UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Shake Off Rust in Exhibition Win

GRAND FORKS, ND– After three weeks off, the University of North Dakota came back to shake off the rust of the holiday season with an exhibition game against the US National Under-18 Team. It was a bit of a look into the future with UND, as two prospects for the Fighting Hawks were in the U-18 line-up in forward Judd Caulfield and goalie Cameron Rowe. Though coming into the game, the U-18s were 6-6 against NCAA Division teams, they were downed by the Fighting Hawks 6-2 in the exhibition.

It was a special game, as UND busted out a Fighting Sioux jerseys to honor the 1958-59 team, the first ever National Champion for UND. It’s the first time the team has wore a jersey with “Sioux” on it since 2012 after the nickname was dropped by the school due to NCAA rules.

After a flurry of offense from Team USA to start the first period, UND was the first to strike on the power play, after Jacob Bernard-Docker (JBD) set-up Rhett Gardner on a one-timer to put it past Rowe and give UND the early lead. The Hawks got up two when Grant Mismash crashed the net off a USA turnover and a Nick Jones cycle, put a shot on net, with Ludvig Hoff finding the rebound and putting it through Rowe’s five-hole to make it 2-0.

Just 90 seconds into the second, Matthew Boldy put the U18s on the board after pickpocketing Mismash in the UND zone, poked just barely off Patrick Moynihan’s shinpad, went in on a mini-breakaway before going forehand-backhand to go five-hole Adam Scheel. UND got the two-goal lead back midway through the period, after Jackson Keane drove into the zone, missed the net, but picked up the loose puck to find Casey Johnson; who then went near-side high-glove on Rowe to make it 3-1 UND. The Fighting Hawks made it 4-1 on the power play after some fancy passing in the zone, including a deflected pass, led to a Mismash goal with Jones and JBD getting assists on the goal.

The Hawks swapped out goalies, as Peter Thome came into the game to start the third, while Ryan Anderson finished. In only 16 minutes, Thome faced 18 shots and only gave up one goal.

Peter Thome/ Photo by Jen Conway

“It’s always interesting when you get thrown in there and kind of under siege right away,” Thome said. “I was able to get the first one and then the second on and kept trying to go from there. I just tried to stay in the moment and not get too far ahead.”

Collin Adams made it 5-1 halfway through the third from a great set-up from beside the net from Joel Janatuinen, putting it past Rowe’s glove. Alex Turcotte cut the deficit to 5-2 after tipping home a Boldy shot from the top of the circle, after Gabe Bast took a holding penalty. Gavin Hain made it 6-2 with an empty net goal from an alley-oop pass by Matt Kiersted with Thome getting a secondary assist on the goal.

For Thome, who hasn’t had the best season thus far, going 1-3-0 with a 3.75 GAA and .838 save percentage. His last action was during UND’s 5-0 loss a month ago against Duluth. For him, it was a time to get a confidence boost.

“First half, personally, hasn’t gone the way I wanted it to,” Thome says. “Now, having a good first outing is definitely a step forward and hopefully there’s more to come. It’s such a mental position. If you don’t really have confidence, it seems everything can go wrong, but if you have confidence; you can do no wrong. I’m just trying to get back to that state that I’m playing my best.”

With almost a month off, the game was a little rough at times. With a long break and some holiday treats, it took some time to get things going.

“Some parts were a little slow and a little sloppy, but it’s kind of expected,” mentioned Mismash about the first game after the break. “We had a couple good practices kind of getting back in shape. It wasn’t a terrible game. We’ll ramp it up going back into the regular season.”

When asked about the exhibition games themselves, Mismash said; “I don’t want to say I feel bad for teams who hop right back into the season rather than have exhibitions, but it’s nice to get these games. Just to get a feel for it again and get your legs under you before you get going again.”

“This is one of the most skilled and fast and offensive teams that we’ve ever played against the 18s,” said UND head coach Brad Berry. “They’re record is 20-7-2 and they knocked off the #1 team in the nation the other night, so it’s one of those things we’ll take it as far as trying to get better. We have to make sure our last two non-conference games against Canisius count.”

Which is where UND heads next, as they’ll head to Buffalo, New York to take on Canisius to officially kick off their second-half of the year.

The Spengler Cup is the Best Holiday Hockey Cup

It’s holiday time, which means it’s time for the greatest tournament of them all– the Spengler Cup!! Look, I understand how people enjoy the World Junior tournament, but for me– the Spengler Cup really is the bee’s knees of holiday tournament. Some love the idea of rising talent– me?? I’m about the randomness of some of these rosters and how it’s an invitational format makes it’s quite the exclusive tournament.

