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Jackson Kunz's rising confidence showing on the ice

Mar. 16—GRAND FORKS — UND forward Jackson Kunz got the puck in the neutral zone at the start of the third period Saturday.

He settled the puck and quickly found Owen McLaughlin, who slid it over to Jackson Blake for a goal to give UND a 3-0 lead en route to a 7-1 Fighting Hawks win over Miami to advance to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul.

"That's a big time play," UND coach Brad Berry said. "To have confidence to do that with a guy barreling down on you is a big, big deal. He believes in himself, and we believe in him."

Kunz's confidence has grown as the season has gone on, and the difference it's made for Kunz is visible on the ice.

Kunz had a goal and two assists Saturday, his first career three-point game. He has 11 points in his last 13 games. The streak started

Jan. 27 against Denver,

when Kunz scored in the second period and moved to the top line for the third.

It's an improvement for the Vancouver Canucks pick, who began this season teetering on the edge of the lineup. He found himself a healthy scratch in some early games.

But an increase in confidence — and playing time — has made all the difference.

"Just building on it every shift in every game," Kunz said of his confidence. "There's more opportunity (now). Obviously, that's a huge thing. Getting in the lineup and playing more, and I'm lucky to be able to be out there with the guys we have."

He has taken advantage of his opportunities to play on the top lines, including with McLaughlin and Blake.

Kunz's role as a netfront screen on the power play has been a difference maker. It also led to his goal Saturday when a Blake shot hit off Kunz's inner leg for the score.

"Obviously, Owen's very skilled, so we need that stable guy on our line who can grind out," Blake said. "(Kunz) does a heck of a job. He knows his role, and he plays it so well. Even on the power play, too, netfront. He's just so big. That's just what he does. We know what to expect from him, and we're super grateful to have him on our line."

Blake had success almost immediately at UND, while Kunz has had to stick with the process, Berry said.

"It's been tough for him," Berry said. "I keep saying, 'Just stay with it.' Everybody has a different path, and sometimes it takes a little bit longer. He stayed with it. He believed what we said. He believed in the process, and now it's coming to fruition for him."