UND delivers victory on Al Pearson Night
The Fighting Hawks beat Minnesota Duluth 4-2 on goals from Riese Gaber, Gavin Hain, Louis Jamernik V and Jackson Blake.
GRAND FORKS — UND planned a night to celebrate Al Pearson, who organized bus road trips for fans for nearly 50 years.
Although Pearson was admitted to the hospital Thursday due to blood clots in his lungs and low oxygen levels, Pearson was released Friday and went straight to Ralph Engelstad Arena.
He was recognized on the big screen just before puck drop.
UND alternate captain Gavin Hain got emotional watching.
"I've gotten to know him a little bit," Hain said. "I've been to his house. I've played cribbage with him a few times. Honestly, I was a little emotional. I had some tears in my eyes. I'm kind of getting them now. He's an awesome guy. He's done a lot for this program."
The Fighting Hawks then proceeded to deliver a key victory.
Riese Gaber scored on the power play in the opening four minutes of the game, Hain and Louis Jamernik V scored at even strength and Jackson Blake completed the 4-2 win over Minnesota Duluth with an empty-netter.
It marked UND's fourth-straight victory over the Bulldogs. The Fighting Hawks are now 6-1-1 in the last eight regular-season meetings between the teams.
"I thought it was a full 60 minutes from everyone out there," UND defenseman Ryan Sidorski said. "In the third period, we bent but we didn't break, which has been our problem recently. It was very important for us to figure out a way to win."
UND improved to 10-10-4 overall and 4-7-2 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings, leapfrogging the Bulldogs (9-13-1, 4-9), who lost their fifth-straight conference game.
"I thought we did a good job playing to win and playing with some swagger, playing with confidence," UND coach Brad Berry said. "It was a situation where guys sold out, they blocked shots. . . that was the difference tonight. . . guys getting in front of pucks and doing whatever it takes to close out a win."
The game was a solid bounce-back from goaltender Drew DeRidder, who was pulled in three of his first five starts in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
DeRidder stopped 23 of 25 shots to earn the victory, only allowing a pair of goals to rookie forward Kyle Bettens.
"It's been tough, I'm not going to lie," DeRidder said. "This is what being a goalie is all about. Being a high-level athlete, you have to be able to deal with the pressure and just kind of move on with everything and not think too much about the past and just do your thing. We're all here for a reason. We're all good hockey players and we've got to just kind of keep working and keep going, knowing we belong here."
Berry, who has started three different goalies in the last three games, said he was pleased with DeRidder's outing.
"I don't think he was tested early, but boy, he settled in," Berry said. "He made all the saves he should have and he made a couple that were high-end saves in Grade-A areas to help us win a game. That's what we need to win games. He was solid tonight. He was focused.
"It's tough. It hasn't come easy for him this year. I just want to commend him for having focus and having that attack mentality of getting back on the horse again."
The Fighting Hawks never trailed in the game.
Gaber tipped home an Ethan Frisch pass at 3:36 for the game's first goal. UND added to the lead at 12:01 of the second, when Hain buried a feed from longtime linemate Mark Senden.
Bettens got one back for the Bulldogs at 13:26, but UND answered early in the third.
Jamernik V finished off a Jackson Blake feed just 43 seconds into the final frame — a goal that stood as the game-winner. After scoring, Jamernik turned and pointed at Pearson in the stands.
"He had to battle to get here tonight, too," Berry said of Pearson. "He was in the hospital yesterday and he got out today. "(It's great) just to acknowledge someone like that, who is one of our most loyal and passionate fans. He's more than a fan. He's part of our family here. He goes back generations getting people excited about North Dakota hockey — not only at The Ralph, but on the road. . . We can never pay him back for the things he's done for this program."
UND will go for the sweep at 6:07 p.m. Saturday in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
"Tomorrow's a huge game," Berry said. "It's a matter of trying to keep climbing the standings and the Pairwise and trying to scratch and claw every time we go. I think we have 11 games left here. It's plenty of time, but we have to make the most of it tomorrow night."
Notes: Jake Schmaltz missed the game due to an upper-body injury he sustained in practice this week. It marked the first game Schmaltz has missed in his career. He was one of three UND players to suit up in every game last season. Schmaltz's consecutive-game streak ended at 62 games. . . UND also was without forward Dane Montgomery (upper body). . . Forward Griffin Ness and defensemen Brent Johnson and Luke Bast were scratched. . . Minnesota Duluth played without forwards Blake Biondi (upper body) and Kyler Kleven (upper body). Bulldogs scratches were forward Jack Smith, defenseman Riley Bodnarchuk and goalie Zach Sandy.