NCHC Frozen Faceoff: North Dakota Captures First Playoff Title

GRAND FORKS, ND– For the first time in the NCHC’s inception, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks can lay claim to the NCHC Playoff Championship following their win Tuesday night against St. Cloud State by a score of 5-3.  

While the crowd was pro-North Dakota, St. Cloud struck first with Zach Okabe put home a slap-pass from Ondrej Trejbal behind Adam Scheel, as Okabe worked through two defenders to get his stick in for the redirect. North Dakota counter-punched with some sustained pressure on the St. Cloud zone, including three shots in one sequence by Jake Sanderson, but David Hrenak battled them off to keep the Huskies ahead. However, the pressure from North Dakota wouldn’t be stopped, as Riese Gaber tied the game with a laser shot pass the glove of Hrenak to tie the game. Gaber got a great pass across from Jordan Kawaguchi, who himself got a great outlet pass from Collin Adams. The Huskies answered back three minutes later, as Seamus Donohue ripped a shot from the top of the circle that went high blocker on Scheel to make it 2-1.

The second period had plenty of chances on both sides. St. Cloud swarmed Scheel plenty, getting off 16 shots in the frame, while North Dakota sustained pressure late in the frame, but only mustered seven shots on goal over the 20 minutes. 

Early in the third, North Dakota drew a holding penalty and went to work on the power play. Monday’s hero, Gavin Hain, tied the game after Shane Pinto worked around the outside of the Huskies’ defense and centered a perfect pass over to Hain to beat Hrenak. North Dakota then opened the floodgates as, first, Kawaguchi picked up a loose puck in front of the net as Gaber was hooked and potted it home to make it 3-2 North Dakota. The penalty was upheld after the goal and North Dakota converted with Gaber streaking down the slot to make it 4-2 off a pass from Matt Kiersted. Three goals in 2:02 had the Ralph Engelstad Arena buzzing with the majority of fans cheering their home team…obviously. Sam Hentges stopped the bleeding a bit for the Huskies, putting in a side angle shot under the arm of Scheel to cut the North Dakota lead to one. While St. Cloud pressed, North Dakota sealed the deal when Ethan Frisch made a smart clear out of the zone to Kawaguchi to put it away and made the final 5-3. 

THEY SAID IT

“I’m proud of that group. Great kids. They’re obviously hurting. Those guys never gave up. We made a great push and made some great chances at the end. There’s nothing that prepares you for the tournament like an atmosphere like that. That was like a Frozen Four game.”– St. Cloud head coach Brett Larson about his team push back. 

“I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but the sacrifices these kids have made. Some guys who haven’t seen their family in a year. Euros and Canadians who haven’t been able to go home. Players who are asked to sit in their apartments or go to the rink only. Not being able to have family at the game until the last month of the year. Parents who have sacrificed everything and not be able to see their kids. It doesn’t just go for our team– it’s all of college sports and college hockey.”– Larson on what he’ll reflect on from this season. 

“I feel like we validated our season by playing in a game like this. Showing we can show up and go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the countries. And our team can keep their heads held high because of it.”– Larson about his team staying in the Final game. 

“It was pretty sweet. It was crazy to think that the building was a quarter-full and it was that loud. It was pretty exciting.”– Gaber about the energy from the crowd. 

“Coming in, us young guys, it’s perfect to learn from the seniors and the older guys. As we get older, we can teach the younger guys how to win.”– Gaber on his process as a freshman. 

“We gave up the first goal again and had to chase the game a little. But I thought we got better as the game went on. We had some resiliency throughout the game, but especially in the third period, we did a good job of getting some offensive zone time. Special teams were a factor and at the end of the day, you have to score on your power play and defend against their power play.”– North Dakota head coach Brad Berry on his view of the game. 

“Our whole class did today. I’ve said this before, but we were on our walk going into the dressing room and we have our own way we go before game. We all thought it was our last walk before this game and it was kind of emotional, but happy we could get this win and pretty special to win our last game at The Ralph.”– Kawaguchi on playing his last game at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

NCHC Frozen Faceoff: North Dakota, St. Cloud to Meet in Finals

GRAND FORKS, ND– The final four took the ice at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in hopes of getting into Tuesday’s Championship game.  

The first game saw the St. Cloud Huskies taking on the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in a tight battle with a couple of crazy bounces and a play needed rewind to see if there was a goal. 

St. Cloud almost got a lucky bounce early when a dump-in took a weird hop and caught Ryan Fanti by surprise when he was leaving the net, hitting the toe of his pads before it got cleared off the goal line. Moments later, the Huskies got onto the board with Jami Krannila finding a loose puck that was blocked in front and put it past Fanti to make it 1-0. After a review of a possible goal that wasn’t, Kobe Roth officially tied the game after a Jackson Cates shot hit off David Hrenak’s pad and right to Roth’s blade for a simple tap-in to tie it. St. Cloud got the lead back late in the frame, as Kevin Fitzgerald potted home a power play goal off a Krannila shot that hit off of Fanti’s pad and hit Fitzgerald on the pant-leg and dropped to his stick for a tap-in. 

