OMAHA, Neb. -- Before the University of North Dakota took the ice Sunday with just 17 skaters -- the fewest UND has played with since Oct. 20, 2012 -- coach Brad Berry gave a history lesson to his players.
He didn't pick out any specific past game or season.
He didn't tell them about the game eight years ago against Alaska Anchorage where UND played just nine forwards and won. He didn't tell them about the year before, when UND had so many season-ending injuries it was forced to play without a full lineup for the final month of the season, yet won eight-straight games and the lifted the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's Broadmoor Trophy, anyway.
He didn't tell them about anything from his playing days in the 1980s.
"But we did say through North Dakota hockey and the culture and the years we've been here, whenever there's a little bit of adversity, whether it's (losinig) a game or two in a row, or being undermanned, there was always a big push," Berry said. "There was always a response. There was always something where we really clung to and solidified as a band of brothers to try to get the win.
"I think they clung to that. It was a situation where guys got a little bit tighter. They knew the situation of having guys gone at the World Juniors, having guys some significant players out of our lineup, that, 'Hey, we can do that job. But we've got to play as a team here. We've got to make sure we have our habits and details.' There was a reference teams in the past who went through adversity like this."
Then, like so many of those past teams, this one delivered.
Playing with five defensemen for the first time in almost nine years -- and playing its third game in four days -- the Fighting Hawks beat Western Michigan 6-3 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Pod in Omaha's Baxter Arena.
Rookie forward Riese Gaber scored twice, while Gavin Hain, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Brendan Budy and Jasper Weatherby added goals to lift the Fighting Hawks to 4-2-1 mark through seven games in the Pod.
Shane Pinto, the NCHC's leading scorer, added two assists and now has 10 points, while Jordan Kawaguchi had an assist to extend his NCHC-leading point streak to seven games. Kawaguchi is now one point shy of becoming UND's first 100-point scorer since Drake Caggiula in 2015-16.
"I want to commend North Dakota on the way they played tonight," Western Michigan coach Andy Murray said. "They basically played five defensemen and nine forwards. It's a veteran group and they've been in these situations before where you're missing a few guys and you've got to step up.
"They played a real efficient game. They pushed pucks ahead. They didn't take them back into their zone. They maintained possession. I thought their tracking from behind was tremendous. Our guys would get going, not fast enough, they were catching us from behind there. Certainly credit North Dakota. They were physical in their zone. We certainly had opportunities. We had some good looks. That's why they have a quality goaltender as well. So, I commend North Dakota for the way they played in tough circumstances."
UND now gets to take two days off before returning to play St. Cloud State at 7:35 p.m. Wednesday.
Then, the Fighting Hawks close the Pod against Minnesota Duluth and Miami on Saturday and Sunday.
Berry said he hasn't ruled out the return of defenseman Ethan Frisch for Wednesday's game, but Saturday and Sunday appear to be the target for him. He said Frisch is closer to returning than forwards Judd Caulfield and Harrison Blaisdell, who are both out with injuries.
UND also will continue to be without defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven, who will be at the World Juniors until January.
Even if shorthanded, UND found a recipe for success.
It starts by playing with a lead.
Entering Sunday's game, UND led for just 4 minutes, 11 seconds out of the previous 185 minutes of game time. Those games resulted in a tie and two losses. But Gaber, who was once a Western Michigan commit, scored on the power play and Hain scored at even-strength in the final seven minutes of the first period to put the Fighting Hawks in the lead from the start.
Bernard-Docker added to that lead with a goal off the rush in the second period.
"We made a couple plays to get the lead and that was very, very important," Berry said. "Over the last couple of games, we've been trying to chase games and now having the lead was a big deal for us. I'm proud of the way our guys started."
Western Michigan scored late in the second and early in the third to bring it within 3-2. But Gaber responded 27 seconds later and the Broncos never got within a goal the rest of the way.
"Everyone had to play a role and battle up and do what you're told," said Hain, who has already matched last year's goal total with two. "Just take any role the coaches put you into and battle up."
Strong effort from UND's defenders
UND's five defensemen had challenging assignments.
The three most experienced guys -- Bernard-Docker, Matt Kiersted and Gabe Bast -- played significant minutes Saturday night against St. Cloud State and were asked to come back and do it again Sunday.
The more inexperienced guys -- Josh Rieger and Cooper Moore -- were put into large roles, including special teams, that they're not used to playing.
"With five 'D,' you get into a pretty good rhythm," Bernard-Docker said. "You'd think your legs get pretty tired, but honestly, when there's five guys rotating, and when you're keeping your shifts short, and you're keeping them to 20-30 seconds, you actually feel pretty good. Legs felt good. These two days off will be really good for the guys."
UND has finals this week, which means the league schedule handed the Fighting Hawks more free days. Wednesday's game against St. Cloud State is the only one scheduled in the next five days.
Monday and Tuesday will mark UND's first back-to-back days off since the NCHC Pod began Dec. 1.
"It will definitely be nice to get some time off," Bernard-Docker said. "The body's feeling pretty good. Everyone's been doing a good job of making sure we do cool downs. We've got a cold tub back at the hotel. We've been taking advantage of those recovery opportunities."