UND HOCKEY: What Could Have Been

Ralph Engelstad Arena, 03/12/20; Photo by Scotty Wazz

After I drop Jen off at work, I usually go for a ride around the city to decompress before going to bed. On a night like Thursday March 12th, it was probably much needed. Sports stopped on that day. Rightfully so, but still a bummer that the thing many used to distract themselves from the issues around them is not there. In any case, I decided to drive to Ralph Engelstad Arena and just zone out.

As I pulled up, no lights were on in the building or outside. Light adorn the plaza area with the statue of Sitting Bull, but not much else. It was a fitting scene for the night, as the NCHC cancelled their tournament, as did the NCAA. Again, rightfully so– still a bummer.

Mostly a bummer for the student-athletes on the University of North Dakota squad who had come back to life this season following two years of missing the big tournament. They were on pace to be one of the all-time great teams in North Dakota hockey history, as they were ranked 1st in the Pairwise and were odds-on favorites to win the National Championship.

Now, it’s a case of what could have been.

With the cancellations, all anyone can do is wonder if this team would have won the NCHC playoff title to go with the Penrose Cup, if they could have dominated the NCAA and have won the school’s ninth National Championship, and if there’d be another Hobey Baker Award winner from this team. It was a season to remember for the right reasons and for the reasons that could have been.

You hate it for the team, of course, but you really hate it for the seniors of this team. Colton Poolman, who came back because he had unfinished business; Cole Smith, the heart and soul of this team; Andrew Peski, who bookended his tenure with two solid seasons; Casey Johnson, who became a valued utility option for this club in any spot; Zach Yon, who fought through injuries his last season and was a bit of an energy guy; Dixon Bowen, who carried on the UND tradition his father started, as well as being an energy guy; Westin Michaud, who came to UND as a graduate transfer and made people wish this team had him for a full four years. Those are the guys who may not get much closure on this season.

Then you look at guys outside of the seniors that may think about leaving, but could reconsider given the way this year ended. This is going on nothing at all, but you’d have to think the Ottawa Senators were heavily invested in what Jacob Bernard-Docker did this year and may have even taken a look at him moving forward. Jordan Kawaguchi’s Hobey Baker-esque season could have gotten him looks by NHL teams, but he might stay to finish this fight off. Then there’s Shane Pinto, who was looked at by the Senators heavily in the World Juniors– like JBD– but assured everyone that he would be staying at UND; but time can changes things.

Those are the stories to look at now– who stays, who goes, who comes in. There is no pomp and circumstance, no banner, no one-last-hurrah for the seniors. It’s just over. And now UND fans and players alike will have a chip on their shoulder with how this season ended and what could have been.

Rightfully so.

UND HOCKEY: Multiple Multi-Point Nights Lift Fighting Hawks Over Pioneers

GRAND FORKS, ND– With another top-five seed on the rink, the top-ranked University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks put their skill on display as they beat Denver University 4-1 on Friday night. Peter Thome made 26 saves while Shane Pinto, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jordan Kawaguchi, and Collin Adams all had multi-point nights. 

After chances in the first five minutes, UND got on the board first with Shane Pinto taking a wild pass from Jacob Bernard-Docker at the point and Pinto knocking it past Devin Cooley. Denver was able to get two power plays in the frame, but North Dakota’s PK was solid clogging the lanes and Peter Thome was strong when called upon. UND also rang one off the post in the middle of the frame, but the frame ended 1-0. 

Early in the second, Collin Adams got called for tripping Bobby Brink, setting the Pioneers up with their third power play of the game. Brink ended the power play with a laser beam of a shot off a pass from Ian Mitchell to tie the game. Brink, however, did not finish the night, as he was injured in the second period when Cole Smith slid to block a shot and trapped Brink’s ankle and leg underneath his body weight, leading Brink to limp off the ice favoring his left leg.

Four minutes after Denver’s goal, after a too-many men call against Denver, UND got a power play goal right back with Matt Kiersted ripping wrister from the point through a screen in front to beat Cooley and get the Fighting Hawks the lead again. The Hawks padded the lead late in the frame when Grant Mismash crashed the net on a harmless shot, pokes the puck out of Cooley’s reach right to Adams to make it a 3-1 lead. 

Late in the second and onto the third, the hitting picked up– as most Denver/North Dakota games are wont to do; but it also set the tone for the series finale tomorrow. However, after a penalty for indirect contact to the head, the power play created a turnover that moved the puck to Adams, who found Bernard-Docker streaking down the slot to make it a 4-1 game. While the hitting continued, the scoring did not as UND took Friday’s game 4-1. 