To start, the Vaillant Arena in Davos could be the most scenic arena in the world. The arena itself is an old world masterpiece with half the arena being seated, the other being standing room in supporter sections, as they chant to give it an atmosphere of international soccer. I don’t have much on my bucket list, but going to the Spengler Cup is one on that list.

20.03.2017; Davos; Eishockey National League – Training HC Davos; Die Vaillant Arena in Davos (Steffen Schmidt/freshfocus)

The teams are another great thing. The hosts HC Davos have five other teams invited to the tournament…well, four other teams as Team Canada is another stalwart of this tournament. In this edition, the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers of Germany (hopefully wearing Chris Sabo rec-specs as visors), KalPa Kuopio from Finland, Metallurg Magnitogorsk from Russia, and Ocelari Trinec of the Czech Republic will be taking part of the round-robin tournament. In the past, the AHL’s Rochester Americans, Dinamo Riga, Team Switzerland, and a USA Select team have participated.

The rosters are also an eye-opener when it comes to guys who are still playing. Canada’s roster is the one that’s really amazing this year with Kevin Bieksa, Torrey Mitchell, Daniel Winnik, and Dominic Moore represent the old guard, with Zach Fucale, Dante Fabbro, and Colt Conrad being the new blood. Players like Tom Gilbert, Milan Jurcina, and Anders Lindback are a few of the old NHLers making appearance here, while Sami Kapanen coaches the KalPa squad. It’s a great “Oh, hey!!” moment when you see the names of yesteryear on the ice again. Hell, this was a tournament Sergei Fedorov came back to play after being on the sidelines for a couple years. It holds that kind of stroke in the international hockey community.

While there isn’t much of a broadcasting presence in the US, there’s places you could probably go to find a feed of the game. I only with the NHL Network would show a game or ten to give this underrated tournament the respect it deserves.

Arizona State Finally Finding Their Own Footing

Photo by Heather Weikel/TheSunDevils.com

This is a team that is more than just the EXCLUSIVE GREY that they tout in their jerseys. While some will say that they haven’t faced the competition that other programs have, some of that is really not their fault. The Arizona State University Sun Devils have climbed up through the dregs of club hockey, the struggles of their first couple of years in Division I, and now are 13-6-0 at the end of the semester, have the leading goal-scorer in the NCAA (Sophomore Johnny Walker with 17), and have beaten some names in college hockey. 

It’s a welcome change from the first three years of the program, who had a total of 21 wins in their first three seasons. They already have a franchise-high 13 wins, though after the semester break, they have quite the schedule with Clarkson, either Duluth or Mankato, Boston University, Boston College, and Cornell. While they’re ranked in the top-20, ASU seems like they can hold their own– but can they do it for the long haul?? The win against Penn State kind of brought them into the limelight, but losses to THE Ohio State and then losses to Omaha take the shine away. 

That’s not to say they aren’t building. To have someone like Walker on the team gives them a cornerstone to build on. Greg Powers has stayed on track and it’s paid off for him. They have a good mix of upper (11) and underclassmen (16) to help mentor and build for the future and lead them maybe into something bigger. While it took Penn State quicker to be successful– they had the help of powerful alumni to give money in building a new rink, they were in a power conference, and they were in an under-served area of the US for recruits to go. 

The Sun Devils only check one of those boxes with the under-served market. They’re still without a big money donor to improve on their arena situation, while also being without a conference. The WCHA was an option for ASU, but the money they’d have to pay to other teams for travel costs is something the Sun Devils didn’t think was wise on their side of things. The NCHC has said that they don’t have plans to expand from the eight teams they have. My UND press-box colleague Eric Burton had an interesting take on the NCHC situation

The NCHC has a good thing going. Adding a couple of team changes that dynamic. More teams means less non-conference games. Bottom line, playing 10 non-conference games helps a team’s Pairwise Rankings. If your favorite team has a good non-conference record. Lastly, here’s another angle, think back to the old WCHA before re-alignment, big schools like Minnesota and Wisconsin wanted to control the terms.  During the formation period, the NCHC walked away from Notre Dame because of this. ASU is a big school and is going to want to have the same influence.

While I understand the idea with bigger schools wanting influences, I don’t think that ASU is as into themselves as Notre Dame is and wants influence when it comes to hockey. They just may want a fairer shake with a conference that would be a little less travel overall and they won’t get screwed out of money. However, you’d also have to find another team if they wanted that even-numbered conference.

