Mental Toughness in Question After UND Swept by Western Michigan

Photo: Eric Burton/Inside Hockey

Things are not well in Grand Forks.

After a Friday shutout by former UND verbal commit Cam Rowe and a blown three-goal lead defeat on Saturday, the Fighting Hawks are looking for answers as they fight for their tournament lives. Friday night was a game where North Dakota had all the chances in the world, but couldn’t find a way to bury them. Saturday night, the Hawks got on the board quickly and looked to have broken the defensive spell of Western Michigan– until their own defensive faults lead to a 7-6 loss and getting swept at home for the first time in the new calendar year. 

One story on Friday was Cam Rowe’s play in net, as he looked solid between the pipes, stopping all UND threw at him and captured his second shutout of the season. Another story was Tyler Kleven taking a major penalty and game misconduct at the end of the second period, which resulted in a Jason Polin insurance goal for Western Michigan to secure the first win of the weekend. The Kleven penalty resulted in a suspension for himself and diminished an already depleted UND roster in the blue line. 

Saturday started as a feel-good story with Grand Forks native and redshirt freshman Kaleb Johnson getting his first start for the Hawks. Johnson played well to start the game, while the Hawks were able to support him with a 5-2 lead through 43:15 of play. Then Luke Grainger came into the fold and took over, starting with his goal with 5:28 remaining in the second. Then Grainger had a hand in four of the last five Broncos goals, as they came all the way back to take the lead before an Ethan Frisch power play game-tying goal. Then Carter Berger scored with under three minutes left and UND snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. 

Not only was this a blow to the Pairwise ranking for UND, but in the NCHC standings, as well. North Dakota is looking at a playoff series on the road if they can’t run the table in the remaining conference games. With how inconsistent the Hawks have been this season on both sides of the puck, it’s a big question mark to see whether or not this team can flip the switch as the stretch run goes onward. 

“We know what we need to do,” UND captain Mark Senden said. “We talk about all the right things. We just have to go out there and execute.”

“We know our structure,” Frisch said. “We play it well most the game. Once we get on our heels, we don’t have confidence in ourselves. It creeps back in our game where we’re not being responsible. We’re not being mentally tough enough. It’s mental toughness and overall mentality of our group.” 

So with a team that has a bit of mental toughness questions– how does this team not go into full panic mode??

“We got to keep guys positive, keep guys up on the bench,” mentioned Senden. “Whether some guy makes a blocked shot or makes a nice play; we got to cheer for those little things and make sure guys know those small details matter. We just have to believe in ourselves, have trust in ourselves that we’re all good hockey players here. We just got to go out and play to our abilities.”

“It all starts with leadership,” Frisch added. “We can be better. Everyone on the bench. Just positive talk and making sure we’re addressing the things we need to be addressed and not getting down on each other.” 

Now, as the season winds down and their hope to get into the NCAA tournament starts to fade; it almost seems like it’s too late to go back to the drawing board. With Duluth coming into The Ralph this coming weekend; the mental toughness will be at the forefront and the panic button may be hovered over.


Semi-Annual ASG Tirade and Some Fan Vote Picks

Leaked Poster via Icethetics

It’s the NHL All-Star Game season and the NHL is…something else. While the Miami Vice style that will go down in South Florida is sure to bring in merch sales, the selection of the all-stars is definitely a choice that’s been made.

Before going any further, this is my yearly reminder that the All-Star Game in any sport is an antiquated idea. In the age of cable/streaming/internet– the ASG is not needed for people to see the top players in the leagues. This weekend is one that many players would want to skip, which is why the NHL gives suspensions out to players who don’t go and are not proven to be injured at the time. I get that this is a key to the NHL marketing, but at the same time– you could hold a Comic-Con-esque event where the players just have to show up and sign autographs and flip the format to a Young Stars game so people can see a game and interact more with their favorite players– without the older star players making up an injury not to go and putting the younger generation on display. 

Back to the matters at hand then– the NHL has selected 32 all-stars already, one from each team and now leave it up to the fans to vote-in the rest of the players. This is a format that is tried and true and has not backfired twice on the NHL which almost saw Rory Fitzpatrick get into the 2007 All Star Game and saw John Scott win All-Star MVP in 2016 in a feel-great moment for the league…that the league tried so hard to sabotage. Let’s not forget host fans stuffing the ballot boxes, too. Those instances, meme oriented or otherwise, shows that fans want a reason to watch the game that otherwise may not be given to them. There’s no incentive to the games, aside from giving millionaires more money and a vehicle to the MVP. Plus, as stated earlier– if the NHL has to strong-arm the players into going to the event; almost makes you think the players aren’t jazzed about playing shiny hockey when they could be at home resting with family. 

