UND Hockey: Trying to Find the Way Again

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

After putting up 74 shots in their two playoff games with Denver and only registering two goals, the University of North Dakota will go a second straight season without making it to the NCAA tournament following getting swept in Denver this past weekend. It will be the first time since 1994-95 and 1995-96 in which North Dakota has missed the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons. In fact, North Dakota missed six NCAA tournaments in a row from 1991 until 1996.

Of course, with all the success in the recent past– the questions are coming about what’s wrong with the team following a National Championship in 2016 and limited success since then. Obviously, heavy hitters offensively left the team early like Brock Boeser (who would have been a senior this year), Shane Gersich (senior), Christian Wolanin (senior) and Tyson Jost (junior); but the promise of the players who were coming in had the pedigree of being top scorers to replace those who left. With only 93 goals scored this season (tied for 36 in the nation) and only one player in double-digits for goals, a decent amount is left to be desired from this team. The 93 goals is the lowest since the 1963-64 team that only produced 79 goals in their season.

But what is to be done with this team?? It’s not like UND couldn’t get pucks on net, because they were able to put an average of 32 shots per game this season (1187 shots for, 13th in the nation), but only had 2.51 goals per game this year. They consistently outshot opponents, but whether it’s not getting bounces or poor shot selection or making every goalie look like a Richter Award nominee– the goals just didn’t come.

Jordan Kawaguchi, who was the only double-digit goal-scorer, came out of Junior A with two 30-goal seasons before coming into UND last year and has 15 goals over his two seasons as a Hawk. Though injuries hampered him this season, Grant Mismash hasn’t been as electric for goal-scoring as many thought coming out of the US Development Program. There’s plenty of role players on the team who have the ability to score, but there isn’t that one player who stands out as leader for the offensive. With three defensemen in the top-five in team scoring– people have to scratch their heads when it comes to how the offense is progressing.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, to be honest, as UND did seem to find themselves a solid line in Mark Senden, Gavin Hain, and Cole Smith as they year went on. They progressed as the energy line that UND needed and sparked plenty of offense in the latter half of the season through their fierce forechecking and solid board-play. Though Smith will be a senior next season, if this line can keep the same chemistry next season, they’ll be a tough line to play against moving forward.

Defense was obviously the top priority for the Fighting Hawks and the play of Adam Scheel and Peter Thome were solid– though there were an odd game where it went sideways. UND gave up 90 goals this year, which ranked 19th in the nation, while giving up the third least amount of shots in the nation with 858. Of course, giving up so few shots and that amount of goals gives Scheel and Thome a bit of an off-kilter save percentage (.894, tied for 48th in nation), but those two played stellar when they needed to, but couldn’t get the goal support necessary.

Special teams left plenty to be desired for UND, with the Fighting Hawks finishing 52nd in the nation on the power play working at a 14.2% efficiency on the year. The PK wasn’t great either, finishing tied for 36th in the nation and working at a 79.9% kill rate.

So how can you balance a solid defensive showing while also give goal support for that defense so it’s not as white-knuckled every game as it has been?? Maybe it’s as simple as letting the scorers be scorers, taking some of the defensive responsibilities off of the likes of Kawaguchi and Mismash and let them start to control the game on the opposite end. Two commits coming in next season in Carson Albrecht and Carter Randklev could also provide some punch offensively– though it’s hard to put that pressure on freshman, coupled with Randklev coming off an ACL tear this past season. However, something needs to click so that North Dakota doesn’t become the New Jersey Devils of the mid-90s and hope suffocating defense is the road to success.

That’s also depending on whether or not Colton Poolman returns to UND or not. His brother, Tucker, left after his junior year to play in the Winnipeg Jets organization and now a decision is to be made for Colton– who ESPN ranked in their top-15 of NCAA free agents. Poolman said he will try to make his decision quick to not drag on the process for himself or the team. We’ll see how it all shakes down, as Poolman will probably be the only non-senior to league this year if he does.

