MANKATO, Minn. — At the end of the weekend, there were a number of things the University of North Dakota hockey team could point toward, suggesting that this team will return to contender status this season.
Two games against the No. 2-ranked team in the nation on the road seemed to show that UND is deeper than a year ago, playing with more pace and has more sources of offense.
But in order to truly return to prominence, there's one glaring, most-important thing left to do: UND needs to find ways to close out games and to win the ones that could go either way.
The opposite happened this weekend in Mankato.
On Friday, UND led by a goal in the third period and turned it into a 4-4 tie.
On Saturday, UND was tied in the third period and turned it into a 2-1 loss to Minnesota State-Mankato in front of 5,038 fans.
And at the end of the weekend, despite all of those other promising signs, the Fighting Hawks returned home without a victory.
"Yesterday, we didn't close it out after having a two-goal lead," UND coach Brad Berry said. "We talked about the momentum shifts in games and trying to alleviate that. Tonight, we had the lead and they score one, and then in the third period, it's up for grabs. It's about making one more play. And they got a bounce off the wall and a point shot that went through — kind of a seeing-eye shot that went in — and we needed to get one of those tonight. It's about making one more play than them and that's the story tonight.
"For the most part, it was a weekend where we learned a lot from our team as far as where we need to get to. That's a high level. That's the level you have to get to each and every night."
UND received its lone goal from rookie Shane Pinto in the first period.
MSU-Mankato tied it just 26 seconds into the second period on a four-on-four goal by senior Marc Michaelis, the NCAA's active career points leader.
Then, the game-winner came at 5:21 of the third period, when Maverick defenseman Edwin Hookenson launched a point shot through traffic that beat UND goalie Adam Scheel through the five-hole. Scheel (20 saves) didn't see the shot until it was too late.
UND (2-1-1) dominated the reminder of the third period, outshooting MSU-Mankato 14-3 in the frame, but couldn't get another one past goalie Dryden McKay, who stopped 34 of 35.
"Obviously we've got to look inside," UND forward Cole Smith said. "It's a good measuring point. They're a really good team. Kudos to them. But I think we're a good team as well. We've got to figure out how to win those tight games, figure out how to score a couple more goals and generate a little bit more often. We'll go back to practice Monday and we'll be working hard again."
No. 2-ranked Minnesota State (3-0-1) is now 24-1-1 in its last 26 home games dating back to the start of last season.
"It's a little disappointing finish tonight," Smith said. "I thought we played a pretty good hockey game. I was pretty proud of us in the third period with the push we put on, but it's kind of difficult to take. We played good enough to win, but there's those little opportunities in the game where bounces didn't go our way and they took advantage of a few. We just didn't generate those goals."
UND's offensive line of last year's leading scorer Jordan Kawaguchi, Nashville Predators draft pick Grant Mismash and Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Gavin Hain didn't register a shot on goal. It was Jasper Weatherby (eight shots on goal), Pinto (six) and senior Westin Michaud (five) who tested McKay most often.
"I think we had enough chances where we could have scored there," Pinto said. "We just need to convert on those opportunities and bear down on those opportunities."
UND is 3-9-2 on the road since January, but it won't have to go on the road for a while. The Fighting Hawks host Bemidji State in a two-game series next weekend, then they host Michigan Tech in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game on Nov. 2 and Miami in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference opener Nov. 8-9.
"We're back with our fans," said Smith, whose team is 16-6-1 in its last 23 home games. "It's going to be a good stand for us. We've got to get back into that winning side and we're looking forward to it."
MSU-MANKATO 2, UND 1
First period -- 1. UND, Shane Pinto 2 (Jacob Bernard-Docker 5, Collin Adams 1) 10:59
Second period -- 2. MSU, Marc Michaelis 4 (Lucas Sowder 5, Connor Mackey 2) :26
Third period -- 3. MSU, Edwin Hookenson 2 (Michaelis 1) 5:21
Penalties -- Gabe Bast, UND, hooking, 1:13 first; Riese Zmolek, MSU, roughing, 20:00 first; Cole Smith, UND, roughing, 20:00 first; Charlie Gerard, MSU, tripping, 11:28 second; Nathan Smith, MSU, hooking, 8:06 third; Pinto, UND, roughing, 19:05 third; Parker Tuomie, MSU, roughing, 19:05 third; Westin Michaud, UND, roughing, 19:05 third; Jack McNeely, MSU, roughing, 19:05 third; Connor Mackey, MSU, roughing, 19:05 third
Goalie saves -- UND: Adam Scheel 10-8-2 -- 20; MSU: Dryden McKay 9-11-14 -- 34
Penalties-minutes -- UND 4-8, MSU 6-12
Power plays -- UND 0-3, MSU 0-1
Attendance -- 5,038
Referees -- Bobby Lukkason and Brady Johnson
Linesmen -- Matt Dyree and Kyle Domin