NCHC Frozen Faceoff Day 2: Denver, Duluth Advance to Monday

GRAND FORKS, ND– Day two of the NCHC quarterfinals happened on Saturday with St. Cloud State and North Dakota awaiting their opponents for Monday night.

In the first match-up, the Omaha Mavericks came back to the Ralph for the third weekend out of the last four to take on the undermanned Denver Pioneers, who only had 10 forwards and six defensemen due to the team being under COVID quarantine. 

Despite the small roster, Denver got on the board first thanks to Hank Crone ripping a shot that ringed off both posts and behind Isaiah Saville to give the Pioneers an early lead. Denver took the play to Omaha, outshooting them 10-2 until the Mavericks struck with two quick goals. First, Jason Smallidge threw a floater on net through a screen and snuck past Magnus Chrona to tie the game. Just about a minute later, Matt Miller turned at the bottom of the face off circle on Chrona’s blocker side and went far glove side to make it 2-1 for Omaha. 

Things got chippy in the second period, with Denver losing Antti Tuomisto and Omaha losing Martin Sundberg to different head-contact game misconducts, as well as five minute majors to go along with it. One major penalty cut into the other, so neither team got the full five minutes to work with, which yielded no power play goals in that time frame. After Omaha’s major power play expired, they caught Denver in a bad line change, leading to Tyler Weiss burying home a Taylor Ward pass to make it 3-1 Mavericks. Denver cut the deficit to one on the power play, as Bobby Brink scored on a one-time attempt that he didn’t get all of, as the puck fluttered over the shoulder of Saville to make it a one-goal game. 

Denver wasted no time getting the equalizer in the third, as Mike Benning took a rebound at the face off dot and slapped it over the shoulder of Saville to tie the game only 42 seconds into the frame. The balance of the third has Omaha offensively on top of Denver, almost doubling their shot total in only ten minutes. That didn’t matter, as a Tyler Weiss tripping call  put Denver on the power play with Benning ripping a shot high over the glove of Saville– thanks to a screen by Kohen Olischefski– to give Denver the lead. The lead was short-lived, as Nate Knoepke potted his fourth of the year when a scramble in front left Knoepke open with a yawning cage in front of him to put the puck into. Denver broke the tie moments later when Bo Hanson tipped a Connor Caponi shot down in front, hit the puck with his backhand, which bounced over Saville’s legs and into the net. Despite pressure from the Mavs with Saville pulled, Denver held them off and will move onto Monday’s semifinal. 

THEY SAID IT

“We say it all the time, NCHC strength. Our only losses in the second half are North Dakota and Denver, and those are two pretty good hockey teams. With the strength of our conference, we hope to get an at-large bid.” Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet on the team’s NCAA tournament chances. 

“Just wasn’t good enough. Penalties were unacceptable. It’s up to us to play the right way and I don’t think we did that.“– Nolan Sullivan on Omaha’s penalty troubles through the game. 

“I don’t think it was too much of a factor. Our team depth is outstanding, it was something we had to rely on tonight. Just being in the moment– the excitement, the adrenaline– I don’t think it was much of a factor.”– Olischefski on the fatigue factor with only 16 skaters for Denver. 

“The biggest thing is we came here to advocate for the league that we should have four teams in the tournament. On the big picture, I think we’ve made our case to be the fourth team going 3-1-1 against Omaha. We’re going to have our hands full on Monday, but we checked a big box in beating Omaha.”– Denver head coach David Carle on his team’s chances for an at-large bid. 

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The second match-up had the defending NCAA champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs taking on the Western Michigan Broncos. It took less than three minutes for Dultuh to get on the board, as Koby Bender took the puck into the zone, cut across the slot, and beat Brandon Bussi far post to put the Bulldogs up 1-0. Just after the halfway mark, Western Michigan strikes back with a great redirect from Jason Polin off a wonderful feed from Ty Glover to beat Ryan Fanti and tie the game. 

The game stayed pretty neutral at the start of the third, not many shots either way. Midway through, however, the Broncos broke the tie on the power play. Drew Worrad set Ethen Frank up for a one-timer that Frank blew past Fanti to give Western the lead. With a power play of their own six minutes later, Bender tied the game for Duluth with his second of the night. Bender gathered a clearing attempt from in front of the net and put it past Bussi; who had lost the puck in the crowd in front. Late in the frame, the Broncos regained the lead, as Cole Gallant batted home an Ethen Frank rebound to make it 3-2 with under a minute remaining in the second. 

Duluth controlled the tempo to start the third, then on the power play, Kobe Roth and Noah Cates got in behind the Western Michigan defense for a 2-on-0, with Roth finishing it off and getting the game back at even. Duluth took the lead as Cole Koepke, coming out of the penalty box, picked up a pass and fired it glove side on Bussi to make it 4-3 Bulldogs. The Broncos fought back after that goal, controlling the puck in their offensive zone most of the final six minutes of regulation. That hard work paid off as with 21.8 seconds remaining and the goalie pulled, Polin got his second goal of the night after a feed in front by Josh Passolt sent the game to an extra frame, the first in the quarterfinals. 