The past two seasons, players were talking about playing the “North Dakota way”– especially when the team was going through some kind of slump. The question is now what the North Dakota way actually is and how this team is going to find it. There’s going to be plenty of time for soul-searching on this team and it’ll start with how the coaching staff wants to approach next season. Though I doubt a firing will be in the cards for Brad Berry or his staff, you’d have to think that they’ll be looked at under a bigger microscope than before with this team missing out on two straight tournaments and lacking scoring, as they have been. With this year’s team not even making it to the Frozen Faceoff (NCHC’s championship weekend), it could be the harsh wake-up call needed to really put a fire under the players and staff.

The Playoff Format is Fine

There has been a vocal group of people who say that the playoff format is not far. Whether it’s fans or pundits or some players, people aren’t fond of playing teams in their division.

Not shockingly, it’s because the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, would have to presumably take on both the Lightning and the Bruins– the other two top teams in the East, and Toronto fans and pundits by and large and whiny personalities when they don’t get their way because they feel it’s their birthright to have everything handed to them.

The format the way it is now– to play out of your division before getting to the Conference Finals– is PERFECTLY FINE. If you have a division that’s tough– sobeit. If you have a division that’s weak– that’s fine, too. There’s no reason that it should change because fans wanted more rivalries in their hockey and now that they have it– they don’t want it anymore.

Back when people in Toronto pundits knew about hockey outside of their postal code, there was some kind of pride of winning the division you played in. That your team was the top in a division and you got to lord that over your divisional rivals the entire next season. For some reason, now it’s about having the easiest path to the Conference Finals and potentially the Stanley Cup.

Part of that, I have to say, is the Southeast Division’s craptasticness and their sullying of the divisional title crowns, while not having another team in that division being int he playoffs. That’s what happens when a league feels there needs to be symmetry across the divisions having an equal amount of teams.

There is no playoff system that people will universally agree on. Personally, this system works great in my opinion– especially with the NHL’s push for their national TV broadcast being based around rivalries…kind of. The point is that all the buzzwords come out in the playoffs– grit, desire, passion, hard work– and it seems that they are true…to a point, when you have to face adversity in the first round.

Only redeeming quality is there’s a build-in excuse for some if they go out early– they had to play teams that were too hard to play against. I’m sure that’s something that will fly with a fan base.

Time is Now for Lightning to Strike

Let’s talk about the Tampa Bay Lightning, shall we?? It’s hard not to considering they are the top team in the NHL by a landslide. They have Nikita Kucherov– who is shattering team records with a vengeance, as well as Brayden Point, who is probably the most slept on scorer in the NHL because Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are on the team. Plus, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been sturdy in net and really hasn’t complained about being tired yet– a far cry from last season.

This is all after former GM and noted waitress stealer Steve Yzerman left the team days before training camp begun.

In fact, this is a team that reminds me of a team Steve Yzerman played for…well, the only team he played for, but of an era. This team seems a bit like the mid-to-late-90s Detroit Red Wings. While they didn’t have the big star power that those teams had, but they have the ability to win, multiple 30-plus goal scorers, and solid defense in Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh.

Plus, the Lighting only need 10 more wins in their next 13 games to match the 1995-96 Red Wings for most wins by a team in a season. Sure, you could bitch about the new overtime rules and shootout skewing the win number, but shut up. Sixty-two wins is 62 wins.

We all know that their sheer bulk of goals probably will dwindle in the playoffs since the second-season is all about that defense– as you could tell by this team last year who only had 50 goals in 17 games of the playoffs (2.94 GPG) after having 294 in the regular season (3.58 GPG).

That said, I’m sure there’s still a bitter taste in their mouth from last year– losing games six and seven of the conference finals and not scoring a single goal in those 120 minutes of regulation. Plus, it’s the second time in three seasons they lost in seven games in a conference finals and are four playoffs removed from losing in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks, ending their dynasty.

You can almost assume the talk of Steven Stamkos’ “legacy” will be talked about if this team doesn’t win the Cup– almost like how Yzerman had that dogging him until he won his first Cup in 1997, which was two seasons removed from his first Cup Final– a loss to the Devils.

With the tear the Kucherov is on, the goals that Point has produced, and probably the sheer will and determination of Stamkos to nip the playoff demons in the bud– the offense will be more apt to find a way to keep their torrid pace going in the playoffs. Assuming Vasilevskiy gets a rest in the last weeks of the season, they could very well be running roughshod over the Eastern Conference.

