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Friday rewind: Matteo Costantini, top line drive UND's offense in 7-1 win over St. Cloud State

Jakob Hellsten is settling in at goaltender for the Fighting Hawks.

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St. Cloud State goaltender Jaxon Castor stops a shot from UND's Connor Ford (21) late in the second period of a men's hockey game at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks on Friday, January 28, 2022.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — Matteo Costantini averaged .59 points per game in junior hockey last season with the Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League.

He's currently averaging .79 in college.

Costantini continued to be one of the most pleasant surprises on this year's UND team with a four-assist performance Friday night in UND's 7-1 win over St. Cloud State.

All four assists directly led to the goals.

Assist No. 1: Costantini picked off a breakout pass along the wall and fed Connor Ford in the slot.

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Assist No. 2: Costantini perfectly executed a give-and-go with Riese Gaber, handing UND's best goal-scorer a tap-in.

Assist No. 3: Costantini picked off a Jack Peart breakout pass and sent the puck to Carson Albrecht, who in turn fed Griffin Ness for a goal.

Assist No. 4: Costantini walked the puck to the crease for a chance. Gaber scored on the rebound.

"He played with some speed and energy," UND coach Brad Berry said. "He made some heads-up plays. He saw the ice very well. I thought Gaber and Ford and Matteo played excellent together as far as having some chemistry and playing north and having that hard skill to them."

The Costantini-Ford-Gaber line combined for three goals, 10 points, plus-9 and 13 shots on goal.

"I think we had a lot of fire underneath us coming into this weekend," Costantini said. "Everyone took the right approach during the week. We kept a positive attitude and we got the result we wanted. We've got to stick to that and keep that going into tomorrow night."

Despite managing only two goals in the last three games, UND stayed positive and confident.

"I think it was the older guys on the team keeping a positive environment in the locker room," Costantini said. "They're always telling us, 'Remember who we are guys. Stick to the game plan and things will start to turn around.' It definitely starts with the leaders and the older guys who are on the team."

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Hellsten settles in

UND goalie Jakob Hellsten is settling in nicely as he sees more game action.

The freshman from Sweden hasn't allowed an even-strength goal in 127:52.

Last Saturday at Western Michigan, the only goal against was shorthanded. On Friday night, the lone Husky goal came on the power play.

Hellsten's save percentage is now at .905.

"I've just got to keep playing my game," Hellsten said. "Honestly, it's no different playing other teams. I'm doing the same thing always. It's just staying focused every game."

Berry said Hellsten made saves at key times, too.

"He looked confident," Berry said. "There are times in games when the other team gets momentum and you need a save here and there. He made some saves tonight. We're up 1-0 and they're on a power play early on and he made two or three saves on that power play there to hold them off.

"Momentum goes back and forth but I thought for the most part, we did a good job of keeping it. Jakob Hellsten was a big reason why."

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Power play change works immediately

Berry promised changes on the power-play units, and it took almost no time for those changes to pay off.

The Fighting Hawks previously used Jake Schmaltz, a left-handed shot, in the left circle on the top power-play unit. But because he's left-handed, he struggled to receive passes from the middle of the ice and get shots off before defenders were in position to block it.

To combat that, UND put a right-handed shooter in that spot in Ethan Frisch, so he could one-time passes from the middle of the ice.

On UND's first power play, Frisch one-timed a puck in the net, just as power-play coach Karl Goehring drew it up.

"When teams adapt and they can see what you do in the first half of the season, you've got to adapt and change a little bit too," Berry said. "When teams are so good killing and blocking shots, you have to make sure it's on and off your tape. Frischy did a really good job of finding a spot and connecting on the power play."

Notably, UND executed a couple of new plays with that top unit, too, including a tip play by Ford and a jam play at the side of the net. They didn't go in the net, but it was a good sign for a unit that too often relied on the Jake Sanderson-to-Gaber play.

UND gets fourth-line production

The three players who made up UND's fourth line Friday night — Nick Portz, Ness and Albrecht — entered the game with a combined one goal.

But that trio has started playing in the offensive zone a lot more than early in the season and they were rewarded with a goal Friday when Albrecht set up Ness.

It was the first collegiate goal for Ness, who was playing in his 40th game. It also was the first collegiate point for Albrecht, who was playing in his 27th game.

"I thought they played very well in Western Michigan," Berry said. "They played hard, they played the right way. They had some opportunities and looks there, too. It's nice to see them get rewarded. I think Portzy hit the post early in the game, too. They created a little bit."

The fourth line also played very well when UND beat St. Cloud State 5-3 in St. Cloud last month. Portz made a perfect backdoor setup for Ford for a goal in that game.

"It's such a big deal when you can have four lines going out there and not only playing good defensively, but getting good looks offensively, too," Berry said. "I've got to commend them, because they played with a lot of energy tonight."

Students add to atmosphere

Friday night marked the first time in more than two months that students were present for a UND hockey game.

The last game with students was Nov. 20 against Minnesota Duluth.

The students were at Thanksgiving break for UND's home series against Minnesota and they were on Christmas break for the U.S. Under-18 Team exhibition and the Cornell series.

"Obviously, it was a lot of fun with the students back and a packed barn," Hellsten said.

Quick hits

  • When Ashton Calder scores goals, they usually come in pairs. Calder has four two-goal games this season compared with two one-goal games.
  • St. Cloud State's nation-leading power play was as good as advertised. It went 1-for-3 on the night and the Huskies were all over UND on the two advantages it didn't score.
  • The only statistical category UND held an advantage coming into the weekend was faceoffs, and the Fighting Hawks did a good job there. They went 35-27, led by Ford (16-10) and Schmaltz (11-5).
  • Here's a pretty convincing way to close out a game: UND led a 4-1 lead heading into the third period and allowed only three shots on goal in the third.
  • St. Cloud State's Sam Hentges, who will be on the U.S. Olympic Team, was held without a point for the first time since Oct. 8 against Minnesota State-Mankato. Hentges had a six-game point streak and had tallied multiple points in five straight.
  • UND outshot St. Cloud State 37-20. That's the largest shot deficit St. Cloud State has faced in the last two seasons. The last time an opponent outshot the Huskies by 17 or more was Jan. 24, 2020 at Western Michigan (19 shot differential).
  • In the last two years, the largest shot deficit the Huskies faced was minus-11 against Western Michigan in the NCHC Pod. Prior to Friday night, this season's largest shot deficit was minus-9 at Minnesota State-Mankato.
Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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