Both Duluth went back and forth and had chances early in the frame. However, Connor Kelley ended the game 6:24 into the frame, with a wrister from the point, beating Bussi. Western Michigan took exception to the way the puck was dropped on the face off as it hit the hand of the Duluth centerman and didn’t hit the ice.

THEY SAID IT

“As a team we knew it was going to be like that. Western Michigan has been playing great hockey at the end of the year. We knew it was going to be a one, two goal game. We just have to stick with the game. If something happens, we have to leave it behind and move on.”– Koepke on the back-and-forth nature of the match-up.

“We got to keep an even keel. We talked about it in the second intermission, we can’t get down on those things. It’s over, you can’t change it, but you have the opportunity in front of you to win it in overtime and we did that.”– Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin on keeping his team controlled through the game. 

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Monday’s semifinals will have St. Cloud taking on Duluth in the afternoon game, while the evening game will have North Dakota taking on Denver. The winner of the semi battle it out on Tuesday for the NCHC championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

NCHC Frozen Faceoff Day 1: Fighting Hawks, Huskies Move Onto Semis

GRAND FORKS, ND– For the first time in the eight year history of the NCHC, the Frozen Faceoff playoffs weren’t held in one of Minnesota’s twin cities, but in Grand Forks at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. The decision came as ideas were thrown about with the playoffs and how they would be handled, especially after the success of the Pod in Omaha to start the season. You can see that story from Brad Schlossman here

Friday and Saturday have two quarterfinals with the semis on Monday and final on Tuesday. 

The first game had the very barebone team in Colorado College and St. Cloud State. The Tigers had only 16 skaters and a single goalie for this game due to COVID protocols being in place for the team. That didn’t deter Colorado College, who kept the St. Cloud offense at bay for most of the game, but the Huskies came out on top thanks to a late goal by Nick Perbix to move onto the semifinals with a 2-1 win. 

After a scoreless first, Colorado College got on the board two minutes into the second after McKay Flanagan threw a harmless dump pass onto net, but the puck handcuffed Huskies goalie David Hrenak to put the Tigers up 1-0. Late in the second, Colorado College’s captain Zach Berzolla went knee-on-knee with Veeti Miettinen, which resulted in a five-minute major and game misconduct. St. Cloud tied the game up thanks to a Zach Okabe shot with 1:01 left in the second. 

It was all St. Cloud in the third, as it seemed Colorado College was just trying to hang on. The Huskies outshot the Tigers 17-0 in the final frame and only scored the one goal late thanks to the smart and sometimes desperate play of Matt Vernon in between the pipes for the Tigers. However, the Tigers couldn’t find the extra gear for the equalizer and the Huskies moved onto Monday’s semifinal. 

THEY SAID IT

“I’m really proud of our guys. They competed right to the end and we gave ourselves a chance. We had to shutdown a pretty high potent offense. Really proud about how we competed and battled.” — Colorado College head coach Mike Haviland

“It was more or less staying above them and not giving them a chance off the rush. I thought we did a great job. Four defensemen down the stretch hurt us, but we played above them. That was the game plan going ahead.” — Haviland on the game plan with a small roster. 

“These kinds of opportunities don’t come very often. I’ve always considered myself a playoff player. I knew that every single one of the guys would give it there all and I had to make sure I did the same.” — Vernon on his mindset coming into the game.

“You’re not used to having teams not forecheck you. The flow of the game was off. It took us a while to get adjusted to their game plan. About the 10 minute mark, we saw what they were doing, readjusted our game plan to go against them.” St. Cloud head coach Brett Larson on how his team adapted to the unique CC game. 

“We tried to stay with it and try to wear them down. Just work it low and get our chances in front of the net.” –Purbix about the St. Cloud mindset. 

“Obviously we were getting all our chances. We were fighting all day, but we knew one of them would go in.” –Okabe on the offensive chances St. Cloud had.

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In the second match-up, the top-seeded and host North Dakota Fighting Hawks took on the Miami RedHawks. The only match-ups between these teams came at the NCHC Pod in December, North Dakota winning both of those games. 

North Dakota got off to a quick start, with Collin Adams putting UND up 1-0 only 14 seconds into the first after a two-on-one with Jordan Kawaguchi. Miami had plenty of pressure after that goal, creating turnovers in the UND end. However, the Fighting Hawks counterpunched that saw Louis Jamernik tally his first college goal and make it 2-0. Seconds later, Adams got his second of the game off the face off and banking a passing attempt over a Miami defender to put the Fighting Hawks up 3-0. Miami got one back after the half-way point of the period, as Phil Knies put one over the right shoulder of Adam Scheel to make it 3-1. Riese Gaber got the three-goal lead back after picking up his own blocked shot to put it past Ludvig Persson and make it 4-1. 

