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COLLEGE HOCKEY: Lineup decisions become a challenge for North Dakota after Anchorage series

ANCHORAGE, Alaska—The University of North Dakota hockey coaching staff assumed it would have a difficult time picking which 12 forwards suit up on any given night this season.

They were right—and those decisions aren't getting any easier.

The first weekend of the regular season only muddied the waters even further as UND's third- and fourth-line players, generally those most at risk of being scratched, collectively had strong games.

On Saturday, the Fighting Hawks scratched highly touted rookies Grant Mismash and Jordan Kawaguchi for the team's 3-2 overtime victory over Alaska Anchorage in Sullivan Arena.

The coaching staff wanted to get sophomore forwards Cole Smith and Zach Yon into the lineup and both delivered.

Smith made a terrific play in overtime, leading to Casey Johnson's game-winning goal. Smith, aware that his teammates were changing lines, curled in the offensive zone to buy time, then made a saucer pass to Johnson, the Grand Forks Central grad who snapped home his first-career goal.

There's no doubt that UND will soon get Mismash and Kawaguchi back in the lineup. They both have high-end skill that can help this team. But who do the coaches take out?

It's a dilemma that doesn't appear close to sorting itself out.

"They're not (easy decisions)," head coach Brad Berry said. "That's the positive thing as far as having depth in the group. It was a tough decision (Saturday) sitting a couple guys out. We put a couple of guys in and as you saw, those guys got an opportunity and they seized it. We'll go from there.

"Grant Mismash and Jordan Kawaguchi are big parts of our future and big parts of our program. They're going to get in our lineup and they're going to make a big impact."

Smith, of Brainerd, Minn., sat out for the exhibition game against the University of Manitoba and Friday night's 1-1 tie, but made an impact in his first game action of the season.

"I just wanted to come in and play my role and be a spark plug for my team," Smith said. "It felt good."

Berry liked Smith's game.

"He's a hard worker on and off the ice," Berry said. "It's nice to see him get rewarded."

Lessons learned

UND learned a pair of valuable lessons during the Alaska Anchorage series.

The first is that it has to manage games better when holding the lead. The Fighting Hawks lost third-period leads both nights.

A series of errors—starting in the offensive zone—led to the game-tying goal on Saturday night.

"That's all a part of game management," Berry said. "We had three mistakes on that play. Those are things we can correct, though."

The Fighting Hawks also learned that scoring goals can be challenging against star goalies—and Olivier Mantha is far from the last one UND will see this season.

Mike Richter Award finalists Kyle Hayton (Wisconsin), Michael Bitzer (Bemidji State) and award winner Tanner Jaillet (Denver) are all ahead.

"Obviously, we learned a little bit about how tough it is to score," UND goalie Cam Johnson said. "Sometimes, you're going to run into hot goalies. We just found a way. That's important, especially for our young guys. We all saw how challenging it is to score sometimes and how it's not easy to win. We learned a little bit. We're going to take that back to Grand Forks with us."

Challenging games for Cam

Johnson, a senior goalie, faced sporadic work in Anchorage, going long stretches of time without seeing action.

The Seawolves threw only 16 shots on goal each game. On Friday, Johnson only faced eight even-strength shots.

It was in stark contrast to Mantha, who faced 78 shots on the weekend and was busy throughout each night.

"Those are honestly the hardest games to play in," Johnson said, "especially when we're down peppering their guy and he's kicking it. Give kudos to that guy. He played unreal. But those games are really challenging to play in, especially when you don't see many shots, then, all the sudden, they get a bounce and a shot right in the slot. They're tough to play in, but we got the win and that's all that matters."

First time

Rookies Matt Kiersted and Collin Adams both tallied their first-career goals Saturday night.

Kiersted's broke a scoreless tie midway through the second period. He buried a rebound of a Rhett Gardner shot.

"It was a great play by Johns (Casey Johnson) to give it to Rhett," Kiersted said. "Rhett made the shot. They made it easy on me. I just had to clean up the garbage."

St. Lawrence At No. 8 UND

• When: Friday, 7:37 p.m.,Saturday, 7:07 p.m.

• Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena

• Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM), Midco

• Records: UND 1-0-1; St. Lawrence 0-2-0

• Of note: The teams will face each other for the first time since 2013

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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