That all being said, the last time a Presidents’ Trophy winner won the Stanley Cup was the shortened season of 2012-13 when the Blackhawks did it against Boston. Prior to that, the Red Wings won both in 2007-08. Of the last five Presidents’ Trophy winners, only one has made it past the second round and none have made it to the Cup Final. The team the Bolts may or may not be chasing for the wins and points record– the 1995-96 Red Wings– lost in the Conference Final.

If the Bolts are going to get their franchise’s second Stanley Cup, this is the prime time to do so with a team as stacked as they’ve shown all season.

UND HOCKEY: Quick Strike in OT Gives Hawks the Weekend Sweep

Graphic from University of North Dakota Twitter (@UNDMHockey)

GRAND FORKS, ND– It was the ending of an era. Not just because the North Dakota Fighting Hawks won’t be hosting a playoff game for the first time in 17 years, but because they say goodbye to five seniors from the team on this night. Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, Hayden Shaw, Ryan Anderson, and Nick Jones all skated their last time on the ice at Ralph Engelstad Arena, but make sure to not let that emotion get in the way of the task at hand against Omaha. It took extra time, but Jordan Kawaguchi scored in OT to get the sweep of Omaha and give UND a 5-4 win and a three-game win streak heading into the NCHC playoffs.

The seniors were ready to play, as only 23 seconds into the game, Nick Jones got a lovely pass from Rhett Gardner and put in a backhand past Evan Weninger to make it 1-0 UND within the first minute of the game. UND was firing on all cylinders, putting plenty of good chances on Weninger, but getting nothing out of it. However, a wild sequence of events which saw Peter Thome stop a Nate Knoepke shot, but Dixon Bowen lost the handle of the rebound into Peter Thome, which saw Tyler Weiss crash the net, into Thome, and in the net. After a long official review, the goal stood.

After a penalty to Jordan Kawaguchi for cross-checking, Omaha’s power play struck as Fredrik Olofsson found a wide-open Zach Jordan on the far wing and put it past Thome to make it a 2-1 game. UND got a power play of its own in the middle of the frame and made short work of it, as Jones found Kawaguchi in the slot, putting it past Weninger to tie the game at twos.

While there was some offensive pressure by Omaha, a bad clearing pass found the stick of Cole Smith, who snapped it to the glove of Weninger, where it bounced off the cuff and into the net to make it 3-2. It took to the middle of the frame for Gavin Hain to make it 4-2 on a rebound off a Smith shot to make it 4-2. After a fracas in front of the Omaha net, it went to four-on-four.

While Gardner was dragged down on the play, it resumed and resulted in Knoepke streaking down the slot and putting Omaha within one-goal, with Gardner down in the Omaha zone. UND did get into some penalty trouble, going down two men following a fracas in front and a tripping call seconds after the initial penalties. However, the team sold out on the power play in order to keep the puck out of Thome’s net and preserve the one-goal lead. With only 1:07 remaining in regulation, Tristan Keck tied the game with Weninger pulled after Kawaguchi couldn’t get a handle on a cross-ice pass and it landed on Keck’s stick, who went off the cross-bar and past Thome.

It only took 16 seconds for UND to end the game with Kawaguchi picking up an interception off the stick of an Omaha defenseman with Weninger out of position to end it quick and sweep the weekend for the Hawks. It was a goal that Kawaguchi said was his after giving up the Omaha tying strike.

“You know that turnover was on me,” Kawaguchi said post-game. “I take responsibility for that. I should have gotten the puck out of that area and I didn’t and they score. Obvious feel pretty bad about myself. I got back to the bench and I told the boys, ‘It’s on me, but I can get you back, I got this one’ and just so happened first chance I got was right in the first shift.”

“I think he felt pretty bad,” mentioned coach Brad Berry after the game. “He had the puck on his tape on the tying goal and he came back to the bench and you know, I really commend him because he said, ‘You know, it was my fault guys, I got the next one, I got the one in overtime.’” And you know what, 16 seconds later he got it so it says a lot about him.”

