UND HOCKEY: Bast Earning Trust Early With UND

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Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

First impressions leave lasting ones, especially in the sports world. If that were the case for freshman Gabe Bast, the lasting impression for me is that Bast a speedy defenseman who’s willing to take risks and get involved offensively, while not letting getting too out of position in his own end. After seeing his first action in five months, Bast took every opportunity to show off for his new team after three seasons in Junior A with the Pentiction Vees.

“I felt pretty good for the first time playing a game in five months,” Bast said post-game Friday. “My timing was pretty good and as it went on I got more comfortable.”

While he wasn’t noticeable at first, the Red Deer, Alberta native did get more comfortable and was able to get the trust of the coaches to put him out in more situations. As the game went on, UND put Bast out during power play situations and was out there for the only UND goal on Friday night, as well as putting him out there during the final seconds of a one-goal game. Bast took the last shot, but got blocked off the ankle of Minnesota’s Jack Ramsey to end the game. Despite that, Bast’s impression on the UND fateful was a positive one his first time out.

“Bast comes with a good resume playing in Junior,” said head coach Brad Berry. “He has experience, he’s been through a lot of games, and he’s won. We’re going to lean on him down the stretch”

The one question mark is durability. During his last two seasons in Pentiction, Bast missed 94 of a possible 116 games from 2015 until 2017, though he did come back late in the season for the Vees, helping win the BCHL title in 2017– his second with the team, the first coming in his rookie year in 2015. With the shoulder surgery that took him out of the first four games, coupled with the extremely freak Osteitis pubis (or inflammation of the pelvic muscles); Bast has plenty to make up for in missing his junior career due to it.

His size and skill will lead many to compare him to Boston’s Torey Krug– a small defenseman, who has plenty of offensive upside and not afraid to throw the body every once in a while. However, knowing that he’s the new guy on the block, Bast knows that it’s all about trust with UND.

“Any college game is tough the first time,” Bast mentioned. “I liked getting power play time. The coaches are using me and trusting me right now. I just gotta keep building and earn their trust more.”

UND HOCKEY: Late Rally Comes Up Short As UND Lose to Minnesota

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Photo from @UNDMHockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– It was the first time I personally experienced the rivalry between the University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota in hockey. The hype coming this week after a six-year absence from Grand Forks brought about plenty of great reads from the Grand Forks Herald‘s Brad Schlossman and after the Friday game and the atmosphere that came with it, I get what it was all about.

While the outcome wasn’t what the 11,862 wanted, the game brought about all the emotions of the past and brought some into the present. From blocker punches to the head to scraps after whistles to dead gophers being thrown onto the ice after Rhett Gardner’s goal in the third– this had the makings of something great to come for Saturday night.

However, Friday night was a different tone for the home squad. Despite the hype from the home crowd, Minnesota got on the board first when Casey Mittelstadt dished off to Rem Pitlick, who split the North Dakota defense and put it high blocker on Cam Johnson 11 minutes into the first period.

It was a stalemate for most of the game after that, though UND did keep the pace up in the offensive zone, but Eric Schierhorn was equal to the task, especially with the help of the defense clogging the lanes and blocking shots to the tune of 29 for the game to the Gophers’ stats.

Can’t take credit away from them for blocking shots,” said Christain Wolanin post-game. “They bring not just one, but two and sometimes three layers of blocking. But we gotta work around it and adjust in order to get through it.” 

While the second period yielded no goals, Minnesota took a two-goal lead after Rem Pitlick set up Steve Johnson to go far on the blocker side of Johnson. When a team could have gotten down after a goal like that late, UND kept pushing and finally broke through on their power play after a set face-off play where Gardner got the face-off win to Wolanin with a touch pass to Grant Mismash who ripped it from the point, as Gardner crashed the net and picked up the rebound Schierhorn left to cut the Gophers’ lead in half and got the Ralph Engelstad Arena back into it.

