Photo by Kelsey Lee / Violet Turtle Photography. Post-game video by Seamore Sports.
Once again, the Chargers were close entering the third period against the No. 1 team in the country, but North Dakota showed why it’s No. 1 and eventually denied UAH the chance of an upset.
The Fighting Hawks won 5-2 for the second straight night in Grand Forks on Saturday.
Still, considering the struggles the Chargers have had this season, UAH head coach Mike Corbett found the experience beneficial for his club.
“It was a one-goal game pretty much for both nights,” Corbett said. “I think that’s against the legit No. 1 team in the country. It’s a confidence booster. It’s not the end result, but our process was pretty good.”
“We want to go after the top guys. It’s a great opportunity for our program. Read the box score it’s supposed to be read. We were in it and our guys played their butts off.”
UAH goaltender Mark Sinclair did all he could again, stopping 33 of 37 shots.
“Sinclair’s been good since Thanksgiving,” Corbett said. “He’s seeing about 75 shots this weekend, he’s hanging in there and giving us a chance to win.”
“It’s always tough coming in and playing the No. 1 team in the country,” Sinclair said. “Our guys competed right through. Our penalty kill was great, guys blocking shots, battling for pucks.”
The Chargers resume league action at home this Thursday and Friday against Bemidji State.
“I think it shows that we can compete with anyone,” Charger forward Josh Latta said. “North Dakota is like the pinnacle of most programs that you want to strive towards. Playing against Bemidji, we have to play the exact same way with the same intensity.”
North Dakota (16-1-2) opened the scoring when Sinclair could not pick up a Matt Kierstad blast up the middle that was tipped by Westin Michaud. The goal came at the 4:54 mark.
UND made it 2-0 with 10:52 left in the first period on a power play goal. Collin Adams beat Sinclair stick side from the right circle.
The Chargers cut the lead in half about four minutes later on a similar goal by Connor Merkley. His third goal of the season was over Adam Scheel (11 saves) after a nifty cross-ice pass from Jack Jeffers, who notched his fifth assist of the season. Peyton Francis got his second assist.
UAH tied the game early in the second period. Latta was robbed by Scheel from the slot, but Austin Beaulieu back-handed the rebound in for his second goal of the season.
Latta had his team-leading ninth assist of the season and third of the series.
“It was our whole line,” Latta said. “Christian Rajic and Austin Beaulieu are great guys to play with and go to open ice really well. They support the puck and put forth a lot of energy, so it makes my job easy.
“We capitalized on the chances we got for the most part. We could have had a few more.”
“We’ve got a freshman (in Latta) who’s starting to be able to put up some points for us,” Corbett said. “We’re not a scoring juggernaut by any means, so more guys chipping in for us, the better.”
UND regained the lead at 3-2 at the 3:51 mark of the second with a highlight-reel goal. A shot off Sinclair trickled to the right post, and Jordan Kawaguchi put it in from behind the goal line and his stick between his legs.
In the handshake line following the game, Sinclair, who played with Kawaguchi at Chilliwack of the BCHL, said to Kawaguchi, “You had to do that, hey?”
“I played with him in Chilliwack so I got to see it a lot in practice,” Sinclair said. “His work ethic is unbelieveable. He’s very tough to knock off the puck.”
Three minutes into the third period, the Hawks extended their lead to 4-2 when Ethan Frisch blasted one up the middle from inside the blue line.
Shane Pinto, just back with North Dakota after playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championships, put in an empty-net goal with 20 second remaining.
Perhaps indicative of the number of close losses the Chargers have had, it was the eighth empty-net goal UAH has allowed this season.
North Dakota won its 13th straight game at home, a Ralph Engelstad Arena record. The Fighting Hawks are unbeaten in their last 15 games overall.
One battle the Chargers did win was in faceoffs, 30-29.