It was also a big deal with the seniors being sent off with a win and a sweep. It was also the last class to be a part of the 2016 National Championship team.

“It was fitting with a win,” mentioned Berry. “They came in their freshman year, they only had six losses in it and they won a lot this year. This team has a lot of pride and the seniors have a lot of pride and they wanted to end their career here at the Ralph with a win. The challenge going forward from here, and our guys are embracing it, is that we’re going on the road and keep continuing this thing.”

“They put so much into this program and we wanted to show them how much they meant to us,” said Smith. “They’ve given everything they’ve had. They got us the start we needed and the finish we needed.”

Now, UND will travel to Denver next weekend to take on the Pioneers in a best-of-three series for the right to play in the Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul in two weeks.

UND HOCKEY: Early Period Goals Help Hawks Take Down Mavericks

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– The Fighting Hawks of the University of North Dakota close out their regular season and home schedule this weekend against Omaha. While there was the slimmest of margins to get home-ice for next week’s playoff round, the Hawks went about their business and found a way to win over Omaha 2-1 on Friday night.

After an early power play failed, Gabe Bast got UND on the board first with a lovely wrap-around goal. Coming down the wing, Bast sold a pass to the slot to make Evan Weninger commit to the pass, fumble on his feet, while Bast went around and tucked inside the post for the early 1-0 lead. North Dakota controlled play for the first period, outshooting Omaha 21-6 by period’s end, but did get into penalty trouble with two penalties by Zach Yon and Rhett Gardner to put the Hawks a two-man disadvantage at the end of the first and heading into the second.

The penalties paid off for Omaha, as Zach Jordan scored with the two-man advantage by banking a one-timer off the side of Peter Thome to tie the game a minute into the second period. Throughout the rest of the period, the play was fairly even, with Omaha getting more shots towards Thome, while their defense kept the shooting gallery away from Weninger. Omaha did outshoot UND in the frame by a count of 11-10.

North Dakota broke the stalemate in just under three minutes into the third period with Nick Jones tipping in Colton Poolman shot from the point, after Jones won the face-off back.

“I won the draw a little too clean,” mentioned Jones, “I was trying to win it to Yon there and it got back to Colton. He made a hell of a play with me off the to the side there and I was able to get a stick on it. I felt like the tips all year haven’t gone my way and I was fortunate enough to get it.”

After that, it seemed like a methodical game with not a lot of chances getting through to Thome or Weninger. Despite the last two minutes playing with an extra attacker, North Dakota held on for the 2-1 win.

The game marked the return of two key elements to the UND line-up in Jones and Grant Mismash. Mismash has been out since January 25th after take a knee-on-knee hit from Jimmy Schuldt of St. Cloud and was used as the extra skater tonight.

“We wanted to use him early,” said coach Brad Berry after the game. “In a one goal game with a guy who’s been out for six weeks, it’s tough to give him a regular shift. With conditioning, he’s not quite there yet, but he’ll get there. We thought by putting him in there a bit five-on-five that we might get a spark offensively.”

Western Michigan won against Miami, which meant that regardless of UND’s result– they will be on the road for their playoff match-up next weekend for the first time since 2002. The team found out about the game before the third period, but it did not shake them at all.

“We knew it wasn’t in our hands this weekend,” Jones mentioned. “We know we’re going to have to win two on the road next weekend. You’d obviously love to play at home– especially me with my last game at home tomorrow– at the end of the day, we have to win two games no matter where it is.”

“It doesn’t change anything that we have to do,” Bast said. “If we got to win a series on the road we’re going to do that. We’ve got to string a few games together and get into the national tournament that way. We have the group to do that right now. Home ice is home ice, but we’re confident going on the road and getting two wins.”

The last home game of the season and Senior Night is Saturday at the Ralph.

What is Happening With Maryland Hockey??

Photo by Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

A few days back, an account on Twitter popped up by the handle of @marylandjunior1 and the display name of “Maryland Junior Bears Hockey.” In their tweets, the account is showing photos and video of Piney Orchard Ice Arena and talking about the “future of hockey is here.”