UND made it a four-goal lead with Jacob Bernard-Docker getting a tally from a one-timer at the point through traffic in front to make it 5-1. While UND carried the pace for most of the period, Rourke Russell was able to sneak a shot past Adam Scheel, as a rising shot caught Scheel off-guard, bouncing off his blocker and kicked off his skate to make 5-2. 

Brendan Budy made it 6-2 when he gathered up a shot off the post from Adams and put it into the open net. For Adams, it was his fifth point of the night. A scary moment in the third when Bernard-Docker was retrieving a puck, he tripped himself up on a pivot and the side of his head hit the back boards. He laid in a heap as Miami continued to possess the puck before getting back into the play and helping out the penalty kill. After that sequence, he went to the dressing room and did not return. No immediate update on his status for Monday. 

THEY SAID IT

“This is a serious time for Miami hockey. We’re looking for people that can help us win. And I say that meaning this game tonight. If you can’t help us try and win this game tonight, you’re wasting your time and you’re wasting our time. Because that’s the bar.” Miami head coach Chris Bergeron on the future of the RedHawks program.

“What I liked from our group was the fight back. A tough thing about playing North Dakota is going nose-to-nose and letting them know you’re here to play. We pushed back and we had opportunities. It’s not moral victory time, it’s baby-steps. It’s changing the culture and going from there. The vibe on our bench was not a team that was down. We kept pushing back and I like that in a group.”– Bergeron on the feeling on the bench against a top-ranked team.

“Just how resilient this group is. We went through a lot of adversity and there were a lot of sacrifices made to make sure this season went ahead. The guys in this room know something great is going on and there’s definitely a bright future for those guys in the room there.”– Knies on the team this season and the direction of the Miami program. 

“We referenced that game (St. Cloud/Colorado College) in our locker room about how this league is so tough that you have to get out to a quick start. Got to commend CC for the line-up they had and they played a tough game against a tough St. Cloud team. Where you are in the standings in the regular season doesn’t matter. You got to prove it every day now.” — North Dakota head coach Brad Berry on his team’s focus at the fast start. 

“You have to have an answer. If you get scored on, you want to have an answer right away to show the other team you don’t want to back down. When team’s score a goal, you have to get right back at it again.” — Berry on the counter-attack his team had against Miami.

“Those guys are pro hockey players. It’s not surprising, they know what to do and how to do it. Collin should have had a hat-trick, he’s had a couple chances. A five-point game is nice, but to us, it’s no surprise.”– Jamernik on the Adams/Kawaguchi duo.

NHL and ESPN Are Together Again

According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, NHL fans may be getting what they want with ESPN signing a new deal with the NHL to become on of their media partners starting next season. ESPN will get rights to four Stanley Cup Finals between 2022 and 2028 and streaming rights to the league. The NHL and NBC deal ends at the end of this season and plenty of people were clamoring for the NHL to go elsewhere. It may look like they’ve partial gotten their wish.

The NHL hasn’t been a regular entity on ESPN’s family of networks since 2004, they have had games on ESPN+ over the past couple of seasons, as well as beefing up their coverage of hockey thanks to the work of Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski, as well as Chris Peters– who was let go from ESPN during the pandemic. With NBC Sports Network going dark in lieu of PeacockTV, it only makes sense that ESPN would pick up the lead in this for the TV side.

While this does seem like a step in the right direction, the issue remains whether or not it’ll tip the scales all that much and if we’ll actually get a change in the teams being broadcasted. The biggest issue when the NHL spurred ESPN for the old Outdoor Life Network was because ESPN didn’t see the NHL as a money making entity and low-balled them on a new deal. Has that sentiment changed at all?? Maybe. Honestly, though, I don’t see the NHL getting as much screen time on a network that is jammed up with other, more profitable for the network sports.

It would be great to have the ESPN talking heads be all about the NHL and yell and bitch on their overpaid showcases of hot takes that mimic a talk show– but I don’t see that happening. If nothing else, the NHL gets more exposure due to the notoriety that ESPN has over other sports networks. That said, I don’t see it really tipping the needle in terms of exposure to the sports for people since the NHL will move to fourth on the depth chart of sports over the defacto top spot they had on NBCSN. Granted, it was the NHL or Meecum Auctions, so the competition of the networks wasn’t that stiff.

Yet, when you think about it– the numbers could be slightly better just due to reach, but outside of that– who knows what that could bring. You have to think that an NHL Tonight type show will be around; but outside of that– what’s it going to take for people to notice the NHL on ESPN?? More importantly– how long before NHL fans bitch about not receive the coverage they think they should get on the World Wide Leader??