Yet, despite having the energy from the crowd, the Fighting Hawks couldn’t get the equalizer, despite having numerous chances with an extra-skater as coach Brad Berry took out Johnson with two minutes left in the third. It didn’t come without chance after chance by UND, down to the last second when freshman Gabe Bast ripped a one-timer, but it got blocked by Jack Ramsey’s ankle as time expired to give the Gophers the 2-1 victory.

Our effort was there tonight,” said coach Berry. “We took penalties and gave them momentum. They’re opportunistic, when they got chances they buried them. We were relentless tonight. We pushed the pace and playing in the other team’s zone. I liked the pace of our play and not spending a lot of time in our end of the rink, but we didn’t finish plays.” 

“They’re a team that takes advantage of opportunity,” mentioned Gardner. “We are trying to stay positive. We knew they block in their own zone, we just gotta work on some more things. Loss is a loss and we gotta regroup. If we keep the crowd in it in for the full 60 it will help us.”

The crowd was awesome,” Wolanin added, “But we did a good job of being even keel. Good energy on the bench. When we got down, guys were saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get it back’ and it got us through a lot.”

One can only hope the crowd can stay behind UND with better results on Saturday, as UND tries to even the score and come out of the weekend with a split series, though they would have wanted those two wins.

TEPID TAKE: Pick Your Playoff Opponent Works….in the SPHL

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With all the heavy hitters having weighed in for their takes right off the bat, so with it settling down, it’s time for “ya boy” to step in– here’s my take on this whole idea the SPHL has on higher seeded teams picking their playoff opponent.

This wouldn’t working in the NHL. This wouldn’t work in the AHL. This wouldn’t work in the ECHL. This wouldn’t work in Major Junior. This might work in NCAA. But it definitely works in the SPHL.

The main reason this is perfect is because regardless of who is picked, there’s going to be some backstory to the whole thing. There will be some kind of rivalry, there will be some history from the season behind it– so they don’t need the whole thing of playing within a division or even conference. There’s not enough for either, so it’s evenly proportioned out.

Another reason is that it feeds some kind of fire in everyone. If the #1 seed picks the #5 seed because they have a better record than the #8 seed, then the #1 has to prove that the regular season wasn’t a fluke. More over, the #5 is going to have fire behind them because of the fact that now they feel that this top seed doesn’t think much of them and will want to beat the crap out of them. Considering the series are shorter, as well, that gives little time to adjust– making that first game all the more crucial.

In the NHL or other leagues, the playoffs are a marathon unlike the SPHL– where’s it’s a sprint. Granted, we’ve seen that the lowest seeded teams doesn’t mean they’re the easiest to pick– last year’s Nashville Predators or the 2010 LA Kings showed that. But with other leagues, the stress in the regular season is divisional and conference play; mainly because the NHL thought that’s what people wanted….because for a time they did, especially when they had three divisions and the Southeast would often have just one team in there and they’d be the 3rd seed because they won the division. Put into practice, NHL fans (not surprisingly) hated the playoff format.

If the NHL wanted to do something this drastic– top-16 teams get in the playoffs. To hell with divisions, to hell with conferences– the top-16 on points get in and the hell with the rest. It would never fly with the owners, especially of the middling teams, but it’s the only way for the NHL to really change something.

The only place this would really work out is the NCAA, where the conferences are smaller in size, but I don’t know if the logistics are something the schools would want to deal with or if it’s something they’d have to deal with.

Back to the SPHL, this whole scenario is a smart move from this, with the exception of Peoria, geographically plotted out league. It’s a way to not only keep their fans happy in that every game could be against a possible first round opponent, no matter how good or bad you are– but it gets the league’s name out there for something other than Scott Darling’s career or some fighting shenanigans. Commissioner Jim Combs and the owners of the SPHL should be commended for this. How it plays out– that’s another story for another time. The first step is to get people talking and as we get into March and the end of the season, people will be talking again about this and then the strategy will play out.

Though, I’m sure the coaches and GMs are going to hate as it gets closer because the questions from the press will be the same thing about how they’re going about it or how they plan to play to get into a better seeding.

