OMAHA, Neb. -- For the fourth-straight game, the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team gave up a two-goal lead.
This time, it was costly.
Omaha scored two goals in the span of 85 seconds late in the third period to rally for a 4-3 win over UND on Saturday, Jan. 19, in Baxter Arena.
It ended a three-game winning streak for the Fighting Hawks, where in all three games they blew two-goal leads, but found a way to win on a late goal anyway.
That didn’t happen this time.
Omaha scored a goal in the second period to cut UND’s lead to one, then got back-to-back goals late in the third.
The tying goal was a point shot by defenseman Lukas Buchta that hit a UND defender and got past goalie Adam Scheel with 7:58 to go. Then, just 80 seconds later, Omaha forward Taylor Ward, the son of former UND great Dixon Ward, re-directed a Dean Stewart pass from the slot for the winner.
“We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in our end of the rink this weekend, but when we did, we lost coverage on a couple of goals in the third period,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “They had two goals that were almost identical as far as a guy shooting the puck from the corner inside the blue line and we didn’t box out, we didn't get a block. Again, it’s something different. We’ve been very good in the defensive zone and tonight, for whatever reason, we were loose.”
UND captain Colton Poolman added: “Just a couple of small little mental breakdowns and the put it in the back of our net. They create offense out of nothing and we’ve got to know that. We’ve got to tighten that up. We can’t let any linger in our game, and I think that’s what happened in the third period.”
For a UND team that had been so defensively strong for much of the first half of the season -- and had been 8-0-1 when leading after two periods this season -- it all of the sudden has had a difficult time holding leads.
Last weekend against Colorado College, UND gave up a 2-0 lead on Friday and a 3-1 lead on Saturday. The Fighting Hawks ended up winning both in overtime.
On Friday against Omaha, UND gave up a 3-1 lead, but won on a Jackson Keane goal with 1:50 to go.
In the series finale, UND had a chance to put the game out of reach with a major power play at the beginning of the third, but it didn’t score.
UND dropped to 12-10-1 overall and 6-6 in National Collegiate Hockey Conference play. More importantly, the Fighting Hawks dropped from No. 18 to No. 22 in the Pairwise Rankings, making the climb to the NCAA tournament that much more difficult.
The Fighting Hawks continued their trend of playing close games.
Saturday’s contest was the seventh in a row that was decided by a single goal (excluding empty-netters).
UND had to play from behind Saturday.
Omaha got on the board first when defenseman John Schuldt hit Riley Alferd on a stretch pass. Alferd split UND’s top two defensemen, Jacob Bernard-Docker and Colton Poolman, skated in on a breakaway and beat UND goalie Adam Scheel glove side with 5:09 left in the opening frame.
But the Fighting Hawks struck back with two goals in the final 89 seconds of the period.
The fourth line got on the scoresheet for the fourth time on the weekend when Dixon Bowen started a cycle in the corner to create space before dishing to Jackson Keane in the left circle. Keane snapped a one-timer to the top of the crease, where it hit Jasper Weatherby and bounced out to opposite circle, where defenseman Gabe Bast pinched in and buried it into a gaping net.
UND took the lead with just 1.7 seconds left in the first period on a transition play. Defenseman Matt Kiersted started a two-on-one for Ludvig Hoff and Kawaguchi. Hoff skated the puck in the zone and threaded a pass in a tight window to Kawaguchi, who roofed his sixth goal of the season.
UND tacked on another goal early in the second period on the power play, when Bast hammered a point shot through a Grant Mismash screen at 1:42.
Omaha got one back on a point shot by defenseman Jason Smallidge, which went through a maze of bodies, hit a UND defenseman and went past an unsuspecting Scheel.
Late in the second, Smallidge took a major penalty for contact to the head of UND forward Gavin Hain, but the Fighting Hawks were unable to extend their lead.
“We’ve got to bear down, manage a game, get a puck out,” Poolman said. “Obviously, it came back to bite us. It probably could have once or twice more in these past four games.”
Omaha played without forward Tyler Weiss, who was suspended by the NCHC for an illegal check from behind on UND forward Cole Smith late in Friday’s game. Maverick forward Steven Spinner, a Washington Capitals draft pick, re-entered the lineup after missing the last seven games.
Jonny Tychonick, who has resumed skating and practicing, missed his eighth-straight game with a lower-body injury, while goalie Peter Thome missed his fourth game in a row and forward Joel Janatuinen missed his fifth in a row.