DENVER, Colo. -- Senior defenseman Nick Mattson was a healthy scratch for North Dakota in each of the past four games and in eight of the past 11. On Saturday, Mattson was given an opportunity to get back into the lineup in UND’s final game of the first half and he made the most of it.
Mattson scored the game’s first goal on a brilliant individual effort in the first period, helped set up Drake Caggiula’s second-period goal that gave UND a 3-0 lead, and played sound, two-way defensive hockey in a 3-1 victory against Denver.
The win gave UND its best first-half record for 11th-year head coach Dave Hakstol at 13-4-2.
Mattson opened the scoring at 13:48 of the first period after UND had dominated much of the play. He carried the puck behind the Denver net, maneuvered around a defender into the slot and wired a shot past DU goalie Tanner Jaillet that clanked off the post and in.
For Mattson, it was his first goal of the season. For a UND team intent on avoiding yet another slow start to a game, it was critical.
“[Nick] stepped in and played an outstanding game,” Hakstol said. “He impacted the game offensively, he scored the first goal of the game -- which was really big for our hockey team -- and that was a great individual play by him. More importantly he played a really sound, solid, tenacious defensive game for us.”
The win enabled UND to salvage a fourth consecutive series split at Magness Arena after dropping Friday’s opener 4-1.
“It was real important win to be able to come back after a tough loss last night and end the first half with a quality win,” Hakstol said. “I thought we emptied the tank in every way. Our team is far from 100-percent healthy but mentally tonight we were really good through the whole 60 minutes.”
Freshman Nick Schmaltz extended the lead to 2-0 at 6:09 of the second period, converting a Bryn Chyzyk feed across the goalmouth on a 2-on-1 rush. It was Schmaltz’s third goal of the season.
Two minutes later, Mattson went back to work, chipping the puck ahead to Michael Parks to create another 2-on-1 rush. Parks curled around a DU defender and centered the puck to NCHC scoring leader Drake Caggiula, who hit the empty net for his league-leading 22nd point of the season.
The Pioneers pushed furiously to get back into the game in the third period, outshooting a tired UND squad by a 16-3 margin in the final 20 minutes. But aside from a Nolan Zajac one-timer goal with 10:59 remaining, Denver was unable to draw any closer as UND goalie Zane McIntyre finished with 32 saves.
“You always need to have the big saves on the road in order to close out a win and we got that from Zane tonight,” Hakstol. “I thought the players in front of him did a good job for much of the night pushing some of the plays to the outside, but when called upon Zane made a handful of big time saves for us.”
McIntyre also helped hold DU’s league-leading power play scoreless in three tries. As a result, UND will enter the Christmas break with its best first half of the Hakstol era.
“It’s so important with the majority of our schedule being league play in the second half,” said Hakstol of his team’s successful first half. “We all know how tough this league is, from night to night, to put back to back wins together. To have a pretty good first half, a first half that we can feel good about not just in terms of wins and losses, but how our team has developed, as a group we can try to take advantage of the next couple of weeks, get some much needed mental and physical rest and look forward to a tough second half.”
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