UND HOCKEY: Late Goal Ties It, Then Loses It For Fighting Hawks

GRAND FORKS, ND– In the last game before the winter break, the University of North Dakota looked to close out a sweep of the Denver Pioneers. However, either scoring early and then scoring at the latest point of the game– the Pioneers were able to split the series with a 2-1 overtime victory against the Fighting Hawks.

Denver got on the board just 1:10 into the game, with Jaakko Heikkinen getting his third of the year off a pass from behind the goal-line from Colin Staub and just a quick snap for the Finn to put Denver up. The period was a neutral zone battle, a continuation of last night, leaving the shots at 6-5 to end the frame for UND. Denver was held without a shot for close to 15 minutes for the period.

The Fighting Hawks played a spirited second frame, with many chances coming from the point. However, Detroit draft pick, Filip Larsson, was equal to the task. Larsson even looked dead to rights on a shot that deflected in front and went right to Mark Senden, but Larsson got his side in front of the shot to preserve the 1-0 lead.

While the Fighting Hawks were pressing, they couldn’t get anything passed Larsson, who played lights out. That was until late, when with 2:35 left, Jacob Bernard-Docker broke Larsson after a Colton Poolman take away found JBD streaking and he went top shelf for the tying goal.

A frantic overtime saw UND with plenty of chances. Cole Smith had a puck squeak just wide of the post after it went through Larsson, while Gavin Hain redirected a shot that went right into the blocker of Larsson. The game ended with Jarid Lukosevicius tipping a Slava Demin shot that went right under Adam Scheel to end the game and split the weekend.

Brad Berry/Photo by Jen Conway

“We battled until we could score a goal,” head coach Brad Berry said post game. “Took until our 30th shot to get a goal and we found a way to get the tie. It’s one of those things where we left points on the table and it’s disappointing.”

“I think we’re not happy, but I think we learned a lot about our team,” Cole Smith remarked about the first-half of the season. “We learned we can play against top teams in the nation, it’s comes down to executing on it.”

It’s not all dire to end the first half, as Bernard-Docker will now go to Canadian National Junior camp in preparation for the World Junior tryouts. He said that he looks forward to the chance, even if it’s just a tryout.

“Any time you get a chance to represent your country, it’s an honor. I think that just going over there and playing with skilled players and learning from them will help. For the second half, we believe in ourselves and we’re going to make a huge push,” said JBD before he headed out.

Berry added, “Once we gets back and in position and get good line combination, then we’ll be able to have the depth on a nightly basis. Depth is a big thing and we’ll get it back in the second half.”

It’s a long break for the Fighting Hawks, as they’ll head to winter break and comeback for an exhibition on December 30th against the US Under-18 team.

UND HOCKEY: Young Hawks Shine in 4-1 Victory Over Denver

GRAND FORKS, ND– Coming off a split of then #2 ranked Minnesota-Duluth, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks were looking to build off last Saturday’s win. This weekend, they host another NCHC rival in Denver University, as the last home-games of the first half are played. Lead by Adam Scheel in net and the return of Nick Jones, the Fighting Hawks took game one of the weekend set by a score of 4-1.

“It’s been a long process,” Jones mentioned of dealing with his injuries. “It feels like forever, but it’s only been four, five weeks– whatever it’s been. It’s just nice to get back out there with the guys.

With only two shots in the first seven minutes for either team, North Dakota struck first, as Gavin Hain picked up a face-off pushed ahead by Mark Senden, cut across the crease to beat Denver’s Devin Cooley on the backhand to get the early lead.

Gavin Hain/Photo by Jen Conway

“Our face-offs rely a lot on the wingers,” Hain said post-game. “I went into help and the puck kind of squirted out and I just went in one-on-one with the goalie and was able to get my back-hand up.” When asked about his evolution through his first season, Hain replied, “I kinda had a set-back and was out for a few weeks, but coming back and getting back to pace, I feel good and I’m excited for the second half.”

Senden would be rewarded for his generosity, as he would net the second goal after Cole Smith maintained possession off a dump-in, created time and space before finding Sended streaking down the slot to make it a 2-0 lead for the Fighting Hawks. Despite a Rhett Gardner penalty, the UND PK was suffocating to the Pioneers, creating a couple of shorthanded chances while keeping Denver neutralized.

The second period saw UND get themselves into penalty trouble early. With the carryover penalty to Gardner, coupled with Matt Kiersted and Hayden Shaw getting called; the Fighting Hawks had to rely heavily on their PK to bail them out of some trouble in the frame. The period ended quietly, though there were rushes either way. For about the last 12 minutes, neither team had a shot on goal registered.

“They got a dangerous power play, they got a couple guys that are a real dangerous threat,” Jones said after the game. “Our penalty kill was great tonight. It’s struggled throughout the year a little bit, but you’ve seen it before (coach Dane) Jackson set it right and our penalty kill is one of the elite in the conference and we hope to bring that into the second half and tomorrow night as well.”

The Hawks got on the board early in the third, as Nick Jones found Kiersted streaking to the top of the circle and blasted a shot past Cooley, who was screened masterfully by Ludvig Hoff  to make it a 3-0 game. Denver cut into UND’s lead, as Colin Staub posted up at the top of the crease and got a pass from Ryan Barrow from behind the net and batted in past Scheel. Some last gasps for Denver, as they were awarded a penalty shot after Colton Poolman fell on the puck in the crease, but Scheel stopped Brett Stapley on the attempt. Right after that, with the goalie pulled, UND put the dagger away as Colton Poolman picked up a puck from Scheel and shot it down the ice for a 4-1 win.

