Dec. 10—KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Music poured out of the visitor's locker room in Lawson Ice Arena on Friday night after UND's 2-2 tie against Western Michigan.
No, it wasn't a victory for the Fighting Hawks.
Yes, they gave up another one-goal lead in the third period.
But the Fighting Hawks grabbed an extra point in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings with a shootout win and made significant progress in the areas that have ailed them in the first half of the season.
So, after rookie forward Owen McLaughlin beat Western Michigan goaltender Cameron Rowe five-hole in the shootout to seal the two-point night, UND had reason to be positive.
"There's a huge difference," UND goalie Drew DeRidder said of winning the shootout. "It's one point. It does matter. It might go down as a tie in the Pairwise and NCAA, but that shootout win just helps so much mentally. I feel like we actually won that game instead of losing in the shootout and feeling like crap."
UND coach Brad Berry said: "Psychologically, mentally, just to get a win — obviously it goes down as a tie in the record books and the Pairwise — but to close a game with a winning feeling (is important). It's great to see Owen get the game-winner in the shootout."
Judd Caulfield and Louis Jamernik V scored second-period goals for UND — both were backdoor feeds, one from McLaughlin one from Jackson Blake — but the defensive side of the puck is where the 6-8-4 Fighting Hawks made their most important strides.
UND entered the weekend ranked No. 51 of 61 teams nationally in team defense, but kept the nation's No. 1-scoring offense in check for much of the night. The Broncos were limited to just two goals — none from the country's top-scoring line of Ryan McAllister, Max Sasson and Jason Polin. It marked the first time McAllister has been held pointless in an NCHC game.
UND's top defensive pairing of Ethan Frisch and Tyler Kleven drew that assignment most of the night alongside forwards Mark Senden, Gavin Hain and Jamernik V.
"I thought we played a much more complete game than we have in the past four games," said Frisch, who returned after a three-game injury absence. "It was really promising seeing guys battle like that. We had five in the picture all over the ice like we talked about all week. I really thought we executed well. They had a couple of looks, but we know they're a good offensive team. Defensively, I thought we played well tonight."
UND's goaltending, which entered the night with the worst save percentage in all of college hockey, held up thanks to a strong performance by DeRidder. He didn't see a lot of action at five-on-five, but he came up big on the penalty kill against the No. 5-ranked power play in college hockey.
DeRidder made 10 saves while UND was shorthanded, helping the Fighting Hawks kill off all six Bronco advantages.
"When you kill all the penalties we did tonight, one of your best penalty killers has to be your goalie," Berry said. "I thought he did a good job there. He made some tough saves."
It was a special game for DeRidder, who hails from Fenton, Mich., about a two-hour drive from Kalamazoo. He had a lot of family and friends on hand.
"It's a special thing because I haven't had that in a while," DeRidder said. "I come from somewhere (Michigan State) where my family took that for granted a little bit. They could just come to every game and they didn't think twice about it. Now, it's rare that anyone gets to come see me. It's really cool to see everyone."
UND's forwards and defensemen also helped out DeRidder far more than last weekend, when the Fighting Hawks allowed 13 goals in a two-game series at St. Cloud State.
"We checked all over the ice," Berry said. "We had a good F-3 (defensive forward). We didn't give up many outnumbered (opportunities). We played smartly. We used our skates, we used our legs to check and take away time and space against a good offensive team.
"I thought that was one of our better games we played all year — for 60 minutes that is. Obviously, giving up that tying goal was disappointing. But at the end of the day, we came back and I thought we played strong after that."
After a scoreless three-on-three overtime, UND won a four-person shootout. Riese Gaber, Kleven and McLaughlin scored for the Fighting Hawks. DeRidder stopped the nation's second-leading goal-scorer, Polin, on Western Michigan's final opportunity.
"Getting a shootout win is nice," Frisch siad. "It's promising going into tomorrow. We know we can hang with these really good teams. We know we can dominate at certain parts of the game if we keep playing to our identity, keep playing five in the picture."
Berry indicated some players sustained injuries late in the game and might not be able to play in the series finale. One player who didn't return after suffering an injury was forward Matteo Costantini.
UND's healthy scratches on the trip are Ben Strinden and Nick Portz.
"I thought our guys threw everything on the table," Berry said. "Tomorrow's our last game in the first half. It's going to take that effort and probably a little bit better to try to get that win."
The series finale is scheduled for 5:05 p.m. Central.
After the game, UND has a three-week break.
"All the chips are in, man," Berry said. "We're going after it tomorrow. We'll look at what our lineup looks like tomorrow morning when we come back to the rink and have some meetings here. But I liked our mindset, I liked the way we checked tonight."