Drew DeRidder stands tall as Fighting Hawks force decisive Game 3
UND used goals from Jackson Blake, Tyler Kleven and Dylan James to beat Omaha 3-1 in Baxter Arena.
OMAHA, Neb. — A blizzard settled in across North Dakota on Saturday night.
Drew DeRidder and his UND teammates made sure they wouldn't have to bus back home through it.
The Fighting Hawks added another date to the schedule by beating Omaha 3-1 in Game 2 of their best-of-three National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoff series, forcing a decisive Game 3 at 6:07 p.m. Sunday in Baxter Arena.
DeRidder stopped 24 of 25 shots, while Jackson Blake scored at even strength, Tyler Kleven on the power play and Dylan James into an empty net to keep UND's season alive for at least another day.
"We talked about some things at the hotel that we needed to change going into tonight," UND captain Mark Senden said. "I thought the first five minutes weren't our best. After that, we dug in and played the hockey and the game we needed to. I was proud of how we battled all game. We've got to keep going here and staying alive."
The victory marked UND's first conference playoff win on the road in 28 years to the exact date. On March 11, 1995, UND won in St. Cloud. Since then, UND was 0-5 in road league playoff games, including a 2-1 loss in Friday's series opener.
The winner of Sunday's game will earn a trip to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul next week with a chance to grab the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The loser will be done for the season.
"Our league is so tight," UND coach Brad Berry said. "We knew we had to win two games. It doesn't matter how you win them. You've got to win two. Our message today was you have to earn the right to play tomorrow. We earned the right to play tomorrow."
DeRidder continued his late-season steady play.
He helped the Fighting Hawks (17-14-6) survive a barrage of Omaha shots in the opening three shifts of the game and he settled in after that. He stopped six shots in the first, 13 in the second and five in the third.
"This last little stretch here, even last night, he has been unbelievable," Senden said. "We just said in the locker room, whatever he's eating, whatever he's drinking, just keep doing the same thing. We love to see it out of him. I'm really proud of him. Obviously, the beginning of the year was a little up and down, but he's a hell of a competitor. It's great to see it pay off for him here. He's been a great player, a great teammate."
During the season's first two months, DeRidder was 3-4-1 with a 3.30 goals-against average and a .874 save percentage.
Since then, he's 9-4-3 with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.
"Now's the time to have it," DeRidder said. "Now's the time to do it. Our backs are against the wall here. We have to win every game from here on out. If we're going to be playing our best hockey, now's the time we want it."
The first goal in the UND-Omaha series has been critical. The team that scores first is now 25-1-1 in the last 27 meetings between the teams.
On Saturday, Blake provided it, picking up a loose puck in the high slot, skating it between the dots and picking the blocker side on Maverick goalie Simon Latkoczy at 10:01 of the first.
The Mavericks evened it just 2:23 later, when defenseman Joaquim Lemay hammered a point shot past DeRidder.
UND took the lead again late in the second period on its second power-play chance of the night.
UND forward Louis Jamernik V made a slick pass from the middle of the ice to Kleven in the right circle. The Fargo native ripped a wrist shot into the same net where he scored his first-career goal as a freshman and the Penrose Cup-winning overtime goal as a sophomore.
"Jammer made an excellent pass to me," said Kleven, who tied the UND school record for game-winning goals by a defenseman with eight. "I just tried to throw it on net and luckily it went in."
UND held Omaha off the scoreboard the rest of the way, limiting the Mavericks to five shots on net in the third. DeRidder denied all of them.
"He's in the zone," Berry said. "He's focused. Man, he's at another level right now. He had to make some tough saves tonight. In the third, they were jamming and he was sealing everything down low. He's just fighting and battling on every puck. He's a big reason for the win tonight, for sure."
On Sunday, UND and Omaha will play their third game in three days — a rarity in college hockey.
DeRidder couldn't remember the last time he played three games in three days, but he's not concerned about fatigue.
"If you can't get excited for a game like tomorrow, you've got something wrong with you," DeRidder said. "You're not supposed to be playing hockey. We have no problem. We have the guys. Everyone is excited."