The Order of the Expansion Knights

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If you know of my past writing, you know I’m all for gimmicks. This year, with the inclusion of the Vegas Golden Knights, couldn’t have given me a better gimmick than to compare them to the expansion teams of the past or at least back to the 1990s. So, every two weeks or so, I’ll check back here and give a little look-see at how the soon-to-be-if-a-copyright-strike-gets-them Sand Knights are doing to their expansion cousins.

THROUGH FIVE GAMES PLAYED:

Vegas Golden Knights (2017-18) 4-1-0, 8PTS, 15GF, 11GA
Tampa Bay Lightning (1992-93) 2-2-1, 5PTS, 17GF, 15GA
Florida Panthers (1993-94) 2-2-1, 5PTS, 15GF, 15GA
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (1993-94) 1-2-2, 3PTS, 12GF, 17GA
Atlanta Thrashers (1999-2000) 1-2-2, 3PTS, 12GF, 20GA
Nashville Predators (1998-99) 1-3-1, 3PTS, 8GF, 13GA
San Jose Sharks (1991-92) 1-4-0, 2PTS, 16GF, 23GA
Ottawa Senators (1992-93) 1-4-0, 2PTS, 12GF, 27GA
Columbus Blue Jackets (2000-01) 1-4-0, 2PTS, 9GF, 19GA
Minnesota Wild (2000-01) 0-4-1, 1PT, 8GF, 17GA

The Knights are keeping a solid pace for themselves against the other new teams that came in. Of course, many could argue that the talent pool was a little bit deeper and the rules were a little bit more skewed to help Vegas indirectly with the salary cap and all.

Whether or not they’re able to keep this pace or not remains to be seen. With some key injuries happening, especially to M-A Fleury– there’s a chance for a decline, as an expansion team is supposed to be. This is a team that many pundits and bookies said wouldn’t get over 70 points on the season. While it’d be a helluva effort to keep that pace, the fact is there’s going to be a downslide sooner or later.

Just enjoy the wins as they come, enjoy the atmosphere of the T-Mobile Arena (despite the amount of visiting fans coming into the building), and embrace this new team that has gotten plenty of buzz of for what they’ve done so far.

UND HOCKEY: Three in First, Big Penalty Kill Leads UND to Weekend Sweep

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Photo from @UNDMHockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– What the University of North Dakota has been lack in the early part of this season has been scoring. Saturday, however, they turned that around with six goals from six different goal scorers to cruise to a 6-1 victory to conclude the series sweep of St. Lawrence.

After needing 19 minutes to get one goal last night, the Fighting Hawks were able to get three in that time-span in Saturday. Christian Wolanin, Shane Gersich, and Grant Mismash all got their first goals of the season in the first, with Gersich getting his on the power play. Colton Poolman had two assists on the Wolanin and Gersich goals, while Mismash’s goal came off a turnover on a St. Lawrence breakout.

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Shane Gersich/ Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“We were using our strength and our speed and really overwhelming them,” said Gersich. “We were causing turnovers and that’s what creates offense. We were playing great off the puck, too,”

As good as Arthur Brey was on Friday, he didn’t have the stuff on Saturday. Coach Mark Morris swapped out Brey for sophomore Daniel Mannella, who was tested early, but only let in one second period goal by Jordan Kawaguchi, another power play tally.

Things almost took a turn after the Kawaguchi goal, as Mismash got a five minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head of Philip Alftberg. While Ben Finkelstein of St. Lawrence got a penalty, UND got back-to-back calls against them to make it an extended 5-on-3 for St. Lawrence. Cam Johnson and the defense was equal to the task, stopping everything thrown at them as St. Lawrence was held scoreless on the power play.

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Cam Johnson/ Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“It was tiring, but it was nice to get some action there,” said Johnson of the 5-on-3. “Had a couple choice words when it happened, but I thought our penalty kill did unbelievable not giving them too many quality chances. It was a huge momentum builder for us”

“The could have gone either way, but he was our best penalty killer,” Poolman mentioned of his goaltender. “He comes up big in big moments and his rebound control is unbelievable. He’s a steady influence back there.”

