DENVER -- The University of North Dakota's impressive start to the season always had questions attached to it.
Is it because the strength of schedule? Is it because UND is beating up on weaker opponents? What will happen when the Fighting Hawks face the best teams in the nation?
For those left with doubts, a big statement was made Saturday night: UND is back.
Decked out in their black jerseys, the Fighting Hawks beat No. 2-ranked Denver 4-1 in Magness Arena to take five of six National Collegiate Hockey Conference points on the weekend.
UND extended its unbeaten streak to seven games.
More impressively, the Fighting Hawks won a series in Magness Arena.
That’s something that teams with Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie and Ryan Duncan; Matt Frattin, Brad Malone and Evan Trupp; Brock Nelson, Corban Knight and Danny Kristo; Brock Boeser, Nick Schmaltz and Drake Caggiula never accomplished.
The last time UND won a series in November 2003.
After finishing off the weekend with a win, UND coach Brad Berry pointed at the massive gathering of UND fans on one end of the rink and pumped his fist as they roared.
The Fighting Hawks are now 8-1-2 and 3-0-1 in the NCHC.
Cole Smith led the way offensively with a pair of goals -- one on the power play and one shorthanded. Josh Rieger, a late start due to an illness to Jonny Tychonick, scored his first-career goal. And Westin Michaud iced it with an empty-netter.
Adam Scheel was again fantastic in net for UND, stopping 27 of 28 shots.
UND converted its first power-play chance of the night to take an early lead.
With just six seconds left on the advantage, Collin Adams sent a pass back to Jacob Bernard-Docker at the point. The sophomore defenseman hammered it toward the net, where Smith re-directed it past Denver goalie Magnus Chrona.
On the next shift, UND added to its lead.
Freshman forward Judd Caulfield, a Grand Forks native, made a no-look pass from the left circle across the ice to hit Rieger in space in the right circle. Rieger sent a snap shot past Chrona’s glove for his first-career goal.
At the end of the first period, UND defenseman Ethan Frisch was called for a major for boarding, giving the Pioneers a five-minute power play and a chance to get back in the game. But UND allowed Denver just two shots on goal during that advantage and killed it off.
Then, UND extended the lead with its first shorthanded goal of the season when Smith stripped the puck off of Denver forward Cole Guttman’s stick, skated it in on a breakaway and slipped it five-hole on Chrona.
The Pioneers spent much of the third period on the power play, highlighted by a five-minute major on Smith.
Within that major, Denver had a pair five-on-threes. One was for 56 seconds. The other was for a full two minutes.
UND killed all of that, but Denver’s Emilio Pettersen scored just after the power play expired for their lone goal of the net.
UND 4, Denver 1
First period -- 1. UND, Cole Smith 3 (Jacob Bernard-Docker 8, Collin Adams 5) 12:59; 2. UND, Josh Rieger 1 (Judd Caulfield 2, Adam Scheel 1) 13:47
Second period -- 3. UND, Smith 4 8:37 (sh)
Third period -- 4. DU, Emilio Pettersen 2 (Slava Demin 3, Magnus Chrona 1) 11:43
Penalties -- Griffin Mendel, DU, interference, 11:05 first; Ethan Frisch, UND, boarding major, 17:45 first; Tyson McLellan, DU, interference, 4:25 second; Matt Kiersted, UND, holding, 7:48 second; Bench minor, DU, too many on ice, 11:29 second; Rieger, UND, interference, 14:26 second; Mark Senden, UND, holding, 5:31 third; Smith, UND, checking from behind, 6:35 third; Smith, UND, game misconduct, 6:35 third; Bernard-Docker, UND, hooking, 8:06 third;
Goalie saves -- UND: Adam Scheel 4-11-12 -- 27; DU: Magnus Chrona 7-6-5 -- 18
Penalties-minutes -- UND 7-28, DU 3-6
Power plays -- UND 1-3, DU 0-3
Referees -- Geno Binda and Brian Aaron
Linesmen -- Bob Keltie and Chase McGee