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

1200px-USACHLLogo.svg.png

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

cut

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

20181123_184259

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.

20181124_214827.jpg

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.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Break Skid, Win 5-2 Over Anchorage

20181123_184259.jpg

GRAND FORKS, ND– After an eye-opening series last weekend, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the University of Alaska-Anchorage 5-2 on Friday night. Peter Thome made 20 saves in his first win of the season, while the Fighting Hawks had five different goal-scorers in the winning effort. It was the second time this season that UND has put up five goals, the first coming against Wisconsin earlier in the month.

UND got some chances early, with an exceptional chance on Joel Janatuinen getting a penalty shot after getting hauled down, but his attempt rang off the post after Anchorage’s Kris Carlson cut down the angle very well. But, the Fighting Hawks were able to bury one of their goals, as Ludvig Hoff found the back of the net off a scrum in front and batting one out of mid-air, off of Carlson’s helmet, and in. It was Hoff’s first game back since the Wisconsin series earlier in the month. UND was in command the shot counter again with a 16-3 total over Anchorage in the first 20 minutes.

The Hawks took advantage of an early power play after a too many men on the ice call, where Grant Mismash took a whiffed shot attempt by Jacob Bernard-Docker and put a wrister glove-side on Carlson to make it 2-0. Almost 90 seconds after that, freshman Jackson Keane got a feed from Casey Johnson and had a highlight reel goal toe-dragging passed a diving defender, going forehand, backhand, and then in the back of the net to make it 3-0.

20181123_221303

Jackson Keane/Photo by Jen Conway

“It was pretty cool,” said Keane after the game. “I don’t have words to describe it. It’s something I’ve dreamed about for a long time. I was just happy to be in the line-up tonight. I kind of just blacked out. I saw him slide down and I really couldn’t tell you what happened after that.”

Keane, however, would take a penalty his next shift and it would allow Anchorage a chance, which they cashed-in. After a Jonah Renouf shot from the point got lost in the pads of Peter Thome, Nicolas Erb-Ekholm banged in the puck in the crease to make it a 3-1 game. UND got it right back after a Drayson Pears penalty, Mismash found Rhett Gardner in front to tap home the redirection and make it 4-1.

While both teams went end-to-end, Anchorage got onto the board first in the period, after Nils Rygaard tapped home a solid Jeremiah Luedtke pass from behind the net to go five-hole on Thome. The Hawks regained the three-goal lead after Dixon Bowen came out of the corner to get to the slot, but lost the puck in a crowd. No one could find it except Casey Johnson who picked up the loose puck and put it home for his first of the season, closing out the scoring for both teams.

“It was pretty easy to get up for this one,” said Gardner after the game, “It was a good bounce-back. We answered and did what we had to do to get a win. We kind of talked about it all week. We had a real hard work week. We knew what the past is like on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but we got it into our mind it was gonna be like any other home weekend.”

The Black Friday game at home hadn’t been too kind to North Dakota, as they were winless in their last four Friday home games after Thanksgiving (0-3-1).

“I thought we came out strong. We had a good energy level and did what we needed to do,” said head coach Brad Berry. “All the records on the day after Thanksgiving, but that was secondary. Our mindset was the biggest thing and trying to play the game the right way.”

North Dakota will look to sweep the weekend on Saturday night at The Ralph.

UND HOCKEY: Defensive Lapses Doom Hawks, Lose 6-2 to Broncos

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– It was a weekend to forget for the University of North Dakota, as they were swept at home for the first time since January 2017, as Western Michigan closed out the two-game series with a 6-2 victory on Saturday night and got their first sweep against North Dakota in the program’s history.

North Dakota struck first, making the most of their power play chances. Jasper Weatherby got his first NCAA goal after crashing the net and finding a Colton Poolman rebound off the pads of Trevor Gorsuch and hitting the back of the net as he dove to make sure he got the rebound off. Colt Conrad got it back for Western Michigan later in the frame, as during a scrum in front, he found the loose puck and flicked it with the toe of his stick to the back-bar to tie the game at one, which is where the frame would end.

Midway through the second, the bad bounces haunted UND again, as a Corey Schueneman broke his stick on a one-timer, but the puck bounced off UND’s Andrew Peski for a 2-1 Broncos’ lead. Two minutes later, WMU struck again on the power play, as Wade Allison went top-shelf on Adam Scheel to make it 3-1 for the Broncos. The Broncos continued their second period charge, as Josh Passolt ended Adam Scheel’s night by rifling a wrister from the top of the circle high blocker on Scheel making it 4-1 and putting Peter Thome in the cage for UND. Defensively, the Fighting Hawks weren’t the best this weekend. Blowing coverages, ill-advised passes, bad transitioning– not a good look after an otherwise solid start to the season.

