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.

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.

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

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Photo by Jen Conway (@NHLHistorygirl)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rhett Gardner/Photo by Jen Conway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Survive Exhibition, Beat Manitoba 3-2 in OT

GRAND FORKS, ND– Hope springs eternal for another season of University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks hockey. After missing the NCAA Tournament last year, the Hawks are primed to get back in there and leave no doubt that they should be there. With seven incoming freshman, seven sophomores, seven juniors, and five seniors; the Hawks have a solid spread of classes. They would start their march back to the big tournament with a usual foe in the University of Manitoba Bisons.

The pace was dictated by North Dakota in the first period, though the 1-0 score after 20 minutes didn’t show it. Shots were 18-3 for UND, who were trying to get a lot of the first game jitters out of their system as quick as possible. Grant Mismash got UND on the board late in the first, putting home his own rebound after the initial shot was stopped by Manitoba’s Byron Spriggs. Mismash got a lovely centering feed by Collin Adams, as the Fighting Hawks were on the power play.

It took under four minutes in the second for UND to strike again, as Gavin Hain took the zone and found a wide-open Dixon Bowen streaking down the slot, who put it high-glove on Spriggs to make it 2-0. Not much else happened in the middle frame, as UND held Manitoba to no shots in the period at all. A tough task to get a read on goaltenders if you can’t get them to put more than three shots in 40 minutes of gameplay on them.

“You take the positives out of it,” said senior forward Nick Jones. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the puck on our stick as much as we did in this game. You just got to bear down a little more in practice. You see with Grant Mismash, he had seven or eight elite scoring chances and scored one goal. The goalie played well. I’d rather create 10 chances in a game to score one than create two chances in a game to score two.”

While most of the third seemed like clean-up duty, Manitoba cut the lead to one when Thomas Lenchyshyn put home the rebound that Ryan Anderson kicked out to his stick blade to make it 2-1. Two minutes later, Manitoba captain Jonah Wasylak put one five-hole on Anderson after a lovely feed from Devon Skoleski to tie the game with 4:32 remaining. In what should have a been a good tune-up turned into a full fight, as this game went to overtime.

“I felt so bad for (Anderson),” captain Colton Poolman said. “He’s such a competitor in practice. It was so unlucky for him to get those breakaways. It’s so hard for him, because he’s coming in stiff and cold. He hasn’t played for 50 minutes or something. I feel bad for the guy. I know he battles hard. I wish we could have done more for him.”
It took a power play in OT, but UND came through as Rhett Gardner, who had four penalties in the game, took a back-ass from Jasper Weatherby to put it past Spriggs with under two minutes left in OT.

In net, Byron Spriggs was sensational for the Bisons with 52 saves in the game. While UND had Peter Thome stop all three shots he faced, Adam Scheel stopped the only shot he faced, and Ryan Anderson stopped three of the five he faced.

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UND Head Coach Brad Berry/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“I thought we missed the net a few time, we’ve gotta dial that in a bit,” said head coach Brad Berry postgame. “You know what, we played against an older, experience team. They played hard in their own end of the rink and played against a good goalie. I thought we accomplished a lot in what we wanted to do, but we need to get better in other aspects.”

With only nine shots on goal and four total against the projected top two goalies, Berry said it was a bit difficult to get a read on how they would play into the season.

“It affects a couple things,” Berry explained, “First, goaltending, but also D-zone coverage. But I’d rather play in the other team’s end then our end of the rink. We’re going to playing some teams where we’ll be playing in our end. We’ll make sure we work on it everyday in practice.”

With this dress rehearsal done, the Fighting Hawks go into their first weekend with a home-and-home with Bemidji State with Friday’s game being in Bemidji and Saturday back at The Ralph.

UND HOCKEY: Statement Game for UND in Big Game One Victory

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Photo via @UNDmHockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– With their tournament hopes on the line with this single series, the University of North Dakota and University of Nebraska-Omaha took to the ice in the first of a best-of-three NCHC Quarterfinal match-up on Friday night. With each team splitting the regular season series at two wins apiece, each side knew they were in for a tough series for a chance to make it to the Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul next weekend, as well as having a better chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament. Knowing they needed a solid showing, UND came through in a big way in front of 10,125 at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, taking Game One 4-0 over Omaha.