With the win, North Dakota clinched home-ice in the NCHC playoffs, a feat that is always at the top of the priority list each season for the team. 

“The first thing we do is shooting for home ice, but now we have to shoot to higher things,” head coach Brad Berry said postgame. “We’ve got to string some games together down this stretch and play with momentum, starting with tomorrow’s game. We want to have a good chance to keep things going here. Every team this time of year is going to give their best and we have to make sure we’re doing our best to keep right with them.” 

THEY SAID IT

“That’s something I’ve worked a lot on with Karl (Goehring). Having a few layers of screens and looking around them. Part of that is never excepting. It’s your job to see the puck and never saying, ‘Oh, I lost it. Not really on me, I couldn’t see it.’ You got to keep battling and finding it and never giving up even if you feel it’s already been shot– working on finding where it’s at and finding positioning.” — Peter Thome on being able to see the puck better through traffic this season. 

“I don’t think my approach changes too much. It’s the same mental approach as any game and prepare the same way.”– Shane Pinto on playing in the national spotlight. 

“You kind of realize when you’re a freshman that you’re going to be here forever. Even when you’re a sophomore; it still feels so far away. Then, as a junior you start to realize you’re in the back half. We don’t want to be that class that sends this program back a few years. Every guy in our class worked their tails off in the summer to try and get better and I think that’s what you’re seeing.” — Thome on the Junior class performing this season.

Ottawa, North Dakota, and Going Pro

The Ottawa Senators seemingly trust the process that the University of North Dakota has with prospects. They’ve selected three in the NHL Draft that were committed to the school in the past two drafts– Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jonny Tychonick, and Shane Pinto. The question is now will they let those players see the process develop for more than half their term there.

A report out of the area had said the Senators were pushing hard to help the OHL’s Ottawa 67s gain the rights to Pinto in order to sign him to an entry-level deal; thus taking the freshman forward out of the UND pipeline. This comes after Pinto had an impressive World Junior tournament with four goals and seven points in five games for the US squad. After Saturday’s game, however, Pinto vehemently denied anything of the sort ever happening; proving the Ottawa media wants to get people to hope that he’d come to speed up the rebuild process.

While there hasn’t been a lot of noise made about Bernard-Docker, you’d have to think that Ottawa would want him to leave school after this season, considering his low-key breakout at the same World Juniors, playing more than any other Canadian during the tournament. Though, there might be a double-standard with bringing a defenseman out early and how much it takes for them to truly adjust to the professional game.

Ottawa is a rebuilding team and while they may like the way that UND is able to produce NHL, they probably also want to really get the players as their blossoming in their career. The Pinto situation seems familiar to the Tyson Jost/Avalanche situation, with Jost leaving after his freshman season at UND, with many saying Colorado was pretty adamant about Jost leaving after one college season. Though, Brock Boeser left after two seasons and did pretty good for himself by doing so, even though injuries have hampered both Jost and Boeser.

I’m all for these players going for the money if they feel it’ll be the most lucrative for them in the long-run. The goal for them is pro hockey and if they can reach it sooner and if the team wants them sooner– more power to them. The only hurdle is to make sure that they are, in fact, ready to make that jump. There’s cases for leaving too early and leaving too late, so it’s really a case-by-case basis.

North Dakota also doesn’t want to be looked at as a one-and-done kind of school and probably while it’s nice for them to have that aura of being a great developmental point for possible NHLers, it’s not the way they would want to be viewed overall if they only have talented youngsters for one or two years before they go off elsewhere and then UND gets behind because a player they thought they could build around for four years is only there half that time.

Sure, it’s the nature of college hockey and could happen with players who aren’t drafted, also; but in those cases– you’re getting three seasons from them and could actually have their replacement ready to go and a plan in place for it. In the day in age where the NHL is a younger players’ game with speed and skill, the college kids will definitely have a harder time wanting to stay if the idea of making a good amount of money without the schooling aspect is at their fingertips.

At the end of the day, each drafted college player is a case-by-case study of what they’re going to do. Some stick the whole four years, some leave after one, and some don’t make it to one year before moving to major junior; you can never know what could happen with each player.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Complete Revenge Sweep of Canisius

Photo by Kelsey Lee/Violet Turtle Photography

GRAND FORKS, ND– The University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks took their 5-0 win last night and put it in a bit of the rear view, though the start didn’t see that way. After going down in the first period, the Hawks shook off the early rust and took it to the Canisius Golden Griffins, sweeping the weekend series with a 8-1 win. 