The start of the third showed the lack of defensive coverage, as Colt Conrad and Josh Passolt had a give-and-go on an odd-man rush, ending with Passolt scoring on a wide-open cage to make it 5-1. Penalty troubles for UND put them two-men down and the Broncos capitalized late with Hugh McGing banging home a one-timer to make it 6-1. With 10.2 seconds left, Rhett Gardner tipped home a Matt Kiersted shot to make it 6-2 and then it ended with UND being swept at home for the first time since January 2017 against Minnesota-Duluth.

Post-game, you could see how distraught the Fighting Hawks were to this loss, especially given their disappointing defensive performance. Captain Colton Poolman seemed to take the loss very hard, coming into the interview room almost at a loss for words about not only Saturday, but the weekend as a whole.

“I think we lost our cool,” Poolman said trying to control his emotions. “We turned on each other for a little bit. It’s hard to say but that’s the truth. We just didn’t play well. We just started trying to do things by ourselves. Some guys tried to do too much. Some guys weren’t going enough. That’s what happens. That’s pretty embarrassing. That’s not Sioux hockey. That’s not what we do as a family, but we call a spade a spade when we put performances like that. That’s not good enough for the caliber of program we should be.”

“Tonight, it seemed everyone was on a different page as far as D-men stepping up and out of the neutral zone, forwards not coming back through the neutral zone,” said head coach Brad Berry. “We weren’t crisp in our team play and that resulted in what you saw. We had guys doing things that we normally don’t do. Over the course of our first 10 games, our play away from the puck has been impeccable, giving up less than probably 10 scoring chances per game.”

The Fighting Hawks are probably in for a big week of practice before the annual Thanksgiving weekend set, this year welcoming in Alaska-Anchorage. The upside is that the Seawolves come into these games with only one win on the season. The downside is that the Hawks need to really show their skill and will on the weekend to show they’re back on the right track and gelling together as a unit rather than individuals.

UND HOCKEY: Bad Bounces, Missing Net Doom Fighting Hawks in 2-0 Loss to Western Michigan

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– Coming off a split in their first NCHC weekend, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks came back to The Ralph to kick off the home side of their conference schedule against Western Michigan University. For the first time in six contest, sophomore Peter Thome was in net for the Fighting Hawks, a crease that freshman Adam Scheel had carved out for his own.

“Obviously exciting to get back in there,” said Thome. “We were playing great hockey. Sucks sitting out, but it’s all about being a good teammate. When you’re winning games, you can’t say coach should change the line-up.”

“(Thome) worked hard in practice,” said head coach Brad Berry of his roster change. “Last couple of weeks he’s been doing all the right things that warranted the opportunity to play. I thought he was sharp and has looked that way the last couple of weeks.”

The first period was controlled by UND for the most part. With 16 shots in the first period, they had their chances, especially with three power plays in the frame. However, Western Michigan’s Trevor Gorsuch was solid thanks to his defense in front of him keeping high percentage shots to a minimum and allowing Gorsuch to see a lot of the Fighting Hawks best chances. The same story for the second period, less the power plays. North Dakota kept making Gorsuch look good with shots right into his pads.

“It’s hockey sometimes,” captain Colton Poolman remarked after the game. “You can do all the little things and then maybe they won’t go. The goalie played really well, they blocked a lot of shots. We got frustrated in the second. It’s something we have to address in the locker room. Sometimes things will go that way. We just got to keep plugging away.”

Luck struck for Western Michigan in the third, as an errand pass to Josh Passolt went off his stick, then off the toe of Hayden Shaw’s skate and behind Thome for the 1-0 Broncos’ lead. UND pressed and pulled Thome with about three minutes left, but the Broncos kept the Hawks off the scoresheet, got it out of the zone, and killed time with their passing before Colt Conrad was able to bury the empty-netter.

“Always have to look at yourself,” mentioned Thome. “It’s a tough play, but tough plays happen. If I would have found a way to have that one stay out, we’d probably still be out there, but it was a tough bounce.”

“You’re defending and boxing the guy out and doing all the things right to prevent a goal and that’s hockey,” said Berry about the bounce on the game-winning goal. “Hopefully the bounces even out and we can get some tomorrow.”

As mentioned before, UND seemed to get frustrated. Plenty of shots at Gorsuch, but nothing getting through. It was another game that the Hawks outshot their opposition by double-digits, but didn’t have a win to show for it. As the game went along, the biggest thing for the Hawks was to keep things level-headed.

“It’s just on the bench, just trying to keep things up,” Poolman said of the frustration level. “You know, you may not score on the shift, but you got to keep the momentum going. You’re not going to take a negative on the shift. Shift-by-shift you got to keep the calm kind of demeanor out there.”

“You got to stay with and the way to stay with it is to play the third period like you played the first two period,” mentioned Berry of the frustration level. “I think there’s a little desperation on our part to stretch a little bit or do things out of the normal of our system. One thing that was evident tonight was we had some pretty good chances and we missed the net. When we have those chance, you have to hit the net. If you don’t score, you can create a rebound.”

North Dakota will try to get that win back Saturday night at The Ralph before going into the Thanksgiving holiday.