I’ll go on record saying I have no insider information to this, but my belief in all of this is that the EHL Team Maryland squad is about to be rebranded as the Maryland Junior Bears. This would make sense, as there are other teams in the NAHL– specificially the Northeast Generals and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights– that have their feeder teams named exactly like their NAHL teams.

It would also make sense, as the Team Maryland EHL team has only three active players who are actually from Maryland: Marcelo Palacios, Antoino Briggs-Blake, and Zach Richards. I’ve squawked about it on the Chesapeake Hockey Week that if you’re going to go by Team Maryland, I feel that the majority of the players should be from Maryland. In talking with owner Murry Gunty– the goal is to have players from the DMV to heavily populate the roster, but so far it hasn’t been the case. To rebranded it would give a little less emphasis on the Maryland part, but actually give the Black Bears (or Bears in this case) a little more clout because the players are being promoted from the Junior Bears to the Black Bears.

Of course, this could be a whole other situation, where the Maryland Black Bears will be having a youth program that will be akin to what teams in the area have where there’s U8 to U16 programs to be going around. That’s not a far-fetched idea, but it would make ice time a little more congested for Piney Orchard, even with the second sheet of ice going up in the near future. It could be any number of things with the vagueness that’s going onward.

With all that said, the biggest thing is that highly-competitive youth hockey is going on in Maryland beyond the Chesapeake Bay Hockey League and high school hockey. In fact, with these additions to the area, you can bet that the players in the area will have closer vision of what they can achieve and the heights they are able to get to without really having to leave home for the opportunity to get noticed. It would keep the talent in region, while also making it a destination for players starting out to get a look into what their future could be like.

Until the final word– we’ll speculate, though with Team Maryland’s season ending these next two days; I’m sure we’ll find out sooner rather than later if my hypothesis is right about the rebranding.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health

Photo via GoMustangSports.com

This week on Chesapeake Hockey Week, I mentioned that the Stevenson University Mustangs Women’s team will be using their Saturday game against Neumann University as their Mental Health Awareness game. All the processes from the attendance goes toward the National Alliance of Mental Illness or NAMI for short. The game will have raffles, silent auctions, and a meet-and-greet with the players after the game.

So, let’s talk about mental health because the stigma is still strong and as many Bell Let’s Talk campaigns and as many HASHTAG Sick Not Weak things go around– there’s still things about mental health some people are not putting out there– rightly or wrongly.

I am someone who suffers from mental health issues. I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and a form of Bipolar Disorder. It is rough to live every day of my life in a “normal” manner, but that’s part of the high functioning part of this disease– you deal with it when it hits you, but even then– you shrug it off until it consumes you.

For all the things going around, for all the people who support the mental health initiative when it comes around, there still is a stigma to it. Whether it be people who think they are just stronger than the disease or people who don’t want to burden other with what’s going it– the epidemic is real and needs to be addressed in a strong fashion. The stigma around mental health is something that, while there is support for it, is also one of the most taboo things to talk about.

According to NAMI, 43.8 million adults suffer from mental health issues. In that, 9.8 million people suffer from a serious mental health issue that interferes with the life they live. Even with all of this data, people seem to push it by the wayside purposely or not. This effects work life and social life due to the crippling effects it create in people.

Yet, even after all this…it seems like something people deal with for a day or two and then it falls by the wayside, rightly or wrongly.

In hockey, there is a bigger situation. Obviously the story of Robin Lehner that’s going on is something that is huge. An active player with struggles of mental health that lead to alcohol and drug abuse, as well as suicidal thoughts. Patrik Berglund is another higher profile player who walked away from the NHL because of his mental state, mostly because he lost the drive he once had for the game he loved. With the losses of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak— the NHL has seemed to turn their tone on mental health awareness; but is it enough??

Yes, in the last link dump– I put my old work in there (ESPECIALLY THE RYPIEN PIECE), but it still holds true today. The fact we still have to have these talks is enough to realize– shit’s fucked up. We aren’t getting the mental health we deserve, whether it be because of pride or because of fear or because of any excuse you can think of. The reality of the situation is that if you’re not feeling great mentally, it shouldn’t be any different than if you’re feeling poor physically.

