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: 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: 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.

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.