After a steady first 14 minutes, UND broke the ice as Shane Gersich rifled a wrist shot home from the the top of the circle and thanks to a screen by Colton Poolman, was able to get past Omaha’s Evan Weninger to make it 1-0 Fighting Hawks. A very quiet frame before and after with shots registering in at 11 for UND to Omaha’s six.

With 1:54 left in a carry-over power play, UND made the most of it with many great chances, but Christian Wolanin’s wrister hit the back-bar past Weninger to make it 2-0 for UND. The pace of play stayed consistent with not many good chances either way, but Nick Jones changed that with 7:21 left in the second. Coming off the bench to a loose puck, Jones went wide, then made a little flip of the puck over the Omaha’s defender’s stick and took a diving shot that went past Weninger to make it 3-0. Four minutes later, Omaha’s Joel Messner fumbled a breakout attempt, in which Joel Janatuinen made no mistake to bury it past Weninger to make it 4-0.

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Christian Wolanin/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“Our forwards were working so hard on the forecheck, maintaining pressure and making it hard on their defense,” said Christian Wolanin. “Our defenseman did a good job moving it north quickly. All the little things made up for some big goals for us.”

One big chance in the third saw Weninger make his best save of the night with a big cross-crease glove save on Grant Mismash to deny UND a fifth goal. UND outshot Omaha 34-25 in the game. It was Cam Johnson’s third shutout of the season and 12th all-time at UND.

“The key for us was to make them play defense,” mentioned Wolanin of UND’s ability to shut down Omaha’s threats. “If we don’t give them the puck and eliminate time and space, we’re going to have success against them.”

“It’s a good start. That’s the key word: start,” North Dakota coach Brad Berry said. “It’s just one game. I thought our guys did a lot of good things. The biggest thing is focusing on tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day and our lives are on the line still. There’s going to be a business-like mentality there.”

With the win, UND moved to 14th in the Pairwise Rankings, which is heavily used in helping determine the at-large bids for the tournaments. With that win, they move ahead of Omaha and would give themselves a better chance of moving up if they can sweep the series on Saturday.

“You kind of hear about what people are saying, but we’re focused on tomorrow,” defenseman Colton Poolman said of the Pairwise. “All that stuff is in the rear-view for us. We’re just focused on tomorrow.”

Puck drop is 7:07 at The Ralph, as UND looks to move onto the Frozen Faceoff next weekend and then to the National Tournament.

UND HOCKEY: Do-Or-Die Playoff Weekend for Fighting Hawks

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GRAND FORKS, ND– More than just a spot in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff is at stake this weekend between the University of North Dakota and the University of Nebraska-Omaha, as both are fighting for a spot in the National Tournament. With the Pairwise Ranking being the determining factor for a tournament spot– both UND and UNO are on the bubble at 15th and 14th respectively. With both teams facing off against each other in a best-of-three NCHC Quarterfinal match-up; it’s almost a win-and-in scenario for both sides.

“We need this one,” said defenseman Colton Poolman during media availability on Wednesday. “If we lose this one we probably don’t have much of a shot. From here on out it’s a must win situation.”

“You know, they’re a hard team, they’ve got some big bodies,” said defenseman Hayden Shaw of Omaha. “We really used this week to focus on ourselves and how we’re gonna play them. We’ve used the video in the past to see what we need to work on. It all comes from translating from practice into games.”

“They have four lines that play extremely hard,” said head coach Brad Berry. “We know their power play with David Pope is really good there, but they score by committee. We know Tyler Vesel and Pope and Steven Spinner are a very good unit, but they have a lot of good units there.”

This past weekend, UND split a series with the #1 team in the nation in St. Cloud State, losing on Friday, winning on Saturday with both games going to overtime. Those games are something that UND will try to carry over into the weekend.

