UND Crushes Northeastern, Earns Berth in Region Final

CINCINNATI – University of North Dakota forward and Grand Forks native Johnny Simonson began his sophomore year with a hat trick in UND’s exhibition win over the University of Manitoba, then potted two more goals in the team’s first five regular-season games. The well went bone-dry after that, however, as Simonson has been unable to find the net since October.

That prolonged slump ended today when his team needed him the most.

Simonson banged home a Keaton Thompson rebound 5:43 into the first period of this afternoon’s NCAA Midwest Region semifinal against Northeastern, pulling his Fighting Hawks even after an early deficit and sparking a run of five straight North Dakota goals on the way to a 6-2 victory.

With the win, UND advanced to its sixth straight NCAA regional final and 11th in the last 13 years.

After Nolan Stevens opened the scoring on Northeastern’s first shot of the game three minutes in, Simonson’s goal provided an immediate answer for a resolute North Dakota squad. Fellow Greater Grand Forks products Tucker Poolman (East Grand Forks, Minn.) and Luke Johnson (Grand Forks) pushed the lead to 3-1 by the end of the period, a frame in which UND outshot the Huskies 17-6.

“I think that (goal) was big for our team going down 1-0 there,” said Simonson. “A hard, simple play, and a great shot to the net by Keaton Thompson.”

Simonson laughed when asked about the first-period scoring outburst by the trio of homegrown players.

“[I didn’t realize it] until you just mentioned it now. Yeah, that’s kind of cool,” said Simonson. “I’m sure some of our high school friends back home will note that.”

North Dakota head coach Brad Berry said he was pleased to see Simonson end his 35-game goal drought.

“Johnny is a consummate teammate. He’s what North Dakota culture is, on and off the ice,” said Berry. “He stayed with it. He had a good start to the season offensively, and then it dried up a little bit. He’s all about the team and it’s great to see him have a little bit of success tonight.”

Simonson’s goal, followed by Poolman’s blast from the circle and Johnson’s power-play goal, stunned the Huskies, the hottest team in the nation coming into the game. But the Fighting Hawks kept the pedal down, adding goals by Bryn Chyzyk (12th) and Brock Boeser (26th) in the second period.

NU’s Matt Benning and UND’s Drake Caggiula – his 20th of the season – traded goals in the final 20 minutes and the Huskies drew no closer. Sophomore goalie Cam Johnson made 23 consecutive saves after allowing the opening goal, including 19 over the final two periods.

“From the second period, and especially the push they put on in the third period, he had to be extremely sharp and he was,” said Berry. “It’s what he’s been like all year. It’s a testament to how he prepares and how dialed-in he is from game-to-game.”

While Johnson did his thing on the back end, UND received goals from each of its four forward lines.

“I know we have tremendous depth and all four lines can contribute whenever we need. That what makes our team so special,” said Caggiula, who extended his career-long point streak to 10 games. “We don’t have a Line 1, Line 2, Line 3, Line 4…we just have four lines that know how to make plays. It helps out the whole team in a big way. Johnny (Simonson) gets out of his slump and it sparked the guys. It’s not just about one guy.”

North Dakota (31-6-4) now awaits the winner of Friday night’s Michigan-Notre Dame semifinal.

“I thought our guys were sharp and they were all-in right away on Monday,” said Berry. “It goes to the fact that these guys have a goal to get to. Tonight, we checked the first box. We’ve got to make sure we’re dialed in tomorrow for whoever we play.”

Saturday’s regional final is set for 6 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Central on ESPN2.

Courtesy UND Athletics

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