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Poganski's goals lead UND past Bemidji State in series opener

University of North Dakota senior Austin Poganski (14) approaches the Bemidji State net before he scored in the second period Friday at the Sanford Center in Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Forum News Service)

BEMIDJI—Seven games into the season, Austin Poganski was one of just two players on the UND men's hockey roster without a point.

The captain vowed he wouldn't change his game, though.

He said his focus was on playing his bruising style of hockey—finishing checks, being a pest defensively and not taking any shortcuts to rack up statistics. If he did that, Poganski said, the points would eventually come.

Sure enough, they're coming.

Poganski lit up the scoreboard for a second straight game, scoring twice Friday night to lead UND to a 5-1 win over Bemidji State in the Sanford Center.

The senior winger scored just 18 seconds into the game, added another tally late in the second period with his backhand and now leads the Fighting Hawks in goals this season with eight.

More importantly, his line with junior center Rhett Gardner and junior left wing Shane Gersich appears like a unit that can be consistently counted on for offense—an issue earlier this season for UND.

That trio has racked up 12 points in the last two games. Poganski has four goals in that span.

"I think it's a tribute to him," UND coach Brad Berry said. "No. 1, he works hard every day. He cares a lot about the day-to-day things he does. But the other thing is his leadership. He made a commitment to be here four years. Now, you can see him saying, 'Hey boys, follow me.' That whole line has been doing it, but especially Austin. He's elevated his game, and when he elevates his game, everyone does."

Nick Jones also scored two goals and tallied three points for UND, while Trevor Olson iced the game with an empty-netter, his first tally of the season.

Cam Johnson stopped 28 of 29 shots for UND, only allowing a point-blank shot from Beaver senior Kyle Bauman in the first period.

UND ended Bemidji State's nine-game unbeaten streak—the Beavers' longest in more than a decade—and will look for the sweep as the series heads back to Ralph Engelstad Arena at 7:07 p.m. tonight.

UND (12-6-5) cured its Friday-night blues—half of their losses have been because of poor first periods on Friday nights—for at least one evening.

Gardner set up Poganski for a goal just 18 seconds into the game to set the tone.

"That's big," Berry said. "We talked about the first five minutes of games in this building being an important part, and it was. They made a push after that. I thought we got better as the game went on, especially in the second half of the second period. We started to grind a little bit, possess pucks and get some opportunities at their end of the rink.

"That's a hard-working team. There's not a lot of time and space out there to make pretty plays. Those are the games you have to grind away."

Bemidji State tied the game at 8:49 of the first period, but UND scored twice in the second to blow open the game. Jones scored on a deflection of a Matt Kiersted point shot at 11:30 and Poganski buried a backhand from in tight after a dominant shift at 14:26 to make it 4-1.

"I felt, at times, we didn't play 200 feet," Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. "I felt, at times, we didn't move the puck quick enough. I thought we held on to it too long. When you hold on too long, they reload well, they stripped us, they counter and, at times, we got on a couple of long shifts and then you're chasing the game. I thought that's what happened in the second period."

Berry acknowledged after the game that the coaching staff would have tough lineup decisions for the series finale.

But one decision will be easy—leaving the top line together.

"We're starting to get some bounces," Poganski said. "We're clicking. We're making a lot of things happen. We have the talent. We have the work ethic. It's just about putting the puck in the net and we're starting to get those bounces."

Although the points are coming for Poganski, he's still putting his focus on playing his style of game—not his statistics.

"I try not to look at points as a gauge of how your game is going," he said.

Notes: UND played without sophomore defenseman Andrew Peski, who was injured in practice. Grand Forks native Casey Johnson filled his spot. Forward Grant Mismash, who sat out last Saturday's game, returned to the lineup in place of Zach Yon. Freshman forward Collin Adams and rookie defenseman Josh Rieger also were out of the lineup.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman 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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