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Tough task: Shorthanded UND team looking to turn tide in AmsOil Arena

Minnesota Duluth's Riley Tufte fires off a shot past North Dakota's Colton Poolman during a game last season in Duluth. Bob King / Forum News Service

DULUTH -- North Dakota’s Matt Kiersted didn’t hide his feelings about AmsOil Arena.

“I’m not a big fan of that place,” the Elk River, Minn., native said, “going back to high school.”

Kiersted’s nightmares in Minnesota Duluth’s home building stem from a pair of section championship game losses.

But his teammates may share his thoughts on the place, too.

UND hasn’t won on the banks of Lake Superior in three years.

Only three players on the current roster have won collegiate games in AmsOil Arena: seniors Joel Janatuinen, Rhett Gardner and Hayden Shaw. They swept a two-game series in AmsOil Arena as college freshmen.

Since then, UND is 0-4 in Duluth and has been outscored 18-7.

That’s a trend that the Fighting Hawks will aim to end at 7:07 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, when they take on defending national champion Minnesota Duluth in a National Collegiate Hockey Conference series.

UND has won just one of the past eight games against the Bulldogs. That victory came in their most recent meeting in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in March.

This weekend’s series against Minnesota Duluth may be an uphill battle for a number of reasons.

No. 2 Minnesota Duluth is on an eight-game home unbeaten streak (7-0-1). The Bulldogs haven’t lost at home yet this season (4-0-1) and have outscored opponents 20-6 in AmsOil.

“I just think they’re a really skilled team,” Kiersted said. “They do the right things. But I think if we go in there and play our way and not worry about them too much and just worry about playing our game, it will come.”

Minnesota Duluth (9-2-1) is the only team in the country with better possession numbers than UND (7-5-1). The Bulldogs have a 62.4 percent Corsi possession rating, which tracks puck possess by shot attempts. The Fighting Hawks are No. 2 nationally at 59.6 percent.

“One team is going to have the puck and the other team isn’t,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “We want to be that team that has the puck.

“When you really look at it, these are two teams that closely mimic each other, the way they play, how they conduct themselves on the ice and the way they present themselves. One thing is that we haven’t gotten out to great starts against them. I think that’s going to be the biggest thing. Having a good start, first period and 20 minutes -- and having some puck possession.”

Jones out again

The other challenge is that UND will be shorthanded this weekend.

Senior standout Nick Jones will miss his sixth and seventh consecutive games with a lower-body injury that he sustained Nov. 9 against Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. It’s looking more likely that his injury will keep him out until after Christmas.

Jones is one of the NCHC’s best faceoff men, which helps with puck possession. In his absence, Gardner is being asked to take an extremely high number of draws.

Jones might not be the only forward who is out this weekend, either.

Sophomore Collin Adams is questionable after sustaining an injury in practice this week, and senior Joel Janatuinen has been limited this week in practice due to an illness.

Trying to turn the tide

UND hasn’t always had these misfortunes at AmsOil.

The building opened on the night of Dec. 30, 2010 with a UND-Minnesota Duluth game.

UND beat the Bulldogs 5-0 in that contest and went 6-1 in its first seven games in AmsOil. Four of those seven were UND shutouts.

But the Bulldogs turned that with a sweep in October 2016, springboarding back-to-back appearances in national championship games for Minnesota Duluth.

“They’re just a skilled team and they play the game the right way,” junior forward Cole Smith said. “I think any team that plays the game the right way is a tough team to win against. For us going in there, we’re going to have to play the right way ourselves. We’re going to have to play hard, play physical and make all the little plays.

“It’s a challenging place to play but it’s a really fun place to play. If you can go into an environment like that and steal one or two, it’s awesome.”

And if that happens, maybe Kiersted will change his opinion.