Kawaguchi's overtime goal gives UND win over St. Cloud State
North Dakota gives the Hard Hat award every home hockey game to the person who plays a pivotal role in the game, whether by grit and determination or by skill.
It was fitting that Friday's Hard Hat winner, Shane Pinto, handed the award not to a teammate, but a coach, in a rare move.
The recipient of the award in Saturday's 2-1 overtime victory for the Fighting Hawks over St. Cloud State wasn't Jordan Kawaguchi, with the game-winning goal, but head coach Brad Berry.
In his fifth season as the boss, Berry earned his 100th win behind the bench as the Fighting Hawks, who lead the National Collegiate Hockey Conference by four points and are rated third nationally in the Pairwise rankings, swept the two-game series from the Huskies.
But being the humble man he is, Berry set the award in the middle of the team dressing room after being handed it, saying it belonged to the entire team, not him.
"Here at North Dakota, our culture and mentality, it's not about one guy,'' Berry said. "I'm very privileged to be part of 100 wins, but it's assistant coaches that spend hours in Ralph Engelstad Arena, countless hours on the road recruiting, it's about the players and staff digging each and every day to be part of something special.''
Said sophomore defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker: "We love playing for Bubs (Berry),'' JBD said. "He's a really good coach, very honest. Definitely helps you get better as a player and person.''
To build on Berry's comment, this has been something special so far for the Fighting Hawks, who have lost just once (10-1-2) in 13 games, ran their home winning streak to 9 games this season and 11 overall dating back to last season, and completed the before-Christmas portion of the home schedule unbeaten for the first time in 55 years, since 1964.
UND limited the Huskies to just 12 shots on goal, second lowest to the 11 mustered by Canisius on Oct. 11.
An once again, it was UND's defensemen who played a large role offensively.
After none of the UND defensemen had a goal or an assist in Friday's 4-2-- the first time that has happened this season-- defensemen played a major role Saturday.
Bernard-Docker tied the game at 1-1 on a power play at 8:09 of the second period, using a screen set by Cole Smith to whip his wrist shot by St. Cloud goalie David Hrenak (18 saves), his second goal of the season. It was the sixth straight game with a power-play goal for UND.
St. Cloud had taken a 1-0 lead at 13:20 of the first period when UND goalie Adam Scheel misplayed the puck behind his own net with Easton Brodzinski centering the puck to St. Cloud defenseman and team captain Jack Ahcan for his third goal of the season.
St. Cloud killed two 5-on-3 UND power plays early in the second period before Bernard-Docker tied it on a 5-on-4 goal.
The game then settled into a defensive slugest as the teams combined mustered just 32 shots on goal, compared to the 34 UND alone had Friday in its win.
While pundits didn't expect much of UND this season after it missed the NCAA tournament the last two seasons, that low expectation wasn't in the minds of UND players or coaches.
"Everybody asks that, whether we're back, I don't think we left,'' Berry said. "Last year, we had trouble scoring goals. We haven't changed the way we play in five years here. Now we're starting to get some goal production, and that's a big deal. I don't think it's (record) a surprise, I don't think we were ever gone. I don't think we're back. We're a good team that's going to keep building.''
There was no bigger deal for UND than the overtime winner. Defenseman Matt Kiersted, coming into the zone on the right point, threaded a shot/pass to the front of the net, where Kawaguchi tipped it in past Hrenak's glove hand for his 5th goal of the season for the team's leading scorer.
"It's fun winning games, and I'm surrounded by some pretty good players, so it makes things a little bit easier,'' Kawaguchi said. "It was a good team win.''
The play started by Kiersted with a forward driving to the net wasn't something new for the Fighting Hawks. "We practice that play a little bit with the pass out wide, and hitting the guy in the middle,'' Kawaguchi said. "I kind of went to the net with my stick on the ice, he (Kiersted) made a heckuva play, kind of a shot/pass there.''
And that play earned Berry his 100th win. "We're proud to play for a guy like that.'' Kawaguchi said. "He said it's not his 100th win, it's our 100th win. . . . that's kind of the staple of our program. It's about us, rather than one person. It's great to have a guy like that leading us. We're very lucky.''
Game notes: Voted by the media as the three stars were Kawaguchi, Bernard-Docker and Kiersted, in that order ... SCSU had just one shot on net on its three power plays and UND just four on its six chances ... UND attempted 55 shots to just 31 for the Huskies, but St. Cloud blocked 22 of UND's shots to 7 for UND ... The game drew a sellout of 11,747 ... UND won the faceoff battle 34-22, led by Collin Adams (9 of 14), Shane Pinto (8 of 13) and Mark Senden (7 of 11) ... UND tops the nation in faceoff win percentage ... Scheel, who allowed just one goal for the eighth time this season, finished with 11 saves ... Defending Penrose Cup champion St. Cloud remained winless in NCHC play (0-4) and fell to 2-6-4 overall .... UND plays at Minnesota next Thursday and Friday, followed by a road trip to Western Michigan for two games.