In the grand scheme, this is an upward move– how can it not be?? ESPN is everywhere and they have a multitude of platforms on the TV side that people can get to on cable and whatnot. Streaming rights are what they are, which makes me wonder if things don’t go swimmingly or other leagues start to demand more, if that was a safety net installed to put the NHL on ESPN+ when all is said and done and only use ESPN or ESPN2 for the bigger events. This also doesn’t account for who the other partner would be for the other half of the NHL rights and how those two will co-exist.

But for not, strike up the National Hockey Night theme and relive the good-old days of hockey on ESPN.

UND HOCKEY: Slow Starts Sours Senior Night

GRAND FORKS, ND– On senior night when eight players from the University of North Dakota were honored, the Fighting Hawks dropped their first home game of the season to Omaha in overtime. It was the sixth meeting in five weeks between the two, who used this last game as a tune-up for the NCHC Playoffs that start on Friday. 

The opening 20 minutes yield not much of anything. Very few high quality chances on either side of the puck led to a scoreless first. At times, it seemed like each team was playing not to get injured with how conservative each side played in their last regular season game. 

“I didn’t think we had our best early in the game,” head coach Brad Berry stated, “Thirty  minutes in the game we pressed a bit, but a two-goal lead is tough to comeback from. We’ve got to start like we did the second half of the game.” 

Omaha opened the scoring by captain Kevin Conley on the power play with a heavy one-timer from the point that went right past Peter Thome for the Mavericks 1-0 lead. Seconds later, Chayse Primeau picked up a blocked shot and went under the arm of Thome to make it 2-0 Mavericks. An in-arena faux pas almost cost the Fighting Hawks another goal against, as coming out of a TV timeout; a replay on the jumbotron showed a shot from a previous sequence that Thome kicked off the goal-line. However, when the replay was shown from the in-net cam, it looked like the puck may have crossed the line. After an almost five-minute review, the goal did not count. UND turned on the pressure after that review, which paid off in the second half of the period. Louis Jamernik drove down the left side, putting a shot onto Isaiah Saville that kicked out to Jackson Keane, who put it in to halve the Omaha lead. 

It only took 15 seconds for UND to even up the game, as Jordan Kawaguchi redirected a pop-up blocked shot and went past Saville for a tie game. North Dakota kept the pressure on, dictating the play thanks to a couple of power plays in the first half of the frame. The second half of the frame, Omaha clawed back and put plenty of pressure on North Dakota, but Thome stood tall and had plenty of help from his defense to clear out any rebound in harm’s way. With no other scoring, the senior night went into overtime. 

In the extra frame, North Dakota had two solid chances from Matt Kiersted and Collin Adams, but took a penalty 50 seconds into the frame on a Kiersted slashing call. That led to a Tyler Ward deflection off a Brandon Scanlin shot to end the game 3-2. It was the first home loss of the season for North Dakota. 

“When you deviate from the game plan, it feeds into the momentum of the other team,” Berry mentioned. “This time of year, you have to be your best. It was an emotion game with it being senior night– but we have to make sure we’re dialed in for next week in the playoffs.”

THEY SAID IT

“To me there’s no pattern, we’ve lost one game at home. If it was three or four, then I’d say there’s a pattern. It’s not a panic situation, but we have to bring it and play our best in order to win games.” — Berry when asked about the first loss at home this season.

“It was a little bit of a wake-up call. We’ve played these guys a lot  and we kind of thought it was going to be easy. I like the way we battled back, but we got to be ready right from the start” — Keane on the feeling of the room after the game.

“This is a great group of guys who welcomed me with open arms. I was kind of looking up to them when I first got here and it was great to be a part of the night.” — Keane on playing in senior night despite coming in a year later than the rest of the class.

“It would have been nice to end the regular season with the win, but at end of the day; we’re still #1 in our conference and we’re moving on getting ready for the playoffs next week.” Kawaguchi on his feelings after Friday’s game. 

NHL Outdoors Was Great, Don’t Expect It Again for a Bit

The Lake Tahoe games happened. Aside from the sun being the mortal enemy of ice on Saturday– you’d have to say it was ultimately a success. The sights, the sounds, the kayaks– all of it was solid for the viewing public. That was ultimately ruined by Rutledge Wood, but we take what we can get with NBC’s budget on hockey for sideline reporters. It was super enjoyable, especially in a year we didn’t think an outdoor game would happen.

Odds are we won’t be seeing that for a good while.

With this “NHL Outdoors” branding, there are four different outdoor games that can occur now: Outdoors, Heritage Classic, Winter Classic, and Stadium Series. The only one that you can’t utilize in a league that needs all the money it can muster is the Outdoors concept. The rest of those are in over-capacity venues that will provide solid revenue for the league, while this Outdoors concept seems to be the one that is where there’s little to no fans. That way, the ad wizards at the TV license holder can pat themselves on the back when they keep using the ideal of “taking the game back to its origin” and remind us of all the players starting out on the pond playing hockey.

