UND HOCKEY: Defensive Lapses Doom Hawks, Lose 6-2 to Broncos

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– It was a weekend to forget for the University of North Dakota, as they were swept at home for the first time since January 2017, as Western Michigan closed out the two-game series with a 6-2 victory on Saturday night and got their first sweep against North Dakota in the program’s history.

North Dakota struck first, making the most of their power play chances. Jasper Weatherby got his first NCAA goal after crashing the net and finding a Colton Poolman rebound off the pads of Trevor Gorsuch and hitting the back of the net as he dove to make sure he got the rebound off. Colt Conrad got it back for Western Michigan later in the frame, as during a scrum in front, he found the loose puck and flicked it with the toe of his stick to the back-bar to tie the game at one, which is where the frame would end.

Midway through the second, the bad bounces haunted UND again, as a Corey Schueneman broke his stick on a one-timer, but the puck bounced off UND’s Andrew Peski for a 2-1 Broncos’ lead. Two minutes later, WMU struck again on the power play, as Wade Allison went top-shelf on Adam Scheel to make it 3-1 for the Broncos. The Broncos continued their second period charge, as Josh Passolt ended Adam Scheel’s night by rifling a wrister from the top of the circle high blocker on Scheel making it 4-1 and putting Peter Thome in the cage for UND. Defensively, the Fighting Hawks weren’t the best this weekend. Blowing coverages, ill-advised passes, bad transitioning– not a good look after an otherwise solid start to the season.

The start of the third showed the lack of defensive coverage, as Colt Conrad and Josh Passolt had a give-and-go on an odd-man rush, ending with Passolt scoring on a wide-open cage to make it 5-1. Penalty troubles for UND put them two-men down and the Broncos capitalized late with Hugh McGing banging home a one-timer to make it 6-1. With 10.2 seconds left, Rhett Gardner tipped home a Matt Kiersted shot to make it 6-2 and then it ended with UND being swept at home for the first time since January 2017 against Minnesota-Duluth.

Post-game, you could see how distraught the Fighting Hawks were to this loss, especially given their disappointing defensive performance. Captain Colton Poolman seemed to take the loss very hard, coming into the interview room almost at a loss for words about not only Saturday, but the weekend as a whole.

“I think we lost our cool,” Poolman said trying to control his emotions. “We turned on each other for a little bit. It’s hard to say but that’s the truth. We just didn’t play well. We just started trying to do things by ourselves. Some guys tried to do too much. Some guys weren’t going enough. That’s what happens. That’s pretty embarrassing. That’s not Sioux hockey. That’s not what we do as a family, but we call a spade a spade when we put performances like that. That’s not good enough for the caliber of program we should be.”

“Tonight, it seemed everyone was on a different page as far as D-men stepping up and out of the neutral zone, forwards not coming back through the neutral zone,” said head coach Brad Berry. “We weren’t crisp in our team play and that resulted in what you saw. We had guys doing things that we normally don’t do. Over the course of our first 10 games, our play away from the puck has been impeccable, giving up less than probably 10 scoring chances per game.”

The Fighting Hawks are probably in for a big week of practice before the annual Thanksgiving weekend set, this year welcoming in Alaska-Anchorage. The upside is that the Seawolves come into these games with only one win on the season. The downside is that the Hawks need to really show their skill and will on the weekend to show they’re back on the right track and gelling together as a unit rather than individuals.

UND HOCKEY: Bad Bounces, Missing Net Doom Fighting Hawks in 2-0 Loss to Western Michigan

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– Coming off a split in their first NCHC weekend, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks came back to The Ralph to kick off the home side of their conference schedule against Western Michigan University. For the first time in six contest, sophomore Peter Thome was in net for the Fighting Hawks, a crease that freshman Adam Scheel had carved out for his own.

“Obviously exciting to get back in there,” said Thome. “We were playing great hockey. Sucks sitting out, but it’s all about being a good teammate. When you’re winning games, you can’t say coach should change the line-up.”

“(Thome) worked hard in practice,” said head coach Brad Berry of his roster change. “Last couple of weeks he’s been doing all the right things that warranted the opportunity to play. I thought he was sharp and has looked that way the last couple of weeks.”

The first period was controlled by UND for the most part. With 16 shots in the first period, they had their chances, especially with three power plays in the frame. However, Western Michigan’s Trevor Gorsuch was solid thanks to his defense in front of him keeping high percentage shots to a minimum and allowing Gorsuch to see a lot of the Fighting Hawks best chances. The same story for the second period, less the power plays. North Dakota kept making Gorsuch look good with shots right into his pads.