Look, if you’re feeling poor mentally– you’re pain is valid. There’s no reason why you should feel remorse or regret for not being able to perform mentally. While people shouldn’t abuse it– there are still people who do, which makes it harder to break a stigma because it’s hard to judge the reality of hurt and the need to get out of work. It’s not like a broken or sprained limb– it’s something deeper and more neurological than that.

Will there ever be a situation where the stigma is gone?? Maybe not, but you can keep pushing. There be a feeling of burden, there may be a feeling of vulnerability– but it’s okay. No one can be strong all the time. It’s not possible and if you think it is, maybe take a step back and see if you’re true in your convictions or if you’re saying/doing it because you’ve been told to be like that.

Forty-three point eight MILLION is a hard number to dispute against. It’s a hard number to hide. And odds are it’s higher just because of people who don’t feel like taking about what they’re going through or admitting their mental state matters. It does. It’s the starting block to all of your health. If your brain isn’t great, the odds that your body isn’t great are much higher.

In 1952’s “Viva Zapata,” the character Fernando said, “Cut the head off the snake and the body will die.” I feel that’s a correct quote when it comes to mental health because once your head is in a whirlwind, it affects other aspects of your bodily health. Many forget how vital mental health is to everyday life. The brain can play tricks on you and could lead you to rash decisions or comments– trust me, I know.

At the end of the day– when I say, “Take care of yourself and someone else,” it really is a way of life. Make sure you put yourself first– it’s not selfish, it’s preservation. And you hate to do it alone– so take care of someone else who you can trust and you hope can trust you.

Personally, my life in my head sucks and is very self-destructive to me. That’s why I’m re-entering therapy because it’s affecting my career, my relationships with people, and I still don’t know what direction to go in my life. You’d think by this time, nearing 36-years-old, I would– but I don’t…and that’s okay. Regardless of our age or experience, we need a little help. It’s hard to ask for it because you don’t want to be a burden, but it’s good to get another perspective on things since a lot of people are very set in our ways.

But here’s the Stevenson University Women’s hockey team for doing an event like this and hopefully, people will go out to the event in Reisterstown, Maryland on February 9th and donate to a noble and worthy cause.

On the Topic Of All-Star Weekend

It’s a thing in every sport and yet it shouldn’t be and that’s an All-Star Game. With media being more prominent now, the idea of the All-Star Game when it was used to see all the stars of a league in one place seems archaic– but yet it goes on. I’ve long been an advocate to make it into more of a three-day Comic-Con– or extended FanFest as it were– but it seems that these leagues feel that the action on the surface will hold people’s attention.

So it went in San Jose, as the Metro Division won the whole tournament 10-5 over the Central. It was what it was– though it was quite the juxtaposition of color. The black-and-white Adidas Parlay jerseys made it feel like an old-time game, while the gradient colored blue line coupled with goalie’s set-ups being much brighter than the jerseys made it feel like these were extra scenes from “Sin City” or “Pleasantville.”

More over, the NHL’s new toy– player and puck tracking— was on full display, making us reminisce about the FoxTrax puck. Obviously, this new toy will be exploited to the cows come home and in no way has to do with the NHL’s deal with bookmakers and the prop bets that will come from it– nope, not at all. That said, NBC and NBCSN really abused it for those two days– maybe to get used to it, maybe to show us what we’re all in store for next season. Either way, too much of a good thing ruins it.

No one got hurt, which was really the most important thing. It seemed the guys had fun and won’t have to serve a game suspension because they missed out on the events. San Jose put on a good showing and all of that, so it’ll be a success.

Though the buzz of the weekend was the Skills Competition and some for the right and some for the wrong reason. The right reason was the inclusion of Kendell Coyne-Schofield to the Fastest Skater event and she did not disappoint with her talent despite not winning the event. For the bad also involved a woman competitor and a bit of a boggle by the NHL.

The Decker situation was when she was demonstrating the Premier Passing drill and many accounted for her finishing in a faster time than eventual winner Leon Draisaitl, though the NHL said her time was in fact around 1:12 (three second short of Draisaitl); as the league went back and checked. Saying they would “do the right thing” if she won was nice– but try explaining that to people who raise hell whenever possible. Luckily for Decker, CCM stepped up and added that $25,000 to her pocket.