There’s a good chance that next season, we’ll have PLENTY of outdoors games– assuming people will be let into buildings to watch sporting events. When the NHL had the shortened 2012-13 season, they made up for the lost half-season by holding six outdoor games the next year and made some good cash off of that to put into the Hockey Related Revenue. For some reason, I could imagine that number at least doubling because of all the lost revenue from the pandemic not allowing capacity crowds into the buildings. They need to start to break even some how.

Which is why the Outdoors idea will only come into play when the league has the money it need and has a setting and teams that are remote enough that little to no fans will be in. We’ve joked on the Face Off Hockey Show about the idea of the league putting the game on an aircraft carrier like the NCAA did with the Carrier Classic or the WWE did with trying to slam Yokozuna. I mean, if they can make ice anywhere, the aircraft carrier is far too perfect, while also serving their want/need to hold games at military venues as they did at the Air Force Academy and Naval Academy.

Everything was perfect for this event to take play and give a way to have an outdoor game in a pandemic. But it’s only because they couldn’t have fans anyway and the golf courses weren’t actively being used in February. Just don’t be surprised when it doesn’t happen for another five years or so and everything is stabilized. Then you can have stories of how people tried to break into the closed event.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Capture Back-to-Back Penrose Cups

Photo via University of North Dakota Twitter

GRAND FORKS, ND– With the Penrose Cup for best regular season record in the NCHC in the building, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks came into the day looking to take care of some business on home ice. They did just that with a big 7-1 win against the Omaha Mavericks, capturing their second straight Penrose Cup and fourth in the program’s history. 

“I’m extremely proud of this team,” head coach Brad Berry stated, “I’ve been here a lot of years. This ranks up there as one of the highest in trying to capture it. Players who come here, they have to be team first, but at the same time there’s chances to go to the next level. There are guys who could have went elsewhere after last season, but chose to come back. This has to rank as one of the toughest to win because of pod at the beginning of the season, because you grind away and  then have to come back and wait for the weekend game and try to stay focused. This one is at the top with all that adversity they went through.” 

It took less than 90 seconds for UND to get on the board, as Shane Pinto made a backhanded pass from behind the net out in front to Brenden Budy, who put it past Isaiah Saville to make it 1-0 Fighting Hawks. While UND tried to control the pace, Omaha wouldn’t go away. Their consistency paid off as Kevin Conley redirected a Kirby Proctor shot and made it 1-1. The Fighting Hawks answered with under 90 seconds left in the period, as Tyler Kleven picked up a Jasper Weatherby pass and wired it past Isaiah Saville to make it 2-1. 

The second had Omaha get plenty of control in the offensive zone, but couldn’t cash in thanks to Adam Scheel. Just after a flurry by the Mavericks, a turnover in the neutral zone after a Mavericks’ defenseman lost an edge allowed Jordan Kawaguchi to break in alone and beat Saville blocker side to make it 3-1. Penalty trouble plagued the Mavericks, as back-to-back calls against Omaha allowed for North Dakota’s power play to be out there and after one unsuccessful round, Jasper Weatherby wired home his 10th of the season after great work from Jake Sanderson and Jacob Bernard-Docker to move the puck around the perimeter to start the power play. After trading penalties, Collin Adams notched another power play goal off a rebound from a Riese Gaber shot, which ended the night of Saville. 

Penalties were on the mind of Omaha in the third, after a quick start for the Mavericks to get some shots on Scheel. However, after Shane Pinto got denied by Austin Roden, Pinto made good for it with a rocket on the power play to extend UND’s lead to 6-1. As North Dakota was playing somewhat conservative, another Collin Adams goal happened off the face-off thanks to a solid pass by Judd Caulfield, who had an Omaha defender draped all over him. 

With under a minute left, many emotions boiled over as Louis Jamernik cross checked an Omaha player off the face-off and all hell broke loose. The result was Gabe Bast, Louis Jamernik, Jackson Keane, Griffin Ness, and Tyler Kleven from UND and Jonny Tychonick, Brandon Scanlin, Noah Prokop, Joey Abate getting ejected from the last minute. 

When all was said and done, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks came out a 7-1 winner and lifted their second straight Penrose Cup for best team in the NCHC’s regular season. However, there’s still two games left for UND over the next two weekends– both against Omaha. Berry, who started to rest some of the top players at the end of this game, said they’ll start to focus on how to go about the rosters on Monday.

“It’s a good thing we clinched,” said Berry. “It’ll allow us as a coaching staff on Monday to look at what we’ve got and make sure we’ve got everyone at the top of their game going into the playoffs.” 

THEY SAID IT

“You could feel it in the morning skate and  going into the meetings. There wasn’t a lot of laughing and guys being loose, it was a business attitude. You kind of knew we were going to get our best tonight. Everyone was focused and I  gotta hand it to them– they dug in and focused and tried to hang another banner.” — Berry on the mentality of the team going into Saturday’s game.