“It’s hockey sometimes,” captain Colton Poolman remarked after the game. “You can do all the little things and then maybe they won’t go. The goalie played really well, they blocked a lot of shots. We got frustrated in the second. It’s something we have to address in the locker room. Sometimes things will go that way. We just got to keep plugging away.”

Luck struck for Western Michigan in the third, as an errand pass to Josh Passolt went off his stick, then off the toe of Hayden Shaw’s skate and behind Thome for the 1-0 Broncos’ lead. UND pressed and pulled Thome with about three minutes left, but the Broncos kept the Hawks off the scoresheet, got it out of the zone, and killed time with their passing before Colt Conrad was able to bury the empty-netter.

“Always have to look at yourself,” mentioned Thome. “It’s a tough play, but tough plays happen. If I would have found a way to have that one stay out, we’d probably still be out there, but it was a tough bounce.”

“You’re defending and boxing the guy out and doing all the things right to prevent a goal and that’s hockey,” said Berry about the bounce on the game-winning goal. “Hopefully the bounces even out and we can get some tomorrow.”

As mentioned before, UND seemed to get frustrated. Plenty of shots at Gorsuch, but nothing getting through. It was another game that the Hawks outshot their opposition by double-digits, but didn’t have a win to show for it. As the game went along, the biggest thing for the Hawks was to keep things level-headed.

“It’s just on the bench, just trying to keep things up,” Poolman said of the frustration level. “You know, you may not score on the shift, but you got to keep the momentum going. You’re not going to take a negative on the shift. Shift-by-shift you got to keep the calm kind of demeanor out there.”

“You got to stay with and the way to stay with it is to play the third period like you played the first two period,” mentioned Berry of the frustration level. “I think there’s a little desperation on our part to stretch a little bit or do things out of the normal of our system. One thing that was evident tonight was we had some pretty good chances and we missed the net. When we have those chance, you have to hit the net. If you don’t score, you can create a rebound.”

North Dakota will try to get that win back Saturday night at The Ralph before going into the Thanksgiving holiday.

NHL Branded Podcasts Are Exactly What You Would Expect

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Logo via NHL.com

This past week, the NHL got into the late-2000s by releasing their own branded podcasts, one of which is called the NHL Executive Suite. Every other week, Deb Placey will talk to hockey executives about, according to the release, “how each guest broke into the game, why they pursued their careers, how they see the future of the sport and much more.” Their first podcast was with Hall of Famer Gary Bettman, the NHL Commissioner (f-f-f-f-for life).

In between having a ton of podcasts and avoiding writing on this blog apparently, I gave this a listen. Now, this won’t be a complete deconstruction of the podcast and nit-picking from my 17 years of experience, because I don’t think it needs deconstruction for what it actually is and who it’s put out by. Plus, if I were any better at doing podcasts, I’d be in a spot on the NHL Productions Radio spot.

No, this is more about the concept of the project with who is putting this out.

If it were anyone but the NHL, the podcasts would actually have things people want to hear and not fluff pieces about these executives that are going on. I can’t blame Deb Placey, she’s great in directing the conversation, getting the topics that they want to put across, and pretty much following through the whole thesis of what they want this podcast to be about. Placey is fantastic as a host and her history with the NHL and knowing how to deal with executives from her time with Gary Bettman and his radio show is perfect in knowing how the league wants this all to play out.

My problem with something like this is that these are people that other podcasts would love to have on and not have the sugar-coated questions. There is a lot to the onion of any of these executive’s stories, but they’re so guarded in where they are working that these stories are not something that will come out on podcasts as long as they’re employed. This is a podcast where I would rather have nothing at all than to have something like this that only scratches a surface that will never be fully scratched because hockey people are that way.

Earlier in the month, the NHL released their Fantasy on Ice podcast– again, years after they should have had one. However, with all the new sponsorship deals they have with MGM and Fan Duel and Yahoo– why not have a fantasy hockey podcast licensed by the NHL?? It’s a simple thing that should have been done years ago, but now that other places have something like that– the NHL is trying to finally make a splash and hope that people go with the NHL brand over other places.

Listen, it’s okay that these exist, but for the NHL to be producing them lets you know that it’ll be as milquetoast as you think it’ll be for a league putting out content like this. In fact, I’m surprised the NHL did this because they are probably the league that most protects their brand against people who aren’t going with the company line.

(Don’t believe me– just ask me about my interact with a recently retired NHL executive at the Dallas Draft and why it’s harder than hell to get the Face Off Hockey Show in with credentials to NHL events.)

These programs– as well as the ones on NHL Network and NHL Network Radio– are going to protect the league in any way they can. Sure, there might be some discussion to the contrary about different things, but with these hosts contracted by the league to do a service– they won’t go against the grain and risk a job because they know spots at The Athletic are filling up to capacity and the bubble may burst soon. It’s a cozy job, it’s an easy job, it’s something people would enjoy if they want to just see the money roll in.