When you break it down– this is where the NHL needs to figure out what to do with women’s hockey. Why not include Decker like they did with Coyne-Schofield?? What does it hurt to put the women in the men’s competition and allow them to stack up against the top players in the NHL?? This is where you have the conundrum of the two women’s pro leagues and the NHL stating they won’t favor one over the other. If/when the NWHL and CWHL merge or one becomes obsolete– it won’t only be better for women’s hockey, but it’ll be better for the NHL because you can bet they’ll start financially backing a one-league system as an off-shoot of the NHL and the women’s league will reap the benefit of the NHL marketing team…which isn’t the best, but maybe better than what they have.

Other than that– the Skills Competition seemed to lack things. The Hardest Shot had four players, which seemed pretty lame and looks to be going the way of the NBA Dunk Contest, while there was not much pizzazz with the other events other than skill being isolated for the world to see. Maybe the gimmicks are just done for now.

Either way, this debate will happen again next year with the game going to St. Louis. Love it or hate it, the idea of it continues to generate revenue, so leagues love it. Players and teams….maybe not as much, but they’ll play the company line or sit a game in rebellion.

UND HOCKEY: Hain, Bowen Net a Pair Each in Win Over St. Cloud

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a tough 3-1 loss on Friday night, the University of North Dakota looked to bounce back in game two Saturday against the top-ranked St. Cloud State. The Hawks would be without Grant Mismash after the hit he took on Friday, while St. Cloud had Jack Poehling and Robby Jackson out in what’s being called “unhealthy scratches.” With that boost and playing on emotion from the Mismash injury, the Fighting Hawks took down the top-ranked Huskies 5-1 on Saturday.

“I think what really fired us up was Mismash,” said UND coach Brad Berry. “That play there that probably ended his season– we took it to heart. We felt we got slighted there a little bit and you know, guys are prideful. That’s the on thing about North Dakota– we’re a team-first mentality here and our guys wear their hearts on their sleeves.”

With emotions high, Gavin Hain opened the scoring after Mark Senden took the puck away from Jimmy Schuldt, broke in and found Hain down the slot, catching David Hranek going side-to-side and pass his outstretched blocker. UND had control of the offensive game in the first half of the game, holding St. Cloud to only two shots through 16 minutes of play; but St. Cloud started to show signs of life by the end of the frame, getting five more shots in the last four minutes to close out the frame.

While St. Cloud started the period with sustained pressure, Senden was able get on the other side of the scoring sheet, with a great anticipation in his own zone to pick off a dump-in attempt, came rushing up the ice, and snapped a shot over the blocker of Hranek to make it 2-0 for the Fighting Hawks. Not to be outdone, Dixon Bowen picked the puck off the boards and was streaking down the right side, letting a shot go that slipped through the five-hole of Hranek. After that goal, Hranek’s night was over in lieu of Jeff Smith. Smith and SCSU withstood plenty of onslaught from UND before Schuldt was able to get a shorthanded goal after Adam Scheel kicked out a Patrick Newell shot that was retrieved by Schuldt and put past Scheel to cut UND’s lead to 3-1.

UND got off the hop quick in the third with plenty of chances, including Senden. It wasn’t until Colton Poolman picked off a pass in the neutral zone, tried to drive through the middle, but lost the puck. Luckily, Hain was trailing behind him, picked up the puck, fired at Smith, getting his own rebound to make it 4-1 UND, adding another goal to the Hain-Senden-Cole Smith trio.

Brad Berry/Photo by Jen Conway

“They’re super hard to play against,” Berry said about the line. “We had the match-up against (Blake) Lizotte’s line and they did an outstanding job limiting them in our zone, but they played in their zone. They made it hard to play against and possess pucks and not to mention score goals. So when you can get that from that line, you’re gonna win a lot of games that way.”

“We three have kind of a grind mindset,” Hain said of his linemates. “We get pucks down and support each other. Just work the puck below the goal line. We have been doing that all year. Sometimes we get some goals, like we did tonight, but other times we don’t. This time it worked out for us.”