St. Cloud dominated the first part of the second period, holding Duluth in their own zone thanks to two power plays in the first seven minutes of the period, while holding the Bulldogs to only one shot in the first ten minutes of the frame. Duluth did answer back, pinning St. Cloud thanks to some icing calls and eventually evened the game after a Roth shot off the side boards got tipped in by Koby Bender at the side of the net. On a bizarre goal, St. Cloud got the lead back when Chase Brand scored on a wrap-around short-handed, but it took until the next stoppage of play thirty seconds later for it to be reviewed and called a good goal to make it 3-2. 

Try as they might, Duluth pressed hard against St. Cloud, but the Huskies defense was able to shut down the Bulldogs shots, getting bodies in front of the puck and limiting chances towards Hrenak. At the final horn, the Huskies moved onto the Tuesday NCHC Final taking on the winner of North Dakota and Denver.

THEY SAID IT

“We keep trading momentum and chances. We have more opportunities to score more than two goals. That’s how our games have been– they’ve been one-goal games. One of the things I was disappointed in was penalties. You can’t take penalties against any teams going forward. You’ve got to stay disciplined and stay out of the box.” — Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin on the chances had by the Bulldogs during the semis. 

“It’s out of our control. We tried to win tonight’s game and get to tomorrow’s. That’s the mentality we’re trying to have this time of the year, especially going into this tournament. Single elimination is just like the NCAA tournament. The fate is in someone else’s hand now.”– Sandelin on his chances for the NCAA tournament. 

“It feels amazing. For us the last two games have been a lot of growth and fight through some adversity. Finding a way to win a game like that is a big step for our team.”– St. Cloud head coach Brett Larson on his team making a 3rd straight NCHC Final. 

“Learning how to play under the bright lights and the big games are how teams grow. I know the guys are looking forward to that opportunity. The only thing we’ve accomplished is the right to play in a championship. We’ve earned that right and we want to make sure we show up for it.”– Larson on the confidence of his team. 

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The second semifinal had the North Dakota Fighting Hawks and Denver Pioneers facing off. Denver was still undermanned due to COVID protocols, but North Dakota was without Jacob Bernard-Docker, who took a nasty hit in Friday’s game, and Brendan Budy. 

In the first half of the period, it was more a feeling out period. Despite plauying six times already this season, the two teams still sized each other up. North Dakota started to control the pace in the middle of the frame, putting plenty of shots onto Magnus Chrona, but nothing getting through. Denver got most of their offensive time in the last minute, but didn’t have any go past Adam Scheel as 20 minutes went by without a score. 

More physical play in the start of the season, but Gabe Bast got a little too physical on a slash to Bobby Brink giving Denver the first power play of the game. That led to Carter Savoie being credited with the first goal, as his intended pass across the ice deflected off Mark Senden’s stick and into the North Dakota net to give Denver the 1-0 lead. The Pioneers kept the offense going, all while holding the Fighting Hawks to the outside perimeter and limiting them to only three shots in the second frame. 

An early power play gave North Dakota a little momentum to build off of, but the biggest chance during it was early when Shane Pinto cranked a slap shot that clanged off the post and out. North Dakota kept pushing, to the point they pulled the goalie with 2:54 remaining. The Fighting Hawks kept possession and moved the puck inside the Denver zone, leading to a Pinto one-timer that got tipped in front by Jasper Weatherby to tie the game with 1:27 left, pushing the game to extra time. 

With overtime, Denver pressed early, forcing North Dakota to ice the puck a few times, though Denver only had one shot in the period. North Dakota got on the power play midway through the period, but were unable to convert during penalty time. Just as the Antti Tuomisto penalty expired, Gavin Hain hammered a shot from the face off dot past Magnus Chrona to push the Hawks to the NCHC Finals against St. Cloud.

THEY SAID IT

“I thought we executed our game plan well. Us being above pucks and not giving them much, especially through the first 40 minutes was good. We were real close, 90 seconds away. Our guys put their balls on the line tonight. They came and worked, I’m really proud of the guys who came and were on the trip.”– Denver head coach David Carle on his team’s performance. 

“Maybe a little. This game was a little different then Omaha, we were forced to defend more. Having nine forwards and playing the way we did Saturday, you’re going to get tired eventually. We’re not robots out there and we got a little tired towards the end.”– Denver forward Ryan Barrow on the team’s feeling of being short handed on the bench.

“We moved our lines a little around a little bit. They made a push in the second and they had opportunities against us. We came back in the third and the first shift we got the momentum and put some shifts together. I thought we did a lot of good things, but it all evens out in the end. We pulled the goalie with almost three minutes left and found a way to get it done and bring it home.”– North Dakota head coach Brad Berry on his team’s performance. 

“It’s going to be adrenaline tomorrow. Got to play a smart, sound game and play with an attack mentality, but play a structure. Hopefully we can make a couple more plays tomorrow than we did tonight.”– Berry on his team’s energy level going into the Final.