Eventually, St. Lawrence was able to break the ice in the third with a goal from Jacob Pritchard almost four minutes into the frame. UND answered back towards the end as Cole Smith and Rhett Gardner got their first goals of the season sending the 11,599 at The Ralph home happy off a successful weekend.

“The biggest thing is I think guys knew we could play better tonight,” commented head coach Brad Berry. “Last night, we were grateful for the win, but we talked about it and knew we could be better.”

One down note was the loss of Johnny Simonson, who got hit awkwardly in the second period, not to return for the game. Coach Berry said he was be evaluated and they’ll see how it goes throughout the week leading into next week’s rival series against Minnesota.

UND HOCKEY: Late PPG Helps UND Squeak By St. Lawrence 2-1

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Photo from @UNDMHockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– For Collin Adams and the University of North Dakota team, it was better late than never on Friday as the Fighting Hawks got a late goal from the freshman to propel them by St. Lawrence University 2-1 in front of 11,221. The goal, on the power play, was Adams’ second of the season and the second power play goal by UND this season in 16 attempts.

“Bottom line, we found a way to win,” said head coach Brad Berry after the game. “It wasn’t pretty, we have a lot of things to work on. I don’t think we didn’t sustain enough offensive zone pressure. We have to play simpler, make quick passes, and get shots on net.”

St. Lawrence, led by the play of junior goalie Arthur Brey, gave UND fits during the game, with the Mark Morris-led team clogged up the middle, forcing UND to the outside and not giving them any good lanes to shoot. When UND did get opportunities to shoot, Brey had a clear vision of it thanks to his defense clearing out the middle.

“Give them credit, St. Lawrence did an excellent job of getting in front of shots,” defenseman Colton Poolman said post-game. “They’re a good and hard heavy team and they battled back. We have to find a way to limit turnovers, but in the end– we found a way to win.”

UND struck first with a goal by Ludvig Hoff, who tucked in a rebound after Grant Mismash tried to break SLU’s defense by streaking across the crease for a chance. While SLU’s defense got a stick on Mismash chance, Hoff was able to get Brey out of position for an easy goal late in the first.

The only SLU goal of the night was from Joe Sullivan, who gathered up a deflected shot from Nolan Gluchowski that went of Christian Wolanin and right only Sullivan’s stick. From that point on, it was tight hockey until the end of the game.

UND wasn’t without chances, as they had seven power plays overall in the game, but Adams’ game-winner with 3:49 left was the only one they needed. With a great keep by Colton Poolman who got it over to Christian Wolanin, he passed it down low to Joel Janatuinen, who found a streaking Adams for a tic-tac-toe goal for the eventual winner.

Not without his glory, Cam Johnson stepped up big when he needed with 20 saves on the night, including a 2-on-0 stop after UND squandered a two-man advantage.

“Cam played a great game for us,” Berry said. “He made some tough saves and he held us in there. He’s a reason we got the win tonight.”

Before the game, UND announced that Mike Gornall will be leaving the team to pursue other options. While nothing more has come out from this, speculation is that he was looking for more playing time and thanks to depth of North Dakota, he didn’t feel like he was going to get that opportunity in Grand Forks.

UND HOCKEY: Mid-Week Media Gathering

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After coming back from Alaska 1-0-1, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks were able to take a little bit more than a win and tie away from it. They seemed to learn a bit more about the team they have.

We learned a lot about our team. One of the words we use is depth and we have it,” head coach Brad Berry said to the media at the mid-week press conference. “Guys coming in and out of the line-up, it was good to see that they were ready. As far as the trip, it’s good to get that out of the way. Our longest trip of the year and the team did a great job in focusing given the circumstances. We didn’t accomplish everything we needed to, winning two games, but we’re getting very close to that.”

We learned no games are easy,” mentioned senior Johnny Simonson. “It was good for us to have a tough couple games. It’ll help us the next couple weekends ahead. Last year, we had a lot of success really early, then we played tougher competition. It was hard to get up Monday after a really hard Sunday. Tuesday, we really got our feet back underneath us.”