It took less than five minutes for Canisius to get on the board, as Austin Alger got a past from David Melaragni and ripped it high past Adam Scheel’s glove to make it 1-0 early. For a second straight night, Canisius has gotten kicked out– with JD Pogue being the victim after kneeing Colton Poolman. For a second straight night, however, the Hawks failed to capitalize on the extended power play. 

Under seven minutes into the second, Shane Pinto got a penalty shot after being hooked and held, but despite his slow approach, Jacob Barczewski stuck with him the whole way and kept it at 1-0. Moments later, however, Jordan Kawaguchi drove down the side and passed it across to a streaking Mark Senden to make it 1-1. After two straight icings, UND was able to have enough in the tank for Collin Adams to come in the zone, take a shot, have a follow up from Kawaguchi and then Adams banged home the Kawaguchi rebound to make it 2-1 Hawks. Towards the end of the second, the UND got the power play goal they were hunting for this weekend with Grant Mismash breaking into the zone, losing a bit of control, but having the wherewithal to keep control and feed it to Gabe Bast to make it 3-1 for UND. 

Scary moment late in the second with Barczewski getting cut up high and needed to be assisted to the dressing room for repairs, which yielded the net for Matt Ladd. Barczewski did return to the locker room during the intermission and returned to the game. 

Just over a minute into play in the third, UND struck again with Jacob Bernard-Docker wristed through Barczweski to make it 4-1. Seconds later, Harrison Blaisdell found a rebound in the feet of Canisius defenders and made it 5-1. Barczewski then got lifted again for Ladd. Good bounces found UND with Andrew Peski scoring off his leg from a Shane Pinto shot and made it 6-1. Then midway through the period, Senden drove the right side, threw it in front to Cole Smith, and the redirect squeaked past Ladd to make it 7-1. With under 90 seconds, Westin Michaud made it 8-1 after an unselfish play by Judd Caulfield to pass it over to Michaud on the mini 2-on-0 break. 

THEY SAID IT

“They’re a hard, heavy, fast team. There’s not a lot of time and space and the opportunities you have to create are ones you have to work as a team at with short passes and get puck through and get to the net and stay on it. Now, we have to enjoy it for a few minutes and now we got to move on when we get to practice on Monday and get ready for Mankato because that’s going to be an equally hard series.” — Head Coach Brad Berry on facing Canisius

“A big learning experience for me and the freshman is that after a loss for their team last night, we’ve got to be more prepared to start. They had a good push off the start and we’ve got to know it’s coming and learn from that.” –Jacob Bernard-Docker on what to take out of the series and moving forward

“We played well overall. We played 120 minutes full. A lot of people said we owe these guys and we gave it to them. A little bit of revenge for us and we feel pretty good going into next weekend.” –Jordan Kawaguchi on the weekend for UND.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Shake Off Rust in Exhibition Win

GRAND FORKS, ND– After three weeks off, the University of North Dakota came back to shake off the rust of the holiday season with an exhibition game against the US National Under-18 Team. It was a bit of a look into the future with UND, as two prospects for the Fighting Hawks were in the U-18 line-up in forward Judd Caulfield and goalie Cameron Rowe. Though coming into the game, the U-18s were 6-6 against NCAA Division teams, they were downed by the Fighting Hawks 6-2 in the exhibition.

It was a special game, as UND busted out a Fighting Sioux jerseys to honor the 1958-59 team, the first ever National Champion for UND. It’s the first time the team has wore a jersey with “Sioux” on it since 2012 after the nickname was dropped by the school due to NCAA rules.

After a flurry of offense from Team USA to start the first period, UND was the first to strike on the power play, after Jacob Bernard-Docker (JBD) set-up Rhett Gardner on a one-timer to put it past Rowe and give UND the early lead. The Hawks got up two when Grant Mismash crashed the net off a USA turnover and a Nick Jones cycle, put a shot on net, with Ludvig Hoff finding the rebound and putting it through Rowe’s five-hole to make it 2-0.

Just 90 seconds into the second, Matthew Boldy put the U18s on the board after pickpocketing Mismash in the UND zone, poked just barely off Patrick Moynihan’s shinpad, went in on a mini-breakaway before going forehand-backhand to go five-hole Adam Scheel. UND got the two-goal lead back midway through the period, after Jackson Keane drove into the zone, missed the net, but picked up the loose puck to find Casey Johnson; who then went near-side high-glove on Rowe to make it 3-1 UND. The Fighting Hawks made it 4-1 on the power play after some fancy passing in the zone, including a deflected pass, led to a Mismash goal with Jones and JBD getting assists on the goal.

The Hawks swapped out goalies, as Peter Thome came into the game to start the third, while Ryan Anderson finished. In only 16 minutes, Thome faced 18 shots and only gave up one goal.

Peter Thome/ Photo by Jen Conway

“It’s always interesting when you get thrown in there and kind of under siege right away,” Thome said. “I was able to get the first one and then the second on and kept trying to go from there. I just tried to stay in the moment and not get too far ahead.”

Collin Adams made it 5-1 halfway through the third from a great set-up from beside the net from Joel Janatuinen, putting it past Rowe’s glove. Alex Turcotte cut the deficit to 5-2 after tipping home a Boldy shot from the top of the circle, after Gabe Bast took a holding penalty. Gavin Hain made it 6-2 with an empty net goal from an alley-oop pass by Matt Kiersted with Thome getting a secondary assist on the goal.

For Thome, who hasn’t had the best season thus far, going 1-3-0 with a 3.75 GAA and .838 save percentage. His last action was during UND’s 5-0 loss a month ago against Duluth. For him, it was a time to get a confidence boost.

“First half, personally, hasn’t gone the way I wanted it to,” Thome says. “Now, having a good first outing is definitely a step forward and hopefully there’s more to come. It’s such a mental position. If you don’t really have confidence, it seems everything can go wrong, but if you have confidence; you can do no wrong. I’m just trying to get back to that state that I’m playing my best.”

With almost a month off, the game was a little rough at times. With a long break and some holiday treats, it took some time to get things going.

“Some parts were a little slow and a little sloppy, but it’s kind of expected,” mentioned Mismash about the first game after the break. “We had a couple good practices kind of getting back in shape. It wasn’t a terrible game. We’ll ramp it up going back into the regular season.”

When asked about the exhibition games themselves, Mismash said; “I don’t want to say I feel bad for teams who hop right back into the season rather than have exhibitions, but it’s nice to get these games. Just to get a feel for it again and get your legs under you before you get going again.”

“This is one of the most skilled and fast and offensive teams that we’ve ever played against the 18s,” said UND head coach Brad Berry. “They’re record is 20-7-2 and they knocked off the #1 team in the nation the other night, so it’s one of those things we’ll take it as far as trying to get better. We have to make sure our last two non-conference games against Canisius count.”

Which is where UND heads next, as they’ll head to Buffalo, New York to take on Canisius to officially kick off their second-half of the year.

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: JBD’s OT Dramatics Helps North Dakota Sweep Wisconsin

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– For the first time since December 1st and 2nd of last year (against Western Michigan, the University of North Dakota was able to get a regular season home sweep, as they defeated the University of Wisconsin Badgers 3-2 in overtime on Saturday night. The win boosted the Fighting Hawks record to 4-2-1 as the bulk of their non-conference schedule is finished. Adam Scheel 21 saves with Jacob Bernard-Docker playing the role of hero for the Hawks.

Penalties troubled Wisconsin to start the game, as they had back-to-back penalty kills due to two cross-checking calls against them, but they killed them both off. After those kills, Will Johnson got the first goal of the series for the Badgers, redirecting a pass from Seamus Malone that got past Adam Scheel to give Wisconsin their first goal of the series. Despite have four power plays, UND couldn’t connect on any and the period ended with a Badgers lead.

Grant Mismash started the scoring in the second, as he picked up a redirected puck on a clearing attempt and put it past Daniel Lebedeff to tie the game at ones. UND had some chances late into the period, but nothing was getting past Lebedeff, though Mismash seemed to have a magnet to his stick, as he got a majority of the chances late, as did Collin Adams.

Under three minutes into the third, Tarek Baker tipped a K’Andre Miller shot from the top of the circle in past Scheel to put Wisconsin up 2-1. Almost 30 seconds later, Nick Jones got a small break away and went five-hole on Lebedeff to tie the game back up.

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Nick Jones/ Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“As soon as I saw clear ice, I knew I had a guy on my hip,” mentioned Jones of his goal, “I was just going to bring the goalie across and see what happen. I didn’t plan to go five-hole. If I tried to put it anywhere else, I don’t think I would have scored.”

While the game went back and forth, the wheels almost fell off a bit for Wisconin, as they got two penalties with 15 seconds with Josh Ess going for cross-checking Mismash into the post and Tyler Inamoto getting an elbowing for going upside the head of Rhett Gardner. The Badgers were able to stave off the onslaught in the third, pushing it into the overtime period.

Only 21 seconds into the OT, the calls befell the Badgers and Jacob Bernard-Docker waited out the defense to rip a wrister from the top of the circle to win the game in overtime for the Fighting Hawks and sweeping the weekend for them.

“It was huge,” coach Brad Berry said after the game. “We had a lot of opportunities tonight on the power play to get a goal or two, but we only got it at end. I’m proud of how our guys showed resiliency from the second and into the third. We got some looks at the end of the game, but they weren’t good looks. We were standing around and stagnant. You want to make sure you have fresh bodies so you can make plays. I think JBD scored a heck of a goal on Friday night and it was almost the same tonight.”

Though a cause for concern is the power play. While UND had nine power play chances in the game, they only connected on one of them– the game winner. UND has the 46th ranked power play in the nation, running at only 14.3% (5 of 25), putting them last in the NCHC in that stat.

“We gotta find chemistry,” mentioned Jones about the power play. “Last night, we had some looks, but with nine chances, you gotta have more than looks. We have to go back to the basics. Matt Shaw is a good coach for us on that, but just got to find that chemistry.”

The conference play starts next weekend, as UND heads to Oxford, Ohio to take on Miami of Ohio.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Stay Strong Against Old Rivals

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– On a night where a main instigator of the most infamous UND/Wisconsin brawl in their rivalry was given his “One Last Shift” by the University of North Dakota, the Fighting Hawks did Jim Archibald’s honor proud by taking it to Wisconsin from the start and beating the Badgers 5-0 to start the weekend on a great note and give Adam Scheel his first NCAA shutout.

“It’s good to get it under my belt, but it goes to how well the team played as a whole,” said Scheel post-game. ”I feel I’m pretty comfortable so I think I’m pretty adjusted.”

Scoring started with a great play on the forecheck for UND, as Ludvig Hoff was able to keep the play alive during a Fighting Hawks line change, find a streaking Collin Adams, who made a nice little pass over to Rhett Gardner to make it 1-0 UND. It was the first goal by a senior this year for the Hawks.

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Rhett Gardner/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“When you don’t score to start the beginning of the year, you wonder if you’re ever going to score all year,” mentioned Gardner. “I just wanted one to break out of it, but I thought I had a good game against Minnesota and just try to keep it rolling and stay hot.”

Aside from the scoring, the forecheck for UND was a big story as they created many turnovers on the penalty kill and by Wisconsin not being able to get a clean break-out from their zone. After the senior’s goal early, a freshman potted the second one, with Jacob Bernard-Docker getting his first NCAA goal with a laser from the point to go high blocker on Jack Berry. JBD froze Berry with a nice little toe-drag to get a better shot angle and pot it upstairs.

“It was super cool to do it at home, but getting more comfortable, it was a matter of time,” said JBD post-game. “We just talked about locking them up and if they’re going down, we’re pulling around them. I was just lucky enough my guy went down and ripped it.”

Less than 30 seconds into the second period, Gardner struck again, picking up an errant rebound to make it 3-0. It took until half-way through the second for UND to strike again, with Colton Poolman just throwing it at the net, which luckily redirected off Wisconsin’s Peter Tischke and into the net giving Poolman his third of the season. Not long after, Jack Berry was lifted with 7:04 left in the second after giving up four goals on 15 shots.

It took halfway through the third for Rhett Gardner to complete his hat-trick almost how it started, with a one-timer in the high slot off another wonderful pass by Collin Adams and going past Daniel Lebedeff to make it a 5-0 lead. Not too much excitement until Tyler Inamoto and Dixon Bowen got into it, resulting in Bowen getting a ten-minute misconduct for a slash, but also jawing a little too much.

However, after a bit of a stumble out of the gate, coach Brad Berry liked what he saw out of his team and how they’ll play going forward.

“The first part of the season, something was missing. We’ve done a better job through practices to play a 60-minute game. We’ve got some chemistry with lines and we’re gelling, but more importantly playing a consistent, 60-minute game.”

The two teams have the rematch on Saturday at 7:07 at The Ralph.