Regardless of all that– who’s going to be the random folk-hero the internet gets behind to take the crown of “meh” All-Star. Looking at the rosters, the chosen players in the Atlantic and Metro divisions are all forwards– less the one goalie already picked; so defense is on the menu there. The Central has all three of their defense already picked out, with the Pacific only having one defenseman. Then, of course, you have four goalie roles to fill out. So, let’s go down the list of who I think should get in, fan vote or otherwise:

ATLANTIC: Filip Hronek, Detroit: The rebound Hronek has made defensively on the Red Wings is stellar. He’s on the path to a career year, he’s been stellar on the power play, and he’s a key part in this Detroit rebuild. Give him some open ice and he’ll shine out there for the winged wheel group. 

METRO: Vitek Vanecek, New Jersey: The Seattle Kraken legend has gotten a boost in New Jersey this year. With 15 wins already, he’s helped the Devils go from lottery picks to playoff possibilities. It would only make sense to give the Devil his due as the back-up and create a Hudson River tandem in net. 

CENTRAL: Jordan Kyrou, St. Louis: Leading the Blues in goals and points, it’s wild that he didn’t get the nod outright. He used last year’s postseason as a jumping off point and hasn’t slowed much since. Adding him to the other young stars on that Central squad and it’ll be a skills showcase in this one for them. 

PACIFIC: Tyler Myers, Vancouver: A former Calder Trophy winner, Myers is still logging over 20 minutes a game for a Canucks team who has a major identity crisis going on. Not bad for a guy in his 14th season in the league. Only Quinn Hughes is logging more ice time on the blue line. Plus/minus is a meaningless stat, but only he and Luke Schenn are pluses on the Canucks defense. Let the big man eat in South Florida. 

Exhibition Eases UND Into Second-Half of Season

There are some people out there who don’t understand the need for an exhibition game in the middle of the season. For the University of North Dakota, it could have been the best for them to end the 2022 portion of their season with an exhibition game against the United States U18 team. Not only did it end the 2022 portion of the season, but kicked off the second semester for the Fighting Hawks, who had a less than stellar first part of their season. Sitting at 7-8-4 and seventh in the eight-team NCHC, the Hawks are looking for a big push to be able to host their playoff series at home. 

Enter the yearly event against the U18 team, who has brought plenty of pressure to past UND squads, including the U18s getting their first win against UND last season– a loss that sent UND on a four-game losing skid after. With almost a month off, this was a solid test for this team to shake some of the rust off and use it to maybe get some players going to start the second half of the season. 

“It’s something when we build our schedule that we like to have,” associate head coach Dane Jackson mentioned post game. “The first half has been a grind. It’s nice to have them come back and try to find their way a little bit in this game. It’s important to build and get ready for Lindenwood.” 

Jackson was filling in the head coaching spot, as Brad Berry was tending to a family matter. Jackson got plenty of help right out of the gate with Jake Schmaltz and Riese Gaber scoring 2:38 apart in the first part of the first period to get North Dakota out in front. The U18s scored late in the frame less than two minutes apart from Gabe Perreault and Will Smith to have the game tied at two. 

In a game like this, the players seemed to enjoy the ability to take some risks or do things they may not try in regular season games while not taking a harsh penalty in the standings due to it. 

“I like it. I thought personally, it was good for me,” said Louis Jamernik V after the game. “We’re kind of glad to have a game where if you make a mistake, it’s not going to cost us too much. Obviously, we want to do our best and try our hardest. But to have a game to play fast and knock the rust off is good.”

“It’s huge for us,” defenseman Cooper Moore remarked after the game. “They’re a really fast, really skilled team. They’re good on the rush and our tracks have been some of the best tracks we’ve had all year. I think we looked really good and fast and I think it’ll give us a little more confidence going into Lindenwood.” 

Moore got UND the lead back in the second frame, taking a pass from Owen McLaughlin and snapping it over the shoulder of Michael Chambre. Late in the second period, the U18s tied it back up with Perreault’s second of the game with under two minutes in the second period. The third period saw each side get their chances in, but neither was able to hit the back of the net; although it looked as if the U18s had gotten the go-ahead goal late, but it was called back due to goaltender interference. In the overtime frame; Matteo Costantini got the winner after a Jamernik V pass to his wing, snapping it past Chambre’s glove to send the UND faithful home happy. 

“Great play by Jammer to get the puck over to me,” Costantini said, “I just happened to have a lot of speed and caught their defenseman flat-footed. We’re going to take this as momentum going into next weekend.”

It’ll be a task for UND, as Lindenwood has pushed some of the upper echelon teams to the brink of a loss this season. Coupled with a former UND alum behind the bench in Rick Zombo, you have to think the Lions will be hungry for this match-up. Luckily for the Hawks, they won’t be caught getting back into it all thanks to this mid-season exhibition against the USA U18 squad.