“They’re a team on the rise and we both play hard. We’re all trying to get top four, when you get two top teams in the conference, that’s what happens. The NCHC gets you ready for the postseason by grinding it out during the season. The NCHC has success because of the gauntlet going on in the regular season.” Berry on the budding UND/Omaha rivalry

“It was a lot of unexpected turns of events. The first half in the pod, nothing like that has happened. Then you have to go back and deal with the rescheduling and all that. You have to roll with the punches and overcome the adversity.” — Scheel on the craziness of the season

“It’s the friendship in the room. We’re best friends off the ice and that’s why we play so well on the ice because we all play for each other.” — Scheel on the comradery of this year’s Fighting Hawks team.

On the Topic Of Transfers Returning

Photo via University of Nebraska-Omaha

On Friday night after the first period of the North Dakota/Omaha match-up, Jonny Tychonick was the last of the Omaha Mavericks to leave the ice. At the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the visitor’s locker room is across from their bench, going through a tunnel next to what usually is the student section at UND. With restrictions in place, there wasn’t that many students in that area, but the ones who were there started to give Tychonick the riot act.

Tychonick had transfer this past off-season from North Dakota to his new spot in Omaha. Citing limited playing time and the want to develop more, he enter the transfer portal and got UND’s blessing to not have to sit out a season in order to play this season. For a guy who was a scratch for a good portion his two seasons with the Fighting Hawks, it’s easy to see why he would want to move onto another school where he’ll get playing time and start to establish himself as a viable prospect. With a solid incoming class of defensemen to boot, Tychonick saw the writing on the wall and then went the transfer route.

Since going to Omaha, it does seem like Tychonick is making waves with his new squad. The Calgary native has three goals and eight points in 17 games, only a goal and three points away from matching his career high, which he notched last year in 24 games with UND.

Back to the matter at hand, though, the vilification of Tychonick is pretty unfair to him when you look at the grand scheme of things. While I understand North Dakota fans want to think that once you’re in UND, you only leave when you graduate or go to the NHL early. They don’t take into account the fact some of these players may have other reasons for wanting to leave– like in Tychonick’s case, as well as Chris Wilkie’s case, another player who left UND for another school (Colorado College) to play a bigger role than he was getting. Wilkie also got earfuls from the North Dakota faithful when he came back to play after his departure.

It’s understandable why North Dakota students and fans would be upset with two players not only wanting to leave UND, but go to schools within the same conference. But taking a step back, you can’t blame them for wanting more for themselves and their development. Neither player really deserved the backlash they had gotten, but in a school pride situation– there’s no rationale good enough to sway people away from the “traitorous acts” that these two players committed by leaving UND. Despite the fact that in the long-term, it was a better decision for those players to leave a bad situation for a better one. In a world where people are starting to look more at how mental health affects people, these two players getting out of a bad situation for themselves and going to a better one seems like it should be applauded rather than belittled.

Sometimes, however, it’s about looking out for yourself. In his first season at Colorado College, Wilkie matched his career total at UND (6g, 13a, 19) in 42 less games. Wilkie’s senior season saw him lead the team in goals (24) and points (31) before the season was ultimately cancelled. Though it looks like Tychonick won’t match his stats in year one with his new team, he’s well on his way to have a better two seasons in Omaha than he did at UND because he was able to get playing time and get to what he felt like his true potential is.

The shocking thing is that it doesn’t happen more in some cases. Plenty of college teams have depth for days and with only being able to dress 19 skaters at a time, it’s a hard decision to figure out which players are going to sit for whatever reason. It’s almost a good problem to have for schools like North Dakota that they have players who are healthy scratches in their line-up, but then give some help to another program that would kill to have a player like that.

Moral of this story is that you shouldn’t hate a player for looking out for their own interests in mind. Yes, it sucks to lose out of talent. Yes, you don’t want a unit to break up because they gel well. Yes, you want to have all the top prospect available, even if they won’t play all the time. But I’ll never understand the feeling of betrayal some people might get just because they actually wanted to play rather than sit in the stands on gameday. But at the end of the day, if these players want to make it to the next level, they need to play more. If they aren’t getting the playing time and they can get the same schooling for their major at another school where they can get more playing time– the choice for them is clear.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks One Win Away from Back-to-Back Penrose Cups

GRAND FORKS, ND– Need two wins in their last four games in order to win the NCHC regular season, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks are in charge of their own destiny. They’ll be facing off against the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks in all four of those games. They took the first step in securing the Penrose Cup by beating Omaha Friday night 4-1. 