“We got to bring the same mentality,” mentioned Poolman. “We were fighting for our lives this last weekend and we needed good results. We got it on Saturday. It’s live or die– we got to bring that attitude all weekend.”

“It’s good to look at, especially with last weekend against the #1 team,” said Shaw. “It’s used as a confidence boost into this weekend. Our starts were great and we stayed level-headed most of the game. We’re going to take that weekend and translated it into the playoffs.”

With Omaha, UND will be hoping to get a more consistent result than the previous meetings this year, splitting the season series with both the Fighting Hawks wins coming via shutout. UND has outscored Omaha 14-10 in their four games this season.

“They’re a team that’s grown a lot this year,” Berry said about Omaha. “We feel very familiar with them because we just played them. They have added a lot to their offense. These are going to be hard heavy series.”

“All this boils down to is us and them,” continued Berry. “We need to build on the outcome of the game (Saturday night against St. Cloud). There’s a lot going into this. Two teams neck and neck in the Pairwise and trying to making to the Frozen Faceoff.”

The best-of-three starts Friday with Saturday being Game 2 and if necessary, Sunday hosting Game 3.

 

UND HOCKEY: Little Things Stifle Fighting Hawks in Loss to Colorado College

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Photo from @UNDmhockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a week off, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks were a bit more rested and did get the services of Rhett Gardner back, though Nick Jones is still on the shelf and Ludvig Hoff is off at the Olympics in South Korea. However, coming back to The Ralph in front of 11,517 wasn’t as great as UND had hoped, as they dropped the opening game of the weekend series against the Colorado College Tigers 4-2.

While North Dakota controlled the play for the first half of the first, Colorado College struck first after Cam Johnson and his defensemen had a miscommunication, leading to Christiano Versich passing out to Trevor Gooch, who slid it over to Troy Conzo to bury it into a yawning cage. The goal was only the second shot of the period for Colorado College. Shots ended up 9-8 for UND, but the Tigers got rejuvenated after the goal to spark six more shots in the last part of the frame.

While the Tigers were attacking for the first part of the second, UND finally got their legs about thanks to some help. During a power play, Christian Wolanin wheeled down low and tried to sneak the puck past Alex Leclerc, but just created a mad scramble in front. During that scramble, a Colorado College player closed his hand on the puck in the crease, creating a penalty shot for UND. Wolanin was allowed to finish what he started and went blocker side on Leclerc to make tie the game.

The tie didn’t last long as Troy Conzo got his second of the game shorthanded, as he lasered a shot past Johnson to make it 2-1. Brad Berry gave a quick hook, putting Peter Thome in net after Johnson let in two goals on 12 shots.

“This is the time of year, you’re not worried about feelings. It’s a team-first mentality, said Berry post-game. “I think it’s a situation where not very many shots on the scoreclock and they already have a couple goals, some you like to have back. Whether you get a bump for the team or giving Peter a chance, it’s about the team first.”

UND got a little more jump in their game and with 6:23 left, UND got the equalizer, this time from the other scoring defenseman in Colton Poolman, who got a short pass from Rhett Gardner before going wide and cutting in front to put on behind Leclerc. Seconds later, Alex Pernitsky– who was a last second addition to the line-up with Max St. Pierre being scratched– scored from the top of the circle near-side on Thome to make it 3-2 Tigers. Not long after that, Versich drew a penalty shot after a slash, but was denied after trying to slowly throw off Thome’s timing, but getting nowhere. The crazy second ended with UND outshooting CC in the frame 13-11, but down 3-2 in the goals column.

“They were more mature than us,” mentioned Colton Poolman. “They were more of a team after we scored and after they scored, we just shook our heads. We’ve dug ourselves a whole, but we’re in full confidence in that locker room.”

The third started with UND on their heels, as Rhett Gardner got his third minor of the night and the Tigers put some pucks on Thome, but the freshman netminder was equal to the task. UND got a power play shortly after killing the Gardner minor, but the Tigers– as they had been all night– kept the Fighting Hawks to the perimeter, not allow a prime scoring chance on their extra-man advantage. A see-saw battle to the end, UND had more than enough chances, but Leclerc was solid and even when out of position, his defensemen were able to clamp down and keep the puck out. UND did have shots to take the slot area, but seemed to veer off to set something up from the perimeter. Colorado College got their final goal thanks to a Westin Michaud empty-net tally to make it 4-2 as the end result.