A point of possible concern for the Fighting Hawks is one that they haven’t experience this season: lack of shots on goal. Through the last 32 minutes of the game, the Hawks only mustered three shots.

“Well, that’s part of the game,” lamented head coach Brad Berry, “You look at the score clock and there’s not a lot of shots– but it’s going both ends. There was a lot of neutral zone play and a lot of tight checking. It’s one of those things you don’t want to give an inch and that’s what happens when two good teams play. Time and space is a big deal and we want to make sure we eliminate that for them.”

UND will close out the first half of the season on Saturday, looking for a sweep of the Pioneers at The Ralph.

TEPID TAKE: The Seattle 32nds

The worst kept secret was made official Tuesday, as Seattle was named the 32nd team in the NHL by a unanimous decision. The team will start playing in 2021…labor strife permitting. It was a happening of necessity of getting more of a footprint in the Pacific Northwest, while creating a nice little “rivalry” already with Vancouver, as well as making sure that all the divisions are equal. 

Plus, the price tag of $650M doesn’t hurt either, I’m sure.

However, good on the city of Seattle. They’ve been one of the most vocal group of supporters for wanting a hockey team, it was almost Canadian of them. Of course, with the success of the Vegas Golden Knights, there’s plenty to be excited about because the talent pool could be even better and it could give them an even better start than Vegas…but let’s not put the cart before the horse. 

Of course, with all of this– it shifts the landscape a bit. As mentioned, Seattle will go into the Pacific Division, which will shift the Arizona Coyotes to the Central Division. Obviously, this has sparked the kind of tongue-in-cheek idea of the Coyotes now moving to Houston and not having to switch divisions– but if they’ve survived this long in the desert, they can survive a divisional move and another round of rumors. 

More over, it may make people question the future of the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. They play in Kent, which is about 20 miles from Seattle, but will they be able to keep the fan base they have with this new hockey team in town or could this move signal a possible swan song for the team. Sure, other markets in the WHL have NHL teams with them– Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and soon Winnipeg– but Canadian markets when it comes to hockey vastly differ when it comes to US markets. I would love to see it work as a natural pipeline, but I have my doubts. 

That all said, it’s good for the NHL to have a presence like this in the location they do. They go to a city that doesn’t have another winter sport presence on a daily basis (NFL aside, of course), they go to a play that is hungry for it, and they go to a place where there is history– like when the PCHA’s Seattle Metropolitans were the first US-based team to win the Stanley Cup. With the right management in place, they could get back there sooner than later once this team gets off the ground. 

How To Influence Stock Holders and Ruin Young Player’s Trust

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If you haven’t heard of the USA Central Hockey League, and judging by the numbers– you haven’t; it’s a new junior league that was announced in March of 2018. By all accounts, the league was going to be free of USA Hockey involvement and was marketed as a “free-to-play” system much like the USHL and NAHL, while players are able to keep their college eligibility– but much, much poorer.

This seems to be a branch off the horribly planned Central 1 Hockey League, which also was supposed to be the next big thing in junior hockey with no USA Hockey affiliation and the same stuff that this USACHL wanted to be. However, it was announced in 2016 and never hit the ice, taking a lot of bigger markets in Oklahoma City, El Paso, and Fort Collins out of the WSHL and into obscurity.

While the USACHL promised six teams at their announcement by league owner Bill Davidson– they currently have three teams, which could be down to zero by the time this is published. The Texas Lawmen folded when players left, the coach resigned and money was owed to a lot of people; while the Wichita Falls Force having been locked out of their building and according to billets, their kids have packed up and left. Davidson says that the Force are not folding, but it doesn’t look all that great either. Parents of players in Laredo are trying to get their kids home as they have been told the league is done.

A great write-up about what’s going on was done by Cilla Hagle of JuniorHockey.com, though it’s to be said that a prime writer for the website, Stephen Heisler, was a paid consultant for the league and had a number of his clients put into the league. His and people who go to him for comment may have their opinions skewed on what they experienced. However, where there’s smoke, there’s fire– and after reading a lot about this– I’m tending to agree with Heisler’s words.

Forget for a second that this whole thing was a disaster from the word go because of the fail ventures of previous incarnations of Central Hockey Leagues, but this is something that affects the players who trusted Davidson to give them a place to play and give them exposure into the NCAA ranks and beyond. You want to ruin a player’s trust and make them question the decisions they have made and will make in the future– this is a prime example of how that is to happen. Hell, it could cause these kids to lash out against their next coaches, GMs, owners, and so on. There’s a lot of collateral damage being done by a league like this. While this shouldn’t matter to teams looking for solid caliber players, especially when they went to this league on the hope of getting the exposure they were initially told was there.

Not only the players, but the parents of these players are going to start protecting their kid more– and rightfully so. There’s been no transparency from the league, not one member being upfront about what’s going on with teams and players– it’s just the CEO in Davidson trying to say it’s not his fault, it’s everyone else’s. Newspapers are learning from Facebook posts, billets are keeping fans and families up to date when the teams and league aren’t.

This is how you push people away– not just from playing, but from supporting hockey. It’s snake-oil salesmen like Davidson who really give people the wrong impression of hockey people and if they’re well-meaning or not. This whole thing is a case of how not to build, promote, or have anything to do with the hockey world.