The first period featured a bit of a tight checking start, with only six shots total through the first half of the frame. Passing for both sides weren’t hitting their mark, which caused golden chances to go by the wayside. North Dakota did break the scoreless tie first, as Jacob Bernard-Docker let a shot go from the point, through a mass of humanity in front, and lighting the lamp for his second of the season. As the teams loosened up, so did the shot total, as Omaha outshot UND 14-10 after 20 minutes. 

“Our first period was rough,” Bernard-Docker mentioned post-game. “(Coach Brad Berry) came into the room and told us to clean it up, mainly in the neutral zone. I think we really found our game after that.”

After more tight checking and some chances on either side, Bernard-Docker was the focal point of the second gaol, as he took a Harrison Blaisdell pass, weaved through the offensive zone, put a backhanded shot on Isaiah Saville, but when Saville couldn’t hold onto the puck; Jackson Keane was there to put home the rebound for his first of the season. UND kept the pressure going, making sure they didn’t give Omaha any chance to breathe, which culminated in a Tyler Kleven tally. North Dakota worked the puck around smoothly, ending when Collin Adams set-up Kleven in Kleven’s wheelhouse and hammered home the 3-0 tally. Omaha broke the shutout after a point shot from Jason Smallidge ricocheted off the back boards and to Tyler Weiss, who had a wide-open net to put it past Adam Scheel. 

An uneventful start to the third period had action pick up on a North Dakota power play, which had been stymied all night up to that point. During the last throes of the power play, Mark Senden moved the puck to Bernard-Docker, who found a streaking Jasper Weatherby, who unleashed a brilliant snapshot past the glove of Saville, giving UND the 4-1 lead and victory. UND did catch-up in shots, outshooting the Mavericks 41-25. 

“It’s a team mentality,” Berry stated. “When you go up one or two goals, most players would want to get another goal or another assist for their stats. Our guys play a team mentality and are doing anything to get the win and not working about personal stats. It’s doing the things in game blocking shots, playing short shifts, and it’s reassuring to see it on a consistent basis.”

This was the first of four straight against Omaha to end the regular season for North Dakota. With another win, they’ll clinch the Penrose Cup for regular season champion of the NCHC. They’ll have to do that against a team who is undefeated in the back-end of the back-to-back series. 

“It’s not going to come easy,” Berry said. “We’re playing a team that’s 5-0 in second games of back-to-back games. We firmly believe they’ll be excited to play this and we’ll have to play our best game to win it. We have to come into the rink with a workman-like attitude.” 

“It’s something you think about,” mentioned Keane about winning the Penrose at home. “It sounds weird to say you don’t want to win it on the road. Our plan is to win it tomorrow. We don’t want to leave anything to chance.”

UND HOCKEY: Weekend Sweep of Denver Puts Hawks in Control of NCHC

Photo: Eric Burton/Inside Hockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– After last night’s game, goalie Adam Scheel said he felt fine and could probably play Saturday. That wasn’t the case as the goalie was a scratch for the rematch against Denver, which allowed Peter Thome to step into the starting role. Even with another goalie in net, North Dakota swept the weekend over Denver with a 5-2 victory. 

“I found out this morning at 10:15,” Thome mentioned. “Originally, I thought I wasn’t going to play because I talked to Scheeler and thought it was a charley horse. But I knew there was a chance and prepared like I was going to play. We talked about this last year, it’s really tough making a start with two months in between. They scored a couple goals I’d like to have back. Overall I did what I wanted and what I needed to do and it was enough to get a win.”

The Fighting Hawks got things going within the first five minutes, as Mark Senden’s shot from the top of the circle got tipped in front by Jasper Weatherby and made it 1-0 UND. Jake Durflinger took a penalty, but made up for it after it was done, as he took an outlet pass as his penalty expired and beat Peter Thome on the backhand to tie the game. Part of a problem for UND was passes missing their marks, leading to icings or turnovers. That allowed Denver to control the offensive output, which showed as shots were 13-6 Denver after the first. 

“We had a slow start, one of our slower starts,” head coach Brad Berry stated. “Denver is always very good and they play fast and we didn’t have much time and space. We looked at ourselves after the first and knew we had to be better, a lot better the last 40 minutes. In the NCHC, you’ve got to be ready to play a 60-minute game and I think we got away with only playing 40.”

A neutral zone battle started the second period, but havoc ensued when a Brendan Budy tip in front eluded Magnus Chrona and created a big scrum in front. Out of the scrum, Matt Kiersted got an initial shot into Chrona, but Shane Pinto picked up the puck off that shot and buried it for his 14th goal of the season. Minutes after that, a Pinto pass bounced over the stick of Jacob Bernard-Docker and Denver went the other way with Ryan Barrow passing it out to Carter Savoie, who beat Thome glove side to knot the game at two. More neutral zone battles before a power play for North Dakota led to an odd bounce off an attempted centering pass by Collin Adams deflected off a Denver player and into the net to make it 3-2. 