But what fun is that when you’re just hearing the company line. There’s plenty of great stories out there that many won’t tell because they’re too close to the game, but the guys outside of the game will talk your ear off about them. It’s my hope that one day there’s going to be a wrestling-style “shoot” interview with some players or executives and it’d be a great time….but some hockey players aren’t that way and it’d never have the full effect, though it could be a great money maker.

So– here’s to the NHL for finally getting onto the podcast life years too late from when they should have. It’s great to have another hockey podcast– despite it being a color-by-number interview segment that rarely touches on the things people want it to touch on.

UND HOCKEY: JBD’s OT Dramatics Helps North Dakota Sweep Wisconsin

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– For the first time since December 1st and 2nd of last year (against Western Michigan, the University of North Dakota was able to get a regular season home sweep, as they defeated the University of Wisconsin Badgers 3-2 in overtime on Saturday night. The win boosted the Fighting Hawks record to 4-2-1 as the bulk of their non-conference schedule is finished. Adam Scheel 21 saves with Jacob Bernard-Docker playing the role of hero for the Hawks.

Penalties troubled Wisconsin to start the game, as they had back-to-back penalty kills due to two cross-checking calls against them, but they killed them both off. After those kills, Will Johnson got the first goal of the series for the Badgers, redirecting a pass from Seamus Malone that got past Adam Scheel to give Wisconsin their first goal of the series. Despite have four power plays, UND couldn’t connect on any and the period ended with a Badgers lead.

Grant Mismash started the scoring in the second, as he picked up a redirected puck on a clearing attempt and put it past Daniel Lebedeff to tie the game at ones. UND had some chances late into the period, but nothing was getting past Lebedeff, though Mismash seemed to have a magnet to his stick, as he got a majority of the chances late, as did Collin Adams.

Under three minutes into the third, Tarek Baker tipped a K’Andre Miller shot from the top of the circle in past Scheel to put Wisconsin up 2-1. Almost 30 seconds later, Nick Jones got a small break away and went five-hole on Lebedeff to tie the game back up.

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Nick Jones/ Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“As soon as I saw clear ice, I knew I had a guy on my hip,” mentioned Jones of his goal, “I was just going to bring the goalie across and see what happen. I didn’t plan to go five-hole. If I tried to put it anywhere else, I don’t think I would have scored.”

While the game went back and forth, the wheels almost fell off a bit for Wisconin, as they got two penalties with 15 seconds with Josh Ess going for cross-checking Mismash into the post and Tyler Inamoto getting an elbowing for going upside the head of Rhett Gardner. The Badgers were able to stave off the onslaught in the third, pushing it into the overtime period.

Only 21 seconds into the OT, the calls befell the Badgers and Jacob Bernard-Docker waited out the defense to rip a wrister from the top of the circle to win the game in overtime for the Fighting Hawks and sweeping the weekend for them.

“It was huge,” coach Brad Berry said after the game. “We had a lot of opportunities tonight on the power play to get a goal or two, but we only got it at end. I’m proud of how our guys showed resiliency from the second and into the third. We got some looks at the end of the game, but they weren’t good looks. We were standing around and stagnant. You want to make sure you have fresh bodies so you can make plays. I think JBD scored a heck of a goal on Friday night and it was almost the same tonight.”

Though a cause for concern is the power play. While UND had nine power play chances in the game, they only connected on one of them– the game winner. UND has the 46th ranked power play in the nation, running at only 14.3% (5 of 25), putting them last in the NCHC in that stat.

“We gotta find chemistry,” mentioned Jones about the power play. “Last night, we had some looks, but with nine chances, you gotta have more than looks. We have to go back to the basics. Matt Shaw is a good coach for us on that, but just got to find that chemistry.”

The conference play starts next weekend, as UND heads to Oxford, Ohio to take on Miami of Ohio.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Stay Strong Against Old Rivals

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– On a night where a main instigator of the most infamous UND/Wisconsin brawl in their rivalry was given his “One Last Shift” by the University of North Dakota, the Fighting Hawks did Jim Archibald’s honor proud by taking it to Wisconsin from the start and beating the Badgers 5-0 to start the weekend on a great note and give Adam Scheel his first NCAA shutout.

“It’s good to get it under my belt, but it goes to how well the team played as a whole,” said Scheel post-game. ”I feel I’m pretty comfortable so I think I’m pretty adjusted.”

Scoring started with a great play on the forecheck for UND, as Ludvig Hoff was able to keep the play alive during a Fighting Hawks line change, find a streaking Collin Adams, who made a nice little pass over to Rhett Gardner to make it 1-0 UND. It was the first goal by a senior this year for the Hawks.

