”

This weekend there are no games to win and none to lose — just a chance to practice.

“We’ve got to use it to our best advantage,” Hakstol said.

Elizabeth Erickson is the sports editor of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].