The tight checking affair continued in the third, but UND was able to get a break due to a Carter Savoie five-and-game for checking from behind. While there wasn’t any scoring for the Fighting Hawks, they got some momentum going and it turned into another Weatherby goal off a rebound from a Judd Caulfield shot to make it 4-2. Penalty issues came for UND, as they had three consecutive penalties in the second half of the frame, one creating a two-man disadvantage. Luckily for UND, their penalty kill was top notch and were able to stave off the Denver pressure. Judd Caulfield finished the job with an empty net goal to make it a 5-2 win and a weekend sweep for North Dakota. 

With the win, the Fighting Hawks are in sole possession of first place in the NCHC. North Dakota remains at home next weekend, as they play the first of four match-ups in three weekends against Nebraska-Omaha. 

THEY SAID IT

“Couldn’t be happier for Peter. He’s a team guy and works hard. He hasn’t had the easiest career, but he makes the most of the opportunity. Our guys were fired up when we knew today, guys were happy, and wanted to play hard for him. He made some big saves and it’s nice to know he can come in and do the job anytime.” — HC Brad Berry on Peter Thome’s performance

“Budy, we started him on the Mismash line and we wanted to try and get a spark and get the attention of some guys, so we flip flopped him and (Riese) Geber and they performed well. Those guys are the next wave that’s going to be influential in our line-up in the future, so it was good to have them make an impact so quickly.” — Berry on Brendan Budy and the youth of the team.

“Yes and no. It’s the third year in a row that I’ve come in on a big spot after not playing for a while and deliver. It doesn’t make it any easier, it’s tough to get into rhythm and find a comfort zone. But that’s part of it, my job is to prepare like I’m playing every game because you never know when you are going to be needed.” — Thome on being familar with coming in on a relief role.

“We love this building and our fans are great and it’s nice to have that home routine. Three thousand isn’t 12,000, but it’s awesome the job they do as 3,000 to make it feel more crowded.” — Jasper Weatherby on playing at home and having fans in the stands.  

UND HOCKEY: Hawks Shutout Pioneers, But Get a Bit of a Late Scare

GRAND FORKS, ND– For the fifth time this season, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks and Denver University Pioneers did battle in what seemed to be a bit of a throwback to olden times. 

“There’s something special about these NCHC rivalries– even coming from the WCHA days,” UND head coach Brad Berry mentioned post game. “Players and coaches coming and go, but the rivalry remains the same. Both teams had to deal with penalties, both teams had to overcome adversity, and that’s what you saw tonight.” 

UND were the ones to really overcome adversity, killing off a five-minute major spanning two periods while getting 24 saves from Adam Scheel to secure a 3-0 victory over the Pioneers. 

Denver seemed to control the play in the first half of the period, outshooting North Dakota for a time. However, the Fighting Hawks turned to another gear after back-to-back power plays. Late in the frame, Jake Sanderson rung a shot off the post, but after stalling the Denver transition, Jasper Weatherby wired a shot from the left face-off dot past Magnus Chrona to make it 1-0. That’s when the feisty play started, as Gavin Hain collided with Chrona at one end, then it turned into a dance party with Tyler Klevin and Jake Durflinger getting into a wrestling match in the neutral zone. Hain was assessed a five-minute major for running into Chrona. 

The Hawks were able to kill that penalty thanks to well-timed blocks while managing to pin the puck deep in the Denver zone. The Hawks were able to control the tempo a bit, while also getting some power play time to get ahead on the shot counter. Shane Pinto put the Fighting Hawks up by two on the power play after a bit of a broken play down low saw the puck get pushed back to Matt Kiersted, who found Pinto on the left face-off dot with a huge mass of humanity in front to put UND up 2-0. 

A back-and-forth third was the tale of the frame, with UND and Denver trading chances, but both Adam Scheel and Chrona being equal to the task. Hain and Chrona got acquainted again, as Hain was crashing the net on a power move, running into Chrona with help from the Denver defense. Hain, however, got called for interference– which UND promptly killed off. Pinto sealed the deal for UND with an empty-net goal for his second of the night and fifth-straight multi-point game. A bigger story was at the end of the game, Adam Scheel got tangled up and was unable to put weight on his right leg and needed to be helped off the ice and down the tunnel. 

“I got my leg taken out from under me,” Scheel mentioned, “It’s just a charley horse and I’ll be okay.”

“(Scheel) absolutely got ran into and he’s hurting a little bit,” Berry mentioned. “We went to the net a couple times and there were some consequences. We’ll have to see what happens going ahead.”

Keeping the emotions under control will be a key factor in the return match-up Saturday. North Dakota’s discipline has been a little lacking against Denver, taking 95 of their 271 (35%) penalty minutes on the season against the Pioneers.

“We have to be more disciplined,” remarked Pinto. “We did what we had to do, our kill played well. We have to finish the job tomorrow by being more disciplined.”