With just under six minutes remaining, Dixon Bowen picked off a Patrick Newell own-zone cross-ice pass, had the initial shot get stopped by Smith, but the puck squeaked through Smith and Bowen had a tap-in.

“It was great on us,” said Bowen post game. “We came together this morning and talked about it. Put yesterday behind us and come today and have fun. Biggest key was staying disciplined and keeping them off the PP and we got a couple of bounces and got the W.”

Discipline was correct for the most part, but things fell apart at the end of the game, starting with Jasper Weatherby getting into a shoving match with Schuldt, then Gabe Bast slashing Ryan Poehling, and ended with UND having five players in the penalty box at the game’s end. It was for not though, as UND held on for the victory.

It doesn’t get much easier, as the Fighting Hawks will now be on the road for most of February and not be back at home until they host Minnesota-Duluth on February 22nd. UND will take on Denver next week, then a bye weekend, before going to Western Michigan after Valentine’s Day.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Dropped Spirited Affair Against #1 Ranked Huskies

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a split of a weekend in Omaha, the University of North Dakota came home on Friday for their last season in a month at The Ralph and it would be no easy task for the Fighting Hawks, as they took on the top-ranked St. Cloud St. Huskies for the weekend. There was a buzz in the arena that I personally haven’t felt since Minnesota came to town last year, which was a welcome change for a game of this profile. However, most of the 11,608 were sent home disappointed, as St. Cloud beat UND 3-1 on Friday night.

While the first part of the opening frame was a feeling out process, North Dakota had a slight advantage in their offensive zone in the first half of the period. Nick Jones opened up the scoring for UND with a rebound from a Jordan Kawaguchi shot that hit off the backboards, flicking a backhand off SCSU’s David Hranek and into the net for the 1-0 lead. The best chance for SCSU came when UND’s Hayden Shaw turned the puck over in his own zone to give Patrick Newell a mini-break on Adam Scheel. Scheel– however, was equal to the task, flashing the glove to preserve the 1-0 lead at the end of the period.

Another back and forth period, but business picked up when St. Cloud appeared to tie up the game, as the puck bounced and appeared to bounce over the goal line, but after review– the evidence was inconclusive, which kept the game tied up at one. However, St. Cloud atoned for that when after a power play, Micah Miller got a cross-ice pass from Nolan Walker  and put it five-hole on Scheel to tie the game with 13.7 left in the frame.

St. Cloud showed off why they were the top-ranked team in the nation in the third, controlling the play in the neutral and offensive zone, moving the puck around to create several chances for themselves to break the tie. Luckily for UND, Scheel and the shot-blockers got in the way of many pucks to hold the tie. After UND killed another crucial penalty, Nolan Walker picked Colton Poolman’s pocket behind the net, slid a pass across to Patrick Newell, who beat a sprawling Scheel to make it a 2-1 Huskies lead.

Colton Poolman/Photo by Jen Conway

“I accept responsibility for that second goal,” an emotional Poolman said after the game. “I owe my teammates better to be more focused at a critical juncture in the game like that. That’s where it went sideways, so I accept responsibility for that.”

Later in the period, Grant Mismash took a hit by Jimmy Schuldt and was down on the ice in pain, but got a penalty for slashing the stick out of Schuldt’s hand. No penalty was given to Schuldt, as the refs told UND coach Brad Berry that they deemed the hit to be clean. A hit like that is reviewable by the referees, but neither decided to go to the scorer’s table to review it.

“I am very, very disappointed,” said Berry. “I’m not going to get in any trouble by making a comment, but that was a knee-on-knee play that should have been reviewed. We have a protocol in place and it was reviewed and I’m very disappointed. It’s not the result of the game I’m alluding to, it’s one of those things where you know when anything is 50/50 in a game like that, it’s got to get reviewed. We have that in our protocol.”

When asked about Mismash’s status for tomorrow, Berry simply said, “He’ll be out.”

As UND pulled the goalie, Blake Lizotte fired it into the open net to give SCSU the 3-1 win. Though, after the hit– you could see the emotion rising, plenty of activity after the whistle and in the penalty boxes, as well with both SCSU and UND players yelling at each other between the boxes. This should be a great precursor for the game on Saturday night.