The University of North Dakota men's hockey team is stuck in an extended stretch of adversity the likes of which the program has rarely seen over the past decade.
Eleventh-ranked UND fell 4-2 at Nebraska Omaha tonight, suffering a fourth consecutive loss for the first time since December 2006. The defeat also dropped UND to 1-4-0 in National Collegiate Hockey Conference play and 2-4-1 overall.
Tanner Lane's goal with 6:29 remaining in regulation – when UND could not end an extended shift after killing a UNO power-play – stood as the game-winner.
Josh Archibald sealed the scoring with an empty net goal with 55 seconds remaining. A fourth straight loss was a difficult pill for UND to swallow after rallying from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game.
"We've got to bear down on the little details and find a way to win a hockey game," said freshman defenseman Troy Stecher. "I was taught always to hate to lose and not love to win. Everyone's got to start hating to lose. It sucks. There's no other way to put it. (Losing four games) in a row is something this program doesn't like doing and it doesn't sit well for us."
Lane's goal came shortly after UND had finished off a successful penalty kill, but was unable to find a stoppage or a line change. UNO senior Ryan Walters, an All-American in 2012-13, skated the puck behind the UND net and backhanded a backdoor feed to Lane, who made no mistake staring at an empty net.
"We had some tired legs after the penalty kill. We couldn't get off the ice," said UND head coach Dave Hakstol. "They made a play. After that we made several plays with good opportunities to tie it up. We didn't do it. Hard fought game that went their way."
Sophomore defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, who scored one of UND's two goals, had the best chance to tie the game in the final minutes when he walked in alone from the right circle but was denied by UNO goalie Ryan Massa. It was one of 28 saves for Massa, whose only other blemish was a power-play goal by freshman forward Luke Johnson, his first collegiate tally.
"You can't allow yourself to get frustrated. We're mentally tougher than that," said Hakstol. "Hey, we're going through a tough time. Things aren't coming easy right now. I thought last week we were a big part of our own problem. I thought tonight we worked hard, we executed pretty well and we lost a real hard fought hockey game."
Senior captain Dillon Simpson, who blocked a remarkable eight shots, said every one of the four straight losses has been a winnable game.
"The one thing we have in that (locker) room is belief. Even when we're down, the guys are pushing to get back into the game," said Simpson. "It's just a matter of not taking shifts off. If we just work our asses off and play the way we want to play, we can get wins. That's just not happening right now."
The two teams will include their NCHC series Sunday night with a 5:07 p.m. Central puck drop.
"Tomorrow night," said Stecher, "we've got to find a way to win a 60-minute hockey game or a 65-minute hockey game."
Notes: UND went 4-for-4 on the penalty kill and has not allowed an opponent to score with the man advantage since the 2:55 mark of the season opener against Vermont on Oct. 11. UND entered the night with the nation's top-ranked penalty killing unit at 96.6 percent … UND went 1-for-3 on the power play, the lone tally coming from Johnson … Senior forward Derek Rodwell made his first appearance of the regular season and tied for the team lead with four shots on goal …Rocco Grimaldi snapped a 4-game point drought with an assist on Schmaltz's goal … UNO held a 34-29 edge in faceoffs.