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Denver finishes off first sweep in Grand Forks since 2010

Carter Mazur and Jared Wright each scored twice as the Pioneers beat the Fighting Hawks 6-3.

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Denver forward Jared Wright (18) puts the puck past Fighting Hawks goaltender Jakob Hellsten (32) in the third period of an NCHC men's hockey game at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks on Saturday, November 12, 2022.
Nick Nelson / UND Athletics
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GRAND FORKS — UND scored the fastest goal in National Collegiate Hockey Conference history Saturday night.

Grand Forks native Judd Caulfield buried a feed from Dylan James just seven seconds into the series finale against Denver.

But the puck didn't see a lot of the offensive for the following 40 minutes.

Denver outshot UND 14-2 the rest of the period with nothing to show for it. The Pioneers continued the onslaught in the second and the goals began falling. It ended with Denver beating the Fighting Hawks 6-3 and finishing off their first two-game sweep in Grand Forks since January 2010.

Carter Mazur and Jared Wright each scored twice for the Pioneers, while Jack Devine added a pair of assists.

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"They were pretty hard to play against," UND alternate captain Ethan Frisch said. "They got in on us right away. We need to find that predictability with each other. If we bump it back or bump it up the wall, we have (to have) a player there — those quick, little area passes. We weren't doing that tonight. We weren't making enough hard plays and they were playing really hard on us. You have to tip your hat to them. They played really hard on the forecheck, but we have to find a way to make those hard plays."

Playing without top-pair defenseman Tyler Kleven, who sustained an injury early Friday, UND struggled to break the puck out of its defensive zone throughout the game.

"When you don't have the execution to move the puck into the offensive zone, you end up playing in your end of the rink," UND coach Brad Berry said. "When you play in your end of the rink, you end up getting hemmed in a little bit and then you give up some shots. I think it all starts with the puck execution in breaking out the puck and getting to the offensive zone."

Despite the puck possession disadvantage late in the second period — shots on goal were 22-8 Denver — UND went on the power play and took advantage when Cooper Moore scored from the point to make it 2-2 with 5:28 left.

But self-inflicted errors came back to bite UND.

Defenseman Brent Johnson, who scored in the third, turned a puck over trying to break it out and was forced to take a penalty. UND got within 10 seconds of finishing the penalty kill, but Moore made a behind-the-back, between-the-legs pass right to Devine, who fed Aidan Thompson for the go-ahead goal with 97 seconds left in the second.

"We know we have better than this," Frisch said. "We're a really good team. You look at us on paper, you see some of the practices we have, even some of the games we've had this year, we're a good team. We can play with a team like that. We have a lot better than that. It's just finding the confidence to get back to that sort of game."

The Fighting Hawks started sophomore Jakob Hellsten (27 saves) in net. He was excellent early in the game, holding UND in it. But the dam broke in the final 22 minutes.

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UND, which is aiming for a fourth-straight Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular-season champions, now has to dig out of a hole.

After sweeping Holy Cross to start the season, UND is 2-5-2. That stretch included games against No. 1 Minnesota, No. 2 Denver and No. 5 Quinnipiac.

"You've got to learn from it," Berry said. "They were a fast team. We've got to be quicker. We were playing against teams like Minnesota, Denver and Quinnipiac. They're going to make you better, but you have to learn from it. You have to work on these habits and details on the execution side of it to get to the level you need to get to."

The Fighting Hawks host Miami next weekend in Ralph Engelstad Arena, where they're winless in the last four.

"We know we have to stick together as a group," Caulfield said. "We know the 27 guys in the locker room are going to have to be the ones that turn that ship around. It's going to be hard, but no one's going to take it lightly. We just have to take it to heart and go to work."

The best news for UND on Saturday was that Kleven's injury is not expected to be longterm.

"He was better today than he was yesterday," Berry said. "I would say after a day off tomorrow, we'll see what we have on Monday. I would be guessing that he would be ready for next weekend."

Denver, which won two of its last 19 games in Ralph Engelstad Arena entering the weekend, matched that total in the span of 48 hours.

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It came after a travel adventure getting to Grand Forks. The Pioneers' flight to Fargo was canceled Thursday, so they re-booked to Minneapolis-St. Paul later that night. They book a bus to Grand Forks on Friday, arriving just three hours before the start of the series.

"I think it helped breaking the routine and just doing something different," Pioneers coach David Carle said. "It's not ideal. It's not in the book. You wouldn't play the book that way. It worked and it just shook things up and our guys had a high level of focus and urgency to them."

Note: UND's record for fastest goal to start a game belongs to Lee Davidson, who scored six seconds into a game against Alabama Huntsville in 1989.

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NCHC officials work to separate teams as UND defenseman Brent Johnson (6) holds Denver forward McKade Webster (6) in a headlock in the second period of an NCHC men's hockey game at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks on Saturday, November 12, 2022.
Nick Nelson / UND Athletics
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UND goaltender Jakob Hellsten gets tangled up with Denver forward McKade Webster (6) and Fighting Hawks defenseman Ryan Sidorski (2) in the second period of an NCHC men's hockey game at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks on Saturday, November 12, 2022.
Nick Nelson / UND Athletics

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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