This puts them in a weird spot because they’re freelancers who may have a good record, but if they can’t get bigger schools to play against them– then they might be hooped when it comes to wanting to be in the national tournament. However, if they keep winning and climb up the standings as they are, it’d be hard for them not to have people pulling for them to get an at-large bid. 

The upside of the Sun Devils’ play, as well as Penn State’s meteoric rise in college hockey is that it gives the NCAA options to look at other club teams to join the D1 ranks. They’ve already have those NHL studies looking at how feasible it is at the University of Illinois (which they’ve found the team would flourish) and Oakland University in Michigan (again, good results). It gives club hockey teams hopes of an upgrade, especially in the mid-Atlantic and South– something I’ve stumped for for a while. It gives players more opportunities at a D1 college career, which would help them get exposure they may not have gotten playing in lower levels. 

Winnipeg’s WHL Dilemma

The rumors about the Kootenay Ice leaving for Winnipeg have been around for a majority of the year, while also getting louder and louder as the days go onward. So, much so that there was a press conference set for Monday that never went off. The fact Kootenay’s future in Cranbrook, BC has been in question for the past few years may show that it’s almost time to fish or cut bait with the Southeastern BC city. With the latest owners of the Ice being from Winnipeg, naturally there’s going to be questions on how much longer it’d be until they picked up and moved east. 

Of course, when the team was sold to Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, the idea was for the team to remain in Cranbrook. However, the allure of the big city and being back home seem to be too much for Fettes and Cockell to pass up on. While the attendance in Kootenay has bumped back up from seasons previous, it is still a half-filled arena and towards the bottom of the league. With Winnipeg being a hot market for hockey, why wouldn’t the hometown boys come home with a junior hockey team?? 

For one, the biggest debate that is coming up is if three teams– the Winnipeg Jets, Manitoba Moose, and this WHL team– could coexist and be successful. While the Toronto Maple Leafs, Marlies, and Mississauga Steelheads seem to coexist, Winnipeg is not the Greater Toronto Area. While the NHL and WHL work in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver– the added AHL could make it a little rough for the WHL to work and be successful in Winnipeg. 

Just with the NHL and AHL in the same town, the Moose have taken a hit at the box office since they came back, steadily declining over the last four years. When you consider that this WHL team won’t be under the True North Sports and Entertainment banner either– they’d be fighting a very uphill battle trying to get people out to the arena, especially with playing at the University of Manitoba until a proposed new arena on the edge of the city is built. 

Winnipeg is just under 750,000 people in the city and plenty to do– three hockey teams could be a breaking point for even the staunchest of hockey fans. Coupled with the lack of True North involvement, the WHL team would be destined to fail from the onset. Some would suggest that the team would be better off staying where they are than trying to make it in Winnipeg. 

Even though a team in Winnipeg would help Manitoba and give an even closer rival for the Brandon Wheat Kings; the ends may not justify the means. The odds seem against them from the start with the rewards not justifying the risks. The idea of the big city over the small town may be great, but you’d not only be letting those small town fans lose their identity, but you’d also be going into hostile territory without any affiliation to the big fish in the city already.

If the owners were smart enough, they’d find a way to sell the team to local interests or maybe see if some alumni who were/are in the NHL would want to buy the team. Because trying to go back and face those fans in Cranbrook and trying to get forgiveness would not go over entirely well. 

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.

Add Sabres To List of Youth Movement in Full Force

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For a team who hasn’t had a winning season since 2011-12, the Buffalo Sabres are doing all they can to get out in front of that this season. After Tuesday’s win, which got them their 10th straight victory (a franchise record), it’s hard to fathom how this is happening after a 21-win season from last year. They already have 17 wins and we’re just about to enter December.

I’ll also say– yes, there have been teams who won 10-straight that went on to lose 10-straight…hi Flyers…and who’s to say it won’t happen to this rag-tag bunch of kids??

That aside, the Sabres are just another team– akin to the Hurricanes and last year’s Golden Knights– who are just fun to watch because there was little to no expectation of them at the start of the season. Quietly, Jack Eichel is having a solid year with 23 assists and 28 points, Jeff Skinner is tied for the league lead in goals, while Carter Hutton has seemingly shed his back-up role and become a serviceable starter for this team. This is not to mention the Rasmuses (Rasmuii??)– Ristolainen and Dahlin– have been fantastic from the blueline, though the former may want to play a little better in his own end. Kyle Okposo, Jason Pominville, Sam Reinhart– all key cogs on this roster getting it down.

If you’re into the numbers side of things, Travis Yost has something at the Buffalo News that would give you more insight into that.