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Rhett Gardner/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“When you don’t score to start the beginning of the year, you wonder if you’re ever going to score all year,” mentioned Gardner. “I just wanted one to break out of it, but I thought I had a good game against Minnesota and just try to keep it rolling and stay hot.”

Aside from the scoring, the forecheck for UND was a big story as they created many turnovers on the penalty kill and by Wisconsin not being able to get a clean break-out from their zone. After the senior’s goal early, a freshman potted the second one, with Jacob Bernard-Docker getting his first NCAA goal with a laser from the point to go high blocker on Jack Berry. JBD froze Berry with a nice little toe-drag to get a better shot angle and pot it upstairs.

“It was super cool to do it at home, but getting more comfortable, it was a matter of time,” said JBD post-game. “We just talked about locking them up and if they’re going down, we’re pulling around them. I was just lucky enough my guy went down and ripped it.”

Less than 30 seconds into the second period, Gardner struck again, picking up an errant rebound to make it 3-0. It took until half-way through the second for UND to strike again, with Colton Poolman just throwing it at the net, which luckily redirected off Wisconsin’s Peter Tischke and into the net giving Poolman his third of the season. Not long after, Jack Berry was lifted with 7:04 left in the second after giving up four goals on 15 shots.

It took halfway through the third for Rhett Gardner to complete his hat-trick almost how it started, with a one-timer in the high slot off another wonderful pass by Collin Adams and going past Daniel Lebedeff to make it a 5-0 lead. Not too much excitement until Tyler Inamoto and Dixon Bowen got into it, resulting in Bowen getting a ten-minute misconduct for a slash, but also jawing a little too much.

However, after a bit of a stumble out of the gate, coach Brad Berry liked what he saw out of his team and how they’ll play going forward.

“The first part of the season, something was missing. We’ve done a better job through practices to play a 60-minute game. We’ve got some chemistry with lines and we’re gelling, but more importantly playing a consistent, 60-minute game.”

The two teams have the rematch on Saturday at 7:07 at The Ralph.

TEPID TAKE: Global Series Will Yield Some Sort of NHL Europe League

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If you hadn’t heard or randomly saw on your fantasy rosters that there were afternoon games randomly on a Thursday– the NHL is over in Finland in Part II of their Global Series, as the Devils and Oilers were Part I at the beginning of the season in Sweden, which was after the Devils and Flames were in China in the pre-season.

Of course, Gary Bettman was in Helsinki to take in the action, to which he had a press conference to talk about the next round of Global Series games for the 2019-20 season; though nothing was set into stone. Tentative plans have the games in Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, and the Czech Republic.

In the past 25 years, the NHL has tinkered with these regular season games overseas. The Ducks and Canucks, Flames and Sharks, Predators and Penguins all had regular season games in Toyko in the late ’90s as the NHL tried to expand their footprint. Recently, the NHL Premiere games were a thing to kick off the season in Europe with London, Prauge, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Berlin (to name a few) to hold NHL regular season games with teams that had player who were natives in those countries. With the China games, those were more like the Toyko games in the ’90s to expand a global footprint and get more marketing that way.

While this is all well and good for the league in getting international exposure, when ever you hear about North American pro sports leagues and another continent– the discussion turns to when they’re going to create a league that is the major league brand, but in an overseas location. Sure, NFL Europe fails, but with the London games and the fact they don’t travel as heavily, the idea of an NFL team in England isn’t out of bound.

I mentioned the travel because I’m not going to suggest that the NHL put an expansion team into Europe or Asia…I am probably going to suggest the NHL find a way to brand the Champions Hockey League as their own to get full European exposure for the league’s champions, as well as get fans to watch the Champions League and notice some European teams they may not have know prior to the NHL taking it over.

Now, trying to get the Champions League away from the IIHF would take A LOT of doing, but it’s something that could really get the NHL their exposure they need in Europe. They make some kind of big trophy for it that almost mimics the Stanley Cup or something like that to keep the branding on-point– kind of like that dumb IKEA lamp of a trophy that’s used during the World Cup of Hockey. Get that going and watch the money roll in.

Sure, this won’t work in the way I present it because the NHL doesn’t have their team brandings anywhere and they will need a lot of league branding to really make it worth their while– but it’s something they should look into. It’s an established league that has a lot of stuff in place, which would just mean the NHL can slap their logo over everything (like European jerseys and ice…and NHL ice these days) and call it a day.

It’s almost leaning towards the NHL making something of a European league. Maybe even taking over the KHL…though that wouldn’t be as widespread as the Champions league would be. The KHL could need the money and if they can buy out those owners and then rebrand those teams with some NHL-esque logos and go from there. One way or another the NHL is going to takeover something to put a mark on Europe that far outreaches the Global Series game.