Grand Forks, ND – Unlikely heroes emerge all the time in sports. On Saturday, a desperate North Dakota team got a lift from the most unlikely of candidates to earn a comeback win and split of the series with the SCSU Huskies. Mike Gornall, a little used forward from Irwin, PA saw action in just 11 games over the past two years barely denting the score sheet with one goal and one assist. Yet, in the critical rematch with the Huskies he became the go to player scoring twice including the tying goal in the second period and game-winner in overtime to salvage the weekend series with the Huskies with the 2-1 win.
The Huskies on the other hand, were looking for their first NCHC Saturday win since December 10th and appeared to be heading in that direction after a power play goal by Mikey Eyssimont at 11:25 of period one. Eyssimont (Benson | Ahcan) plucked the puck off the back wall after a shot by Jacob Benson and stuffed the puck past an out of position Cam Johnson for a 1-0 SCSU lead. The Huskies outshot UND 8 to 7 in the period and put forth an energetic effort winning a considerable number of puck battles vs the Fighting Hawks.
But, UND began to find their legs in period two with about seven minutes left in the period when the Huskies appeared to lose their focus and legs. The Fighting Hawks took advantage of the situation when Gornall powered his way to Smith’s right putting a close-in shot on Smith and then burying his own rebound to tie the score at 1-1. A Brock Boesser boarding call at 18:00 gave the Huskies an ideal opportunity on the power play for the final two minutes of the period but they were unable to capitalize. UND had a 12 to 7 shot advantage in period two.
The teams skated to a scoreless third period despite the Huskies having two more opportunities on the man-advantage when Ludvig Hoff was penalized for hooking at 6:56 and Cole Smith for the same infraction at 14:21. The teams traded six shots on goal apiece in the third period.
The overtime session ended quickly as Gornall punctuated his effort in the game with the game-winning overtime goal just 41 seconds into the session. The puck was lifted into the SCSU zone and Gornall out-dueled SCSU’s Dennis Cholowski along the side wall for the puck and emerged one on one with Jeff Smith. Gornall lifted a backhand shot that beat Smith for the 2-1 overtime win for UND.
In another fine effort by Smith, he stopped 24 of 26 shots on goal in the loss and saw his record fall to 7-9-0. Cam Johnson returned to the lineup for North Dakota and stopped 20 of 21 shots on goal for the win. His record improved to 14-8-3. Despite scoring on their first opportunity of the game on the power play the Huskies fell short on four additional opportunities and were 1 for 5 on the night. UND was 0 for 1 in their only power play opportunity. UND outshot the Huskies 26 to 21 in the contest.
The win lifted North Dakota to a third place tie with Western Michigan and the loss by SCSU pushed them to sixth place in the NCHC standings one point behind fifth place Omaha.
The Huskies return home to face seventh place Miami next weekend.
Stars of the Game: Mike Gornall (UND) Jeff Smith (SCSU) Cam Johnson (UND)