With that adventure out of the way, UND looks forward to more conference action with St. Lawrence coming into town Friday and Saturday. The Saturday game will have a lot of pomp and circumstance, as the 1987 National Championship team– known as the Hrkac Circus– will be in honored pregame.

It’s great, it’s hard to believe 30 years went that fast,” said Berry. “For our guys, it’ll be great for them to see faces from the past who build the foundation for this school. It’s nice to have that collective group of guys coming through here at the same time.”

However, the Fighting Hawks will need to keep their eye on the prize, especially with St. Lawrence coming off of two losses to Big Ten opponents in Michigan and Penn State.

“I heard they’re a real strong, big, physical team,” Simonson said. “We’re expecting a pretty chippy weekend, so we have to be prepared for that. We’re expecting a hard series.” 

Coach Berry continued, “We’re coming back home and when you have 11,000 fans helping you out, it aids to the success. We’re looking at team from the east, they play fast, and they’re going to bring their A-game. Yeah, we’re at home, but we got to make sure we’re ready.”

Time to Right the Schedule, AHL

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With the announcement of the Colorado Eagles moving to the AHL, as well as the San Antonio Rampage announcing a multi-year affiliation deal with the St. Louis Blues, and barring any unforeseen circumstances with other teams around the league; the AHL team roster has been set for 2018-19 already– which is nice, but brings up some other questions, at least in my mind.

Of course, with Colorado being in there– the divisional alignment is going to be pretty straight forward. The seven teams west of Texas– Stockton, Bakersfield, San Jose, San Diego, Ontario, Tucson, and now Colorado– will mostly likely make up the Pacific Division. This will move the Texas Stars and Rampage to the Central Division, thus pushing Cleveland to the North Division. Simple enough. It also leaves some room for when/if Seattle gets a team and wants to put their affiliate in the Pacific Northwest with them.

The bigger question now is what to do with the schedule. With all seven teams on the equal footing, does the AHL finally pull the trigger on making those Pacific Division team play a full 76-game season or so they think that 68 will be smarter for all the teams, despite having their own division. In either situation, the idea of using percentage points as a deciding factor gets thrown out the window and really shouldn’t be the default playoff that always comes up on TheAHL.com.

My thought on this is that this is the perfect time to sell the 76-game schedule to the Pacific teams. Look, they had a nice run of playing eight less games, though it really hasn’t make much a different in the playoffs for them, but it’s time for the AHL to put their foot down and say, “If you want to play in our league now– it’s time to play by our rules and play the full 76-game slate.”

It’s an easy sell now. There’s seven teams in their division, they won’t have to make “big trips” to Texas to play and could find a way to still keep to themselves, but at the same time– actually be a part of the league in playing an actual full schedule for once. Hell, it’s almost paramount of the AHL to make this happen rather than keep letting them get away with the 68-game slate. If they keep doing that– who’s really in charge?? Why have these teams in the league, even with their full division within a reasonable travel destination, if they don’t play the same amount of games that the other 24 teams do.

As you know, this isn’t my first ranting piece about the AHL schedule, but I hope it will be my last. You can’t have a league that’s touting itself as the step-below The Show, if you have two different set of rules in terms of scheduling for the league. This is the time now to really show that the league is in charge and that eight more games against others in the league are going to be okay and the players will be able to get through the travel. If they want to make the show, they’ll have to deal with some travel here and there anyway– so why not get them used to it and have them earn their stripes (and their reward miles) rather then steal eight games away from there throughout the season.

How To Solve A Problem Like Matt Duchene

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The ideas that are going around about what to do with Matt Duchene has taken a more vocal tone recently, especially after comments that former Avalanche star Peter Forsberg mad about the much maligned current Avalanche forward.

If you missed it, Forsberg told a Swedish publication that the Avalanche should bench and then trade Duchene. Now, I think think everyone is in agreement in the latter part in trading Duchene since he’s been on the rumor mill for the better part of two years now. To bench him, however, would be smart to keep him healthy, but silly because as a team in the condition the Avalanche is in; you can’t keep a top forward (at least for Colorado) on the sidelines when you’re trying to improve your team.