“Just gotta find a to do something to get out of this rut we’re in,” said Christian Wolanin. “We’re in a deep hole right now and we’re going to have to do some hard work to dig us out.”

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Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“Every time we score, they came back and put one in right away,” said Berry. “Times in games when you have momentum, you can’t give momentum away. I think we played the right way, but we let the game get away from us for those things. The frustration showed a little. When the game isn’t going the right way, we let it get to us. When you keep their top line off the score sheet, you give yourself a chance to win. It’s just the other phases of the game that we weren’t good enough in.”

UND will try to find the little things to get back in the win column for the first time since January 12th (5-1 win at Bemidji) on Saturday night.

“We need this one to say the least,” said Poolman. “Every game from here on out is a must-win, but especially tomorrow night. We can’t afford to give that up.”

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Salvage Tie After Shaky Third Period Start

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Photo from @UNDMhockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– Despite a shaky 22-seconds in the third, the University of North Dakota was able to salvage a tie against Union College in the second game of the 2017 Subway Holiday Classic with a final of 2-2.

UND tried to get a little boost from former UND player Zach Parise, who visited the area as he recovers from back surgery for the ceremonial face-off. After the regular face-off, UND got off to a quick start, which was quite the difference from the Friday night’s game. The Hawks struck first, as defenseman Colton Poolman came on for a line-change and received a feed from Ludvig Hoff, danced around a Union defender and roofed it over Jake Kupsky’s glove to make it 1-0. Union tried to get the equalizer, but Peter Thome stopped all of the Dutchmen’s nine shots in the period to keep it 1-0 UND after 20.

“Lot better than last night’s game,” UND head coach Brad Berry stated post-game. “We had emotion, we had energy, we started the game the right way. That’s a great team over there– they were hard and heavy and didn’t give a lot of space.”

“We came out like we should have Friday night,” said Poolman. “Give them credit, they came back with another hard heavy game. That’s that way we got to play.”

Not much to write home about in the second period. Both UND and Union traded power plays that yielded nothing, though the line of Cole Smith, Johnny Simonson, and defense-turned-forward Josh Rieger gave a bit of a boost with some solid forechecking creating some chances for the Fighting Hawks.

Union got off to a quick start less with two goals 22 seconds apart to open the third frame. First, Brett Supinski crossed-up Peter Thome off a feed from Sebastian Vidmar. Then, Cole Maier got his shot blocked twice with the third trickling through to the stick of Ryan Scarfo to make it 2-1 Union less than three minutes into the third. While Union kept getting chances, Thome was equal to the task. After a Cole Smith penalty, UND had a three-on-two rush started by Poolman with pass across to Rhett Gardner who put a shot on Kupsky, who let up a big rebound right to Shane Gersich’s stick to tie it for UND with 3:18 left in the third. The final 3:18 solved nothing, which pushed it to overtime.

Decent chances for UND and Union in overtime with the most interesting being Anthony Rinaldi getting a bit of a breakaway, then checked down by Gabe Bast, running into Thome– which led to Thome losing his skate blade on the post when colliding with it. The game ended in a 2-2 tie, putting UND at 8-4-4 on the season.

“Obviously, you want to win for a lot of different reasons– Pairwise and all of that,” said Berry, “But I think we learned a lot. We don’t hang our hat on who’s in the line-up and who’s out of the line-up or hang an excuse on that. We did a job tonight. We will move forward and learn from it.”

“Yesterday was a bad start and signaled the whole game,” mentioned Gersich. “Tonight, Colton (Poolman) scored right away to set the tone for us. We’ve got to come out mentally ready at the start of every game and that sets out the rest of the game for us.”

UND will close out the first half of their home schedule next weekend against Western Michigan at the Ralph Engelstad Arena before going on the road to St. Cloud to end the first half.