While this is a shift in some power, perhaps, in the Atlantic– that’s always good to keep things balanced. I hate to use “parity,” as it seems like a simple excuse to give, but it’ll keep team in check when it comes to who they sign and for how long/much they sign them for. The biggest thing going forward is Jeff Skinner’s extension– which could be very hefty if his pace continues. The biggest thing that the Sabres do hold is three first-round picks in the 2019 Draft. That’s something they could use in order to help unload some money…like a sweetener to maybe take Okposo’s contract.

Regardless of that, whatever Phil Housley has done has worked wonders in year two of his tenure. He’s found out how to coach the team that Jason Botterill has given him, and maybe the move to get Skinner is the last piece they really needed. The key is to not disrupt things by making an ill-advised move and ruining the dynamic in the locker room. While big name free-agents could be out there and may want to come to Buffalo with their resurgence– but having the chemistry they’re having now is pretty solid and something you wouldn’t want to mess up or else they’ll be back to where they were before this season.

UND HOCKEY: Frantic Third, Lifts Hawks to Sweep of Seawolves

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Photo by Jen Conway (@NHLHistorygirl)

GRAND FORKS, ND– They needed all 60 minutes, but the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks were able to sweep the University of Alaska-Anchorage this weekend, getting three unanswered goals in 1:24 to lift them to a 4-3 victory.

Adam Scheel got the call in net for North Dakota after Peter Thome played last night. However, Scheel got a bad break, after a pop-fly pass on front gave Nicolas Erb-Ekholm his second goal of the weekend, after the puck got deflected on a cross-ice pass and may have been batted down by Joel Janatuinen for the first goal of the game. While it was a slow start, the Fighting Hawks had their chances later in the frame, but Kristian Stead was able to keep the Seawolves ahead, stopping both Rhett Gardner and Janatuinen point-blank to preserve the lead.

“They came out pretty hard, I didn’t mind our start, but they had a better one,” mentioned captain Colton Poolman. “We kind of settled down (after the first goal). That’s maybe where we failed before. We looked at each other said this isn’t impossible. It was that collectiveness.”

“After winning Friday’s game, the first couple shifts– that wasn’t us and we were on our heels,” head coach Brad Berry stated after the game. “That’s one thing we’ll address and next time we get into the situation, we can adjust.”

Another bad bounce got Erb-Ekholm his second of the game, as he tried a cross-ice pass, but Cole Smith got a stick on it trying to deflect it and it went behind Scheel to make it 2-0 Anchorage. It took a while, but UND got a bounce of their own, after Stead made an amazing save at the side of the net, only to have a shot by Jacob Bernard-Docker go off his glove and in the net. Bernard-Docker registered his third goal of the season. Ninety seconds later and after a Jonny Tychonick penalty, Anchorage got the two-goal lead back after an Eric Sinclair was set up by Tom Hiekkavirta for a one-timer that went high-glove on Scheel.

While Anchorage kept the chances for UND to the outside, the Fighting Hawks broke through on the power play after Jordan Kawaguchi picked up a loose puck in the slot, dished it off to Matt Kiersted, who put away his third of the season past a sprawling Stead. Forty-three seconds later, UND scored on another power play, with Rhett Gardner tipping a Bernard-Docker shot to even the game. Forty-one seconds after that, Gardner got his second of the game, picking up a loose puck at the Seawolves blue line, driving to the net, and backhanding one passed Stead to pick up his seventh and eighth goals of the season in under a minute.

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Rhett Gardner/Photo by Jen Conway

“I was excited,” mentioned Gardner about the game-winner. “Kind of a relief. A couple bad bounces on their first two goals. So to see a couple bounces go our way felt good.”

Anchorage’s best chance to come back was with Hiekkavirta ringing a slapper off the cross-bar with a minute remaining and Stead on the bench, but thanks to the likes of Mark Senden and Janatuinen selling out their bodies to block shots, UND gets the sweep with a 4-3 victory.

“We knew were going to win that game, it was a matter of how we were going to do it,” remaked Gardner. “We knew after the second period it was a must-win game and there was no way we were going to lose it.”

“Take a sigh of relief after that,” mentioned Poolman. “That wasn’t our prettiest hockey. They had a gameplan and stuck to it. We stuck through a lot of crappy bounces and we got to it and we pulled through.”

“When we were trying to catch a game last weekend, everyone went in a different direction,” said Berry. “There was care, but everybody wasn’t on the same page of the structure. This weekend, I thought there was patience to our play even though there was desperation, all five guys were on the same page.”

The Fighting Hawks will now travel to Duluth to get back into NCHC competition against the Bulldogs.