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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service, Published November 15 2013

Saunders make 34 saves in North Dakota's men's hockey victory

GRAND FORKS – Clarke Saunders doesn’t mind seeing a lot of shots.

“I kind of figured that out by now,” he said.

The goalie, who once led the nation in saves per game at Alabama-Huntsville, has righted the ship for the University of North Dakota with back-to-back big performances.

The latest, a 34-save game to lead UND to a 4-2 victory over Minnesota-Duluth on Friday night, allowed UND to move back to .500 (4-4-1) and win back-to-back games for the first time this season.

“It feels good,” Saunders said. “Not necessarily just getting the starts, it feels good to win. We kind of snapped our losing streak, so it feels good to be on the other side of it right now.”

UND entered Sunday’s game in Omaha on a four-game losing streak, the program’s longest since 2006. But the team got out of it thanks to a 36-save performance by Saunders.

The Brockville, Ont., native followed that up with 34 more saves – 11 in the first period, 16 in the second, nine in the third – against the Bulldogs. During his last two outings, Saunders has a .946 save percentage.

“He’s been good,” said sophomore defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, who scored the game-winning goal with 9 minutes, 55 seconds left in the third period. “He’s been really good. He’s battling, he’s seeing pucks and he’s making the big saves – one or two a period – keeping us in games and helping us win.”

UND coach Dave Hakstol said he’s confident in both of his team’s goaltenders this season.

“Clarke did a real good job tonight,” he said. “I think Clarke has been excellent, absolutely, the last two outings here.”

Offensively, Schmaltz led the charge with the winning goal and an assist. Rocco Grimaldi and Michael Parks also scored for UND, while Stephane Pattyn iced it with an empty-netter in the final minute.

UND got off to a good start, scoring a power-play goal at 17:59 of the first period against the Bulldogs, who entered the game with the top penalty kill in the nation. Dillon Simpson’s point shot hit traffic and trickled behind Duluth goalie Aaron Crandall. Before Crandall could cover the puck with his back, Grimaldi swept it into the net.

UND added to the lead early in the third period when Parks scored on one of his trademark wraparounds at the 37-second mark, but the Bulldogs rallied to tie the game with two goals in 20 seconds.

Alex Iafallo scored a goal on a delayed penalty at 6:37 and Adam Krause flipped a rebound home just 20 seconds later on the ensuing power play.

“Everyone’s human,” Saunders said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh crap’ for about 10 seconds. It happens. It happens in hockey. It happens in every sport. You’ve got to shrug it off and the whole team did a good job of that.”

The next shift by the line of Connor Gaarder, Stephane Pattyn and Derek Rodwell was the key to the game in Hakstol’s eyes.

That turned the momentum back in UND’s favor and UND eventually received a power-play opportunity. On the power play, Schmaltz made a fantastic hold at the line by picking the puck out of midair and maintaining possession. Eventually, the puck came back to Schmaltz at the point and he fired a wrist shot through a Drake Caggiula screen for the winner.

“You can look at all kinds of turning points – big goals, big saves,” Hakstol said, “I thought that shift (by Gaarder’s line) was the most important shift of the hockey game for our team.”

Gaarder’s line again was stuck on the ice for an extended period of time as the Bulldogs pulled their goalie in the final two minutes of the game. But they eventually got the puck to Pattyn for the empty-netter.

FIRST PERIOD: 1, UND, Grimaldi (Simpson, Schamltz), 17:59 (pp).

SECOND PERIOD: No scoring.

THIRD PERIOD: 2, UND, Parks (LaDue, Johnson), 0:37. 3, MD, Iafallo (Toninato), 6:37 (pp). 4, MD, Krause (Iafallo, Raskob), 6:57 (pp). 5, UND, Schmaltz (Simpson, Caggiula), 10:05 (pp). 6, UND, Pattyn (Mattson), 19:04 (en).

SAVES: UND, Saunders 11-16-7–34. : DUL, Crandall 3-11-5–19.

Brad E. Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald