UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Bounce Back For Series Split

Photo via UND Athletics (@undMHockey)

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a lackluster effort Friday night, the University of North Dakota looked to rebound on Saturday against their hated rivals in the University of Minnesota. After a quick start, sustained offensive pressure, and the ability to keep the Gophers out of danger zones, the Fighting Hawks took Saturday’s affair 3-2 to split the weekend. 

Before the game, North Dakota honored former forward Dave Christian in their One More Shift ceremony before the game. Christian played two years at UND before going to the US National Team for the 1980 Olympics and then moved to a 15-year NHL career. 

“When we go out for the tunnel before the anthem and starting line-up, he was with us right there giving everybody a fist bump and being like he was part of the team,” head coach Brad Berry said of Christian before the ceremony. “He was joking with me saying, ‘Hey, if I play a shift, it’s going to be power play and I’m not coming back out of the offensive zone.’ I said, ‘I guarantee, you can play two minutes like (Alex Ovechkin) does in Washington.’”  

Donning their modernized retro home alternate jerseys, North Dakota got off to a better start than Friday, as they potted the first goal only 3:27 into the game as Gavin Hain’s screen in front allowed a Mark Senden’s shot to go off of Hain’s skate and through Jack LaFontaine to make it 1-0 Hawks. Unlike Friday’s game, North Dakota had much more sustained pressure in the first, holding the Gophers to only four shots in the first, most of them after the first part of the frame. 

North Dakota continued to push the offensive envelope, creating plenty of chances in their zone to start the second period; holding the strong Minnesota offense at bay. Mark Senden got UND the 2-0 lead, as he ripped on the breakout of the zone on the power play, receiving a pass from Louis Jamernik, and put it past the blocker of LaFontaine to notch one on the power play. The North Dakota defense was solid throughout the game, as through two periods, the Gophers only had six shots on goal. 

Senden potted his second of the night after a great takeaway by Jake Sanderson at the point, who moved it to Connor Ford, who then slid it across to Senden for the 3-0 goal. After a suspect penalty on Ford, Minnesota got on the board with Ben Myers putting a knuckler of a one-time attempt past Zach Driscoll for the 3-1 score line. Minnesota cut the game to one-goal when, with the goalie pulled, Chaz Lucius found a loose puck in the crease and put it behind Driscoll. Minnesota kept the pressure on, but the North Dakota defense kept the Gophers to the outside with the goalie pulled and made the final 3-2 to split the weekend. 

Photo: Jen Conway (@NHLHistoryGirl)

THEY SAID IT

“We were just a little more physical tonight. We got a little more after them and kind of played our game. Last night, we got away from that and tried to be something we aren’t. But tonight we got back to getting pucks behind them and being heavy on them.” — Cooper Moore on the differences from Friday and Saturday’s games. 

“Especially in a game like yesterday, we were very disappointed in ourselves. There wasn’t much good that came out of that game. So, you come in in the morning and try to forget about yesterday, but look at what we did and try to learn from that.”– Gavin Hain on coming in the building after a loss. 

“I thought we did a good job of tracking and playing as a five-man unit together and not having spaces in our game. For the most part, we skated and we check a lot harder than we did last night: — Brad Berry about the game plan being executed Saturday night.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Collect First Sweep of the Year, Downing Niagara 4-0.

Photo: Jen Conway/ @NHLHistoryGirl

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a decisive 6-2 win last night, North Dakota knew they needed to start quickly to set the tone to try and get the eventual sweep of Niagara University. On a night where the school honored former player and current Grand Forks mayor Brandon Bochenski, the Fighting Hawks got off to that quick start and didn’t look back, sweeping the Purple Eagles with a 4-0 victory on Saturday. 

North Dakota wasted no time as Judd Caulfield made a no-look spin-a-rama pass to Jake Schmaltz, who put it over the shoulder of Jake Sibell to take the 1-0 lead 1:08 into the first. Niagara woke up after that goal, starting to tilt the ice in their direction, putting some shots on Zach Driscoll.

The second period didn’t have much flow to it in the beginning. The passes didn’t seem to hit the marks and there was plenty of sloppy play in the defensive zone for North Dakota. With two power plays in the first part of the second frame, the Fighting Hawks didn’t seem to get any lane to get quality chances with Niagara getting sticks in the lanes and getting onto the puck carrier quickly. That changed with 6:28 left in the period, as Schmaltz got his second of the game as the puck was cycled around the zone and Schmaltz fired home a one-timer from Chris Jandric past Sibell, who had lost his glove in a scrum in front of the net. 

With some back and forth play, Jake Sanderson made it 3-0 on a 4-on-4 situation, coming down off the wing, getting a pass from Connor Ford, and going backhand/forehand/backhand through the crease and behind Sibell. 

Plenty of neutral zone action in the third, but with 2:59 remaining, Riese Gaber put home a power play goal from the top of the circle off a Sanderson pass and made it 4-0, which would be the eventual final. 

Next weekend, North Dakota will play a home-and-home series against Bemidji State, whom they beat in their exhibition game this season. 

THEY SAID IT

“New guys, but they’re experienced guys. Obviously, just trying to find spots for each one of those guys on each unit. We haven’t been able to work with them until the beginning of September, but they’ve been bonding together since July and getting to know each other. They deeply care about each other and when we’re not on the ice with them, they’re talking power play and they’re working on it together.”– Head coach Brad Berry about the new players succeeding on the power play early in the year. 

“I don’t think I should be compared to Drew Stafford, but it’s super cool to have a stat like that, but he’s a hell of a player. I shouldn’t compared to him just yet.”– Schmaltz on being the first rookie since Stafford in 2003-04 to score in his first two games. 

“We just stuck to our game plan. Just getting on pucks early, forechecking hard, too. Make them make mistakes and turn the puck over and we just capitalize on that.”– Caulfield on what UND excelled on this weekend. 

“Feels good individually, but that doesn’t happen without the team in front of me. Special teams were awesome– power play and penalty kill did their jobs. The chances that did happen were from the outside. Good team effort for sure.”– Driscoll on his 11th career shutout

UND Hockey: Fighting Hawks Open Season With Big Win Over Niagara

Photo via UND Hockey Twitter @UNDMHockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– On the 20th Anniversary weekend of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks kicked off their season with a non-conference battle against the Niagara University Purple Eagles. In the “House That Ralph Built,” many family members were in attendance to celebrate the birthday of one of the best arenas in all of hockey. It was something that UND head coach Brad Berry stressed to the players before going onto the ice. 

“We’re grateful and blessed to have this rink,” Berry said. “We mentioned that to our team– and I think that helped them– that the Engelstad family was here to see the gracious gift they gave us. I think our guys felt that and jumped out right away.”

North Dakota got things going early, as Ethan Frisch got his first of the year with a wrister from the point getting by Chad Veltri. Frisch was set up perfectly by Matteo Costantini, who was patient, keeping the puck in the zone and finding an open Frisch for the chance. UND continued to dictate the play, resulting in a couple offensive chances and then cashing in minutes later with Jake Schmaltz getting his first NCAA goal after Riese Gaber drove to the net and found a streaking Schmaltz for the tap-in. North Dakota continued to pace the play, holding Niagara to only three shots in the first. The offense didn’t let up, as Ashton Calder put home his first goal with the Fighting Hawks on the power play, picking up a Riese Gaber rebound and putting it past Veltri with under three minutes remaining. It was Calder’s first power play goal in over a calendar year.

“It’s nice, I mean, having me in that spot, obviously shoot and hopefully score goals. I do my best to do that every night,” Calder said after the game. 

Niagara got an early power play, but the UND PK was strong again, keeping it away from the danger zones and allowing Zach Driscoll to see the puck clearly. North Dakota would strike in the first portion of the period, with Calder striking again after a shot went over the net and Jackson Kunz picked up the loose puck and found Calder just above the crease to put it behind Veltri and give the Hawks a 4-0 lead. With some back and forth play, Niagara had one big chance with Walker Sommer walking down the wing and across the crease, but Driscoll was able to stop him with the right pad. As the period wound down, Jake Sanderson got in on the scoring, getting a pass on the half-wall by Judd Caulfield and putting it near-side on Veltri to make it 5-0. 

An early chance by Connor Ford, cutting through the defense, but Veltri was able to shoulder the puck away. The Fighting Hawks did have a bit of a rest, with Niagara getting some chances to Driscoll’s blocker side, but all were turned away. North Dakota got back in the goal column with Tyler Klevin getting a pass from Gaber and hammering it over the shoulder of Veltri to make it 6-0 and giving Gaber his third assist of the night. However, Niagara would get on the board, as Shane Ott picked up a Mike Faulkner rebound off the crossbar to make it 6-1. Just 51 seconds later, what looked like a  Ryan Naumovski shot-pass deflected off of Frisch’s skate to make it 6-2, which is how the game would end. 

These two teams meet again on Saturday night to close out their series. 

THEY SAID IT

“We talk about it right at the beginning of the year. We talk about it going into the first series like this one right away. We don’t even look at them as non-conference, we look at them as NCHC games because they count just as much and they’re vital to making the National Tournament. So, whether we’re at home or on the road in non-conference play, we tell them to treat it like an NCHC game.”– Berry on the importance of the non-conference weekends.

“It was super cool. Playing with Riese (Gaber) and Judd (Caulfield) make it super easy for me. But just the play Riese made to take the guy wide, giving it to me backdoor, there’s not a lot for me to do, so shoutout to Riese for that.”– Schmaltz after this first NCAA goal.

“We got off to a good start. That was kind of our main focus was to come out early, get a lead, and build off that. There’s some room for improvement in the second period, but overall it was a pretty good game.”– Gaber on the first game of the season.

UND HOCKEY: Hawks Slide Past Bemidji State in Exhibition Opener

GRAND FORKS, ND– It has been a long time since the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks played in front of a full Ralph Engelstad Arena. With the weekend in Grand Forks being as busy as it was, The Ralph was packed with 11,812 fans happy to be in the arena and cheer on the Hawks. On a banner raising night to commemorate the NCHC Championship, the Fighting Hawks and their 14 new players took on the Bemidji State Beavers in their exhibition tune-up and took home a victory by a count of 2-1. 

The game was initially supposed to be against the University of Manitoba, as most teams face USports teams from Canada for their exhibition games. Because of that, the NCAA allowed exhibition games against fellow NCAA teams if need be. 

“This was a litmus test for us,” mentioned head coach Brad Berry. “Even though both teams might have a little rust tonight; the heaviness, the lack of time and space, you know, an intense college hockey game was thrown at us. There’s nothing that replaces that. We have a lot of areas to work on, but I’m glad we got to play against a very, very good opponent.”

“That’s a great team over there,” Jake Sanderson said of Bemidji State. “I saw that the schedule changed and I was pretty happy just to see where we stacked up against another good team. I was pretty pumped.”

It was a feeling out period for both teams, with North Dakota getting chances early on, but Michael Carr had some pretty solid saves from the Fighting Hawks attempts. Bemidji didn’t get a shot on goal until after halfway through the first, with North Dakota getting into the shooting lanes, as well as not giving the Beavers any time to set-up their offense. Bemidji did get plenty of chances after the halfway mark, including a breakaway that just got past Zach Driscoll, but couldn’t get past the left post to keep the game scoreless. 

It didn’t take long for North Dakota to find the net in the second period, as an early power play for the Fighting Hawks yielded the first goal. The puck cycled around the zone and ended up on Riese Gaber’s stick, where he fired a wrister past Mattias Sholl to give UND the lead 2:30 into the frame. Bemidji would answer back moments later as a tic-tac-toe passing play from Lukas and Owen Sillinger ended with a Alex Ierullo goal to even the score. North Dakota seemed to be on their heels after that goal, with Bemidji working the puck around, but not getting many shots onto Driscoll. 

Going in tied at one in the third, both teams were looking for any space they could. Bemidji’s forecheck was giving North Dakota fits, while maintaining pressure on net. Driscoll kept composure and kept the game knotted up, including stopping an Owen Sillinger breakaway attempt. Just past the halfway mark, Jake Sanderson took the game on his stick, going end-to-end and putting a shot five-hole on Gavin Enright to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead. While Bemidji pushed, the Fighting Hawks defense got in front of shots and clogged up the neutral zone on their way to the 2-1 victory. 

“I just saw time and space,” Sanderson said of his goal. “The defense kind of backed off and I just took it.” 

North Dakota starts their regular season off next weekend against Niagara University at home. 

THEY SAID IT

“It was a weird experience for sure. I played three seasons in that program, so going out for warm-ups and seeing the Beaver jersey on the other side was a little weird. One the puck drops, you’re just playing hockey after that.”– Driscoll on playing his former school in his first game at North Dakota. 

“I thought it was awesome. Haven’t played in over a year, but these guys made it easy for me. It’s a good group here, so it was awesome. I just gotta give credit to the team and my D partners for making it so easy for me. Kept it easy and simple.”– Chris Jandric on playing his first NCAA game in over a year.

UND HOCKEY: Mr. Johnson Goes to Washington in Third Round

Photo via Sioux Falls Stampede

GRAND FORKS, ND– As a wedding was set-up for Saturday afternoon on the floor of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, another marriage took place hours before, as incoming University of North Dakota defenseman Brent Johnson was selected by the Washington Capitals in the third round of the 2021 NHL Draft. Sitting in a suite with his family, Johnson actually didn’t initially notice his name on the board.

“Actually, I wasn’t even looking,” said Johnson. “I was looking at my phone and then I looked up and it was pretty exciting. My heart kind of dropped for a second. Just a lot of emotions all at once. Unreal experience. I’ve been working on this for a long time now– especially with my family here with me. It’s something that’ll never forget. They’ve all been pulling the same rope that I have, so they know hard I’ve worked and it was special to have them here.”

Coming from Frisco, Texas, Johnson will be the first player to wear a North Dakota uniform from the Lone Star state and should be play for the Capitals, he’ll be the second player of record to hail from Texas, the first being Chris Brown from 2013 until 2016. Developing in the Dallas Stars Elite youth program, Johnson sees a lot of talent coming from the area from his experiences.

“It’s been a lot better and it’s growing fast,” Johnson mentioned of hockey in Texas. The guys are growing up and becoming hockey players and there’s some guys ahead of me that have come up. I think it’s a developing market and I’m really excited to see what the future holds for Dallas hockey.”

With the Draft being virtual again this year, the pomp and circumstance wasn’t at an NHL arena. Luckily for Johnson, North Dakota and The Ralph pulled out all the accommodations as they did last year for the 2020 Draft class that were slated to play for UND.

“It was amazing. Thanks to the staff for helping me put this together and allowing me to have such a special day. It was an unreal experience to see the building I’ll be playing at for the next four years. I can’t wait to get started.”

Johnson looked to be very dedicated to staying at North Dakota for the long haul, saying he had no changes in plans after getting drafted and was focused on a National Championship in the next four years. When talking about his incoming defender, North Dakota head coach Brad Berry was very eager to have him in the line-up.

“Just getting to know Brent over the last few months, it was something he was very excited for an when he name was called, him and his family were very excited. And we’re excited, too. It’s a point in time where he’ll never forget this moment, but not the work begins for him to have a productive season for us at North Dakota,” Berry said.

Berry continued, “He’s a very, very smart player. When you talk about smart players, you always wants those players who anticipate the next play. Even before the puck is on his tape, he knows where it’s going. And to add, he’s also ultra-competitive. He’s a very competitive player with a lot of offensive ability. We have a great, great player; but an even better person in our group.”

Johnson is coming off a solid season on the blueline in the USHL with 21 assists and 32 points in 47 games in his first full year. His offensive side is matched by his ability to keep the play in front of him defensively and protect his blindside well. One thing some scouting reports looked at was his skating style leading needing some work, which should come with time. While Johnson will be in the line-up this season, there is still things that are needed to work on, which Berry honed in on.

“He has very good offensive ability and he defends real well, but you can tell he’s a person who needs to grow his body a little bit,” mentioned Berry. “Him coming from Sioux Falls and coming here to train, which has already with the group; you can tell he’s going to get bigger and stronger with our group. We’re going to let time take place and we know he has the work ethic to do it.”

NCAA Fargo Regional: Mylymok Stops Clock on Longest Game, Duluth Advances

FARGO, ND– For the first time since 1984, the University of North Dakota and University of Minnesota-Duluth faced off in the NCAA tournament, this time for a chance to reach the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. This is also the first time these teams have met since the NCHC Pod in December. In those two Pod games, Duluth won in a shootout and North Dakota won in regulation. 

The first and second period did not yield any scoring, as many chances were stymied by the ice conditions. Pucks bouncing over sticks, pucks sticking to the ice, and overall inability to have the vulcanized rubber settle down for top scoring chances limited both Duluth and North Dakota solid chances to break through in the first 40 minutes. The few chances each side got were due to scrums in front and broken plays off of bad bounces. 

In the third period, Duluth struck first, with Jackson Cates getting first blood off a Hunter Lellig shot from the point and the final bounce going off of Cates’ stick and over Adam Scheel’s shoulder. Minutes later, a broken stick by Grant Mismash at the UND blue line sprung Cole Koepke on a breakaway and beat Scheel blocker side for the two-goal lead. While Duluth locked it down defensively, North Dakota did all they could to get a goal. It wasn’t until under two minutes in the frame when Collin Adams banked a shot off of Zach Stejskal back to get North Dakota within one. After a missed empty-net chance led to an icing, North Dakota moved the puck around the perimeter and a blocked Shane Pinto shot landed on the stick of captain Jordan Kawaguchi to give the Fighting Hawks the equalizer. 

North Dakota used their momentum from the third in overtime and got plenty of chances. However, Duluth looked to have ended the game from a Kobe Ruth goal, but upon review Koby Bender was offside and the game continued onward. And on it did go, as the game went through four complete overtimes, making it the longest NCAA tournament game (142:13) in history. Not without its chances throughout, as North Dakota hit three posts over the overtime frames and Duluth had a couple of close calls from scrums in front of the net. One big moment happened as Stejskal had an injury to his left side and needed to be pulled towards the end of the 4th overtime, making way for Ryan Fanti. All good things come to an end, however, as on the last post shot by North Dakota, Duluth’s Luke Mylymok took the puck the other way and put a snapshot past Scheel to end it with the final 3-2. 

THEY SAID IT

“I thought we played well. Two great teams going at it. The score reflected it and the overall game reflected it. Those are my brothers in there. That’s my family.”– Jordan Kawaguchi about the game.

“It’s one of those things when you get into overtime games, you got to keep the games simple and keep the game in front of you. We used everybody. It’s very unfortunate. You look at our scoring chances and how many posts we hit, how many scoring opportunities we had. At the end of the day, we had enough to win the game and we didn’t close in on it and we didn’t get it done that way. Really, really proud of our guys. They left their hearts on the ice and everything that they did. They worked extremely hard in the room to get to where they needed to.”– North Dakota head coach Brad Berry

“It proves to what we are as far as a team that never gives up, a team that’s relentless, a team that fights to the very end. I told the guys after the game, this is life– this is what life is. It’s not fair. We could argue it all day about who could have won the game. But that’s what sports is, that’s what life is. You keep moving on. You have to learn from the past. Our young guys are going to put this in the back of their mind as far as having this experience.”– Berry on the talk post-game with the team.

“It certainly under adverse circumstances because Zach was cramping, which was a shame because I thought he played well. But it’s not an easy thing for Ryan (Fanti) to do. You’re sitting on the bench and you haven’t played. He made some three or four big stops for us, too. It’s a nice situation that we had all year with goalies that we felt could win games for us.”– Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin on his goaltending situation. 

“It was a game-time decision by the coaches. When I heard my name, I was just ecstatic as a freshman going into these games. Just really emotional and think about all the time and work put into it to get your name called and get to play in a huge game like this is unbelievable.”– Duluth forward Luke Mylymok on when he heard he was in the line-up. 

“You just try to be a good teammate on the bench and let the guys know you’re there for them. That’s the biggest part in the role like that, to let the boys know you’re there for them. You try to be a huge energy guy and get the boys going when you see that they’re tired and try to uplift them.”– Mylymok on his role when he wasn’t getting a lot of ice time.

“My legs were fresh and I knew I had to get some speed on that shot and use the defense on the shot. It just shot it and it went five-hole. You’re not looking for five-hole, but you can take what you can get.”– Mylymok on his game-winning goal.

NCAA Fargo Regional: North Dakota Moves On, Duluth Walks Through

FARGO, ND– The semifinals of the Fargo Regional of the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship took place on Friday night at Scheels Arena. While the joy of the tournament was felt by most everyone, the day started out on a rough patch for one squad. 

On Friday afternoon, the NCAA had announced that the University of Michigan has a player who tested positive and the team has to withdraw from the tournament. That meant the University of Minnesota-Duluth advanced to the Regional Finals. They would take on the winner of the University of North Dakota and American International College. 

In the first five minutes, AIC was all over North Dakota. The plucky 16-seed wanted to revisit what they did in Fargo in 2019 when they took out the #1 overall seed St. Cloud State. At one point, AIC was outshooting North Dakota. After the first media timeout, however, North Dakota seemed to snap out of whatever jitters they had and went on the offensive. 

Jasper Weatherby started the scoring off just as the North Dakota power play expired, taking a Jacob Bernard-Docker shot off the backboards and putting it past Stefano Durante to make it 1-0. Two minutes later, Weatherby scored his second of the game, pickpocketing an AIC defender and going in to beat Durante and make it 2-0. North Dakota shored up their own zone, making sure AIC didn’t get past the red line. Three minutes after Weatherby’s second; Grant Mismash– playing his first game since late February– used Shane Pinto as a screen to make it 3-0. Collin Adams helped keep the puck alive when he lost an edge, but was still able to protect the puck and get it to Tyler Kleven so it stayed in the zone. Adams was rewarded after getting a chip pass from Riese Gaber, put it past Durante to make it 4-0, concluding four-goals in a 7:20 span. 

AIC started the second with Jake Kucharski in net. However, the offense wasn’t quite there in this frame. The ice was the biggest defenseman out there, with the puck bouncing to and fro for most of the frame, as well as creating a lot of havoc for skate blades to boot. At times it was hard to see if this was the hockey or basketball tournament. The third period was more of the same until a late North Dakota penalty gave away for AIC to score on the power play thanks to a Tobias Fladeby shot beating Adam Scheel. Twenty-nine seconds later, Adams got his second of the game off a centering pass Jordan Kawaguchi to make it 5-1. 

THEY SAID IT

“We heard it loud and clear. We talked about it right after the selection, through the week. It turned to us in terms of what we had to do. That’s a very good team over there. They’ve won a lot of games with very few losses. We just had to play our game. I thought for the most part we did. Hand it to them, they had some momentum shifts in the game and kept us in our zone a little. For the most part, we did a good job of managing the 60 minutes thanks to the leadership of our team.”– North Dakota head coach Brad Berry on being reminded of history of AIC upsetting St. Cloud two years ago.

“It was good for us to get a game in. Our last game was St. Cloud about a week and a half ago. There was a little rust there, but we knocked it off. It was beneficial to us to get that first game in and get our boots on the ground.”– Adams on either playing a game or having rest like Duluth.

“We thought calm would win the hockey game. We knew we’d have to ride the roller coaster a little bit. There’d be times where we’d have to weather some storms.”– AIC head coach Eric Lang about the plan for the game.

“I don’t personally think I was even thinking about it. But the noise in the building obviously makes a difference. I can’t really talk for other guys, but I think we rebounded from it by just calming down like coach said. And that’s really about it. We just kind of went back to our game rather than getting scrambling and making plays.”– AIC captain Brennen Kapcheck on playing in front of a live crowd.

“Our program is beyond the point of moral victories. But I can tell you, I’m as proud as this group, two years later sitting in the same room doing the same press conferences I was two years ago. It’s easy to pack it in there. And I couldn’t be prouder of what these guys have done in terms of commitment for the unknown. Since late August, we’ve been together. These guys have missed weddings, funerals, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and you’re all in all the time.” –Lang about the evolution of his program.

Is North Dakota Betting on Black a Little Too Much??

They say clothes make the man. If that’s the case, the University of North Dakota may want to invest in more black uniform sets because they have relied heavy on their “business” attire the past two weekends to help pull them through games. Whether it’s a mentality or some sorcery, the Fighting Hawks seem to play a bit different coming out in that all-black everything uniform set.

Yet, when does it become a crutch?? When does that mantra slowly fade and the ideal of a uniform changing everything not work anymore??

Maybe this is the season that gets put to the test, as UND does sport a solid 10-3-1 record to lead the NCHC standings, but still– the performances have left a bit to be desired after their exit from the bubble in Omaha. Granted, Adam Scheel’s nine wins and Jordan Kawaguchi’s 16 points lead the conference; something doesn’t seem quite right since the bubble and maybe clothing isn’t the best way to mask it.

Or maybe it is, as UND has worn the black uniform twice in the 2021 calendar year and won both games. In the bubble, they had a win and a tie in the all-black– putting their record this season to 3-0-1. Last season, they went 5-1-0 in the business attire, There is a method to the madness, but at the same time– there has to be something more there for the Hawks to get them motivated outside of a jersey color, right?? Why not just wear the black uniform the rest of the season and go on a run if the success is proven and there.

Personally, it does seem a bit alarming that it takes a jersey change as the carrot on a stick to get these players going. Especially after the solid bubble performance, especially since a lot of these players had last season taken away from them due to the pandemic. You’d think that there would been a little more hunger with the lack of games this season and they wouldn’t need a jersey gimmick to wake them up after a subpar performance.

I understand, this is a helluva thing to throw out there for a top-five ranked school, but it’s also something that shouldn’t be ignored. Though Scheel has nine wins, there has been holes to his game and he hasn’t really gotten the clean-up around his net from the team in front of him, leaving him out in the open after making the first save, while a tailing player comes to pick up the garbage in a wide open net. While it is a small sample size outside to bubble, going from 4.0 goals-per-game in the bubble to 2.75 outside of it is quite the drop and a little bit of an eyebrow raising circumstance when you see that the five-goal output month accounted for almost half of the goals combined in the last four games.

As I stated, if the black jerseys work as a carrot on the stick to get the guys hungry, wear them until they’re tattered if it gets results. However, there’s times it’s not always going to work and the underlying issue will need to be addressed when it comes to how a team adapts and how they persevere from that adaptation.

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.

Maybe Liberty University Can Make the Jump to NCAA D1 Hockey

Photo via Liberty.edu

When I had time this weekend, I was able to check out some ACHA hockey between Stevenson University and Liberty University at Liberty’s rink in Lynchburg, Virginia. The rink they had, the production they had, and the support the teams have are amazing. It makes you think that if their close to 4,000-seat arena would be suited to make a jump to the NCAA level– most likely on the D1 stage.

A bit of history on Liberty’s club team– they started in 1985 and actually house five club teams, the only school in the ACHA to do so. They have a D1, D2, and D3 men’s team, while they also have D1 and D2 teams for the women’s side. All five teams have winning records this season, with the D1 and D2 men being ranked in the top-six, while both women’s teams are ranked 1st in the nation, with the D1 side being back-to-back National Champions. While it is club hockey, those numbers shouldn’t be one to scoff at regardless of the level of play.

The school is very well funded. With an endowment of $1.43B– which ranks in the top 100 of universities in North America, there’s plenty of money to be able bring their men’s D1 and women’s D1 to the big stage of the NCAA hockey and be somewhat successful. One of the big hiccups would be trying to get top recruits to get accepted to the school, as well as having them be able to adhere to the code that the school has for its students, much akin to what Brigham Young University has.

Of course, the biggest question is where they would play at, as Lynchburg isn’t all that close to many places that already play. Robert Morris and Penn State would probably be the closest rivals. You’d have to think that with the Alaska teams in trouble and the WCHA apparently falling apart in slow motion, it’d be perfect for Atlantic Hockey to pick up Liberty and maybe even Alabama-Huntsville. That’s if they want to take that risk and move their footprint down the coast and over to the South. That said, friggin’ Air Force is in Atlantic Hockey, so why wouldn’t they want to take the chance?? Not only that, but Liberty would fit right in, as nine of the 11 teams in the conference are private schools.

On the women’s side, they’d probably be able to slide into College Hockey America, with Penn State and Robert Morris being the closest rivals, as well as having Lindenwood University in Missouri being a little outlier for them. Since it is a women’s only conference– it would be a good fit for the Lady Flames to side into should they want to make the jump.

It would be another step for club teams to move up to D1, with Penn State and Arizona State making those jumps in the last decade. It’s a school that would draw a lot of eyes from an area that NCAA hockey doesn’t have a foothold in already, while also maybe counteracting things that could happen should teams have to fold into itself due to budget cuts.

The money is there, the groundwork for success is there, the arena is there– all it needs is to actually make the jump and move forward with it. Might it be an odd choice to take a team from Southwest Central Virginia into the D1 fold?? Sure, as purist would call it a non-traditional market. Yet, at the same time– the exposure top-tier college hockey to that area could create more youth hockey players in the area who want to aspire to play that level, thus helping the future crop grow for the rest of the NCAA.