Of course, his coach backed Duchene up and Duchene brushed off the comments– so it’s not like there’s anymore internal drama than there needs to be. And there’s plenty.

Granted, another way to improve your team was to trade Duchene at the Draft or sometime during the summer in order to get a veteran defenseman, but who am I to say?? I’m sure the Colorado Avalanche front office has a handle on this, right?? Where’s Greg Sherman when you need him?? If Duchene became a distraction in the locker room, that’s when you start to think about making him a healthy scratch and ramp up trade talks– which, when dealing with a disgruntled player, always gets the team trading said disgruntled player a great return.

This whole Duchene thing has been a calamity of errors for the Avalanche, which just adds to their laundry list of errors they have made in the past few seasons– like being the old boys club that ruined the Edmonton Oilers for years. It didn’t help that Duchene’s comments at training camp about “being here to honor my contract” came from his lips. It’s a craptastic situation on both sides, but neither did anything to make things better in the off-season.

Now, with all this said– the Avs aren’t playing terrible hockey…yet. Duchene has two points in three games, and things seem to be going contently enough. Maybe the winning and playing well with change Duchene’s mind. Maybe doing well enough will get a bigger return for Joe Sakic and the crew. Maybe it’s just going to be this merry-go-round again until the next Draft. The sky is the limit in the Mile-High City and to be honest, it’s just another added form of drama to this team who once was the class of the NHL.

At the end of the day, if the Avalanche are going to try a full rebuild, they need to do it like a band-aid and rip it off rather than being this cautious during it. They’ve had no plan with Duchene for the longest time and their best chance to land something of substance went bye-bye when Travis Hamonic was dealt to the Flames. The Duchene thing has the ability to get worse rather than get better. If things go south quickly, you have to wonder how much longer and how many teammates will become as disenchanted as Duchene.

TEPID TAKE: Vegas’s Golden Night

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Photo from the @GoldenKnights

It was touch and go for a bit, but the Vegas Golden Knights got it done with a 2-1 victory in their first NHL game as a franchise. Forget that it took them 50 minutes to get their first goal and forget that Marc-Andre Fleury got pelted for 46 shots in total, the night was theirs to bask in and it showed what this rag-tag group of players can do. They also became the first team since the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators to win their first game in franchise history. 

(Tampa Bay won their first game, too, but it was a day before Ottawa’s. Florida tied their first game in 1993.)

First, back to Fleury– he shined in the first game. The only Dallas goal was a redirect off of Tyler Seguin’s stick, but other than that, Flower was sharp in net. He was able to take away great scoring chances by the Stars, he didn’t let the first game jitters get to him, and he looked like he’s ready for a heavy workload, much like he saw in his first NHL season in Pittsburgh. However, with more maturity, I’m sure he’ll be able to adapt as needed.

Second, Vegas’s power play looked okay, though they had nothing to show for it. They created a lot of chances, Brendan Leipsic looked like he was very hungry to get that first franchise goal, and with a few more games and practices under their belt– this could be a solid power play to deal with.

On the Dallas side, Ben Bishop looked pretty good before having to be removed due to taking a puck to the face, which cut him. He was back out on the bench for the end of the game, but Ken Hitchcock kept Kari Lehtonen in the game, probably due to the not knowing if Bishop had a concussion or not and erring on the side of caution…which may or may not have cost him the game.

Antoine Roussel being in the box three straight times could be a problem for the Stars going forward. They were 30th in the PK last season and who knows if Hitch is going to make them better going forward against a more potent power play. They were perfect, but against a team in their first game– it’s a start, but I doubt he wants to keep testing the team’s luck like that.

It was a very hard hitting game, which was a good sight to see as nothing was overtly dirty– though you could say James Neal’s hit on Tyler Seguin at the end of the second was like Lex Luger’s bionic forearm– it was a nice rough game and something that Vegas will probably need to get used to in the Western Conference.

For now, they will take this win in stride and hope that the good times keep rolling for them.