“The biggest thing that resonated in that locker room is the belief we can do it. We’ll take that experience into the tournament and into our next game. It’s not over until it’s over and we’re confident we’ve got a great team, top to bottom. Look at guys stepping up and it means a lot to play in a championship game.”– Weatherby on the mentality of the locker room.

“Could have fooled me, I thought North Dakota let everyone come. It felt like a full arena.”– Weatherby on the crowd energy in the arena.

NCHC Frozen Faceoff Day 2: Denver, Duluth Advance to Monday

GRAND FORKS, ND– Day two of the NCHC quarterfinals happened on Saturday with St. Cloud State and North Dakota awaiting their opponents for Monday night.

In the first match-up, the Omaha Mavericks came back to the Ralph for the third weekend out of the last four to take on the undermanned Denver Pioneers, who only had 10 forwards and six defensemen due to the team being under COVID quarantine. 

Despite the small roster, Denver got on the board first thanks to Hank Crone ripping a shot that ringed off both posts and behind Isaiah Saville to give the Pioneers an early lead. Denver took the play to Omaha, outshooting them 10-2 until the Mavericks struck with two quick goals. First, Jason Smallidge threw a floater on net through a screen and snuck past Magnus Chrona to tie the game. Just about a minute later, Matt Miller turned at the bottom of the face off circle on Chrona’s blocker side and went far glove side to make it 2-1 for Omaha. 

Things got chippy in the second period, with Denver losing Antti Tuomisto and Omaha losing Martin Sundberg to different head-contact game misconducts, as well as five minute majors to go along with it. One major penalty cut into the other, so neither team got the full five minutes to work with, which yielded no power play goals in that time frame. After Omaha’s major power play expired, they caught Denver in a bad line change, leading to Tyler Weiss burying home a Taylor Ward pass to make it 3-1 Mavericks. Denver cut the deficit to one on the power play, as Bobby Brink scored on a one-time attempt that he didn’t get all of, as the puck fluttered over the shoulder of Saville to make it a one-goal game. 

Denver wasted no time getting the equalizer in the third, as Mike Benning took a rebound at the face off dot and slapped it over the shoulder of Saville to tie the game only 42 seconds into the frame. The balance of the third has Omaha offensively on top of Denver, almost doubling their shot total in only ten minutes. That didn’t matter, as a Tyler Weiss tripping call  put Denver on the power play with Benning ripping a shot high over the glove of Saville– thanks to a screen by Kohen Olischefski– to give Denver the lead. The lead was short-lived, as Nate Knoepke potted his fourth of the year when a scramble in front left Knoepke open with a yawning cage in front of him to put the puck into. Denver broke the tie moments later when Bo Hanson tipped a Connor Caponi shot down in front, hit the puck with his backhand, which bounced over Saville’s legs and into the net. Despite pressure from the Mavs with Saville pulled, Denver held them off and will move onto Monday’s semifinal. 

THEY SAID IT

“We say it all the time, NCHC strength. Our only losses in the second half are North Dakota and Denver, and those are two pretty good hockey teams. With the strength of our conference, we hope to get an at-large bid.” Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet on the team’s NCAA tournament chances. 

“Just wasn’t good enough. Penalties were unacceptable. It’s up to us to play the right way and I don’t think we did that.“– Nolan Sullivan on Omaha’s penalty troubles through the game. 

“I don’t think it was too much of a factor. Our team depth is outstanding, it was something we had to rely on tonight. Just being in the moment– the excitement, the adrenaline– I don’t think it was much of a factor.”– Olischefski on the fatigue factor with only 16 skaters for Denver. 

“The biggest thing is we came here to advocate for the league that we should have four teams in the tournament. On the big picture, I think we’ve made our case to be the fourth team going 3-1-1 against Omaha. We’re going to have our hands full on Monday, but we checked a big box in beating Omaha.”– Denver head coach David Carle on his team’s chances for an at-large bid. 

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The second match-up had the defending NCAA champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs taking on the Western Michigan Broncos. It took less than three minutes for Dultuh to get on the board, as Koby Bender took the puck into the zone, cut across the slot, and beat Brandon Bussi far post to put the Bulldogs up 1-0. Just after the halfway mark, Western Michigan strikes back with a great redirect from Jason Polin off a wonderful feed from Ty Glover to beat Ryan Fanti and tie the game. 

The game stayed pretty neutral at the start of the third, not many shots either way. Midway through, however, the Broncos broke the tie on the power play. Drew Worrad set Ethen Frank up for a one-timer that Frank blew past Fanti to give Western the lead. With a power play of their own six minutes later, Bender tied the game for Duluth with his second of the night. Bender gathered a clearing attempt from in front of the net and put it past Bussi; who had lost the puck in the crowd in front. Late in the frame, the Broncos regained the lead, as Cole Gallant batted home an Ethen Frank rebound to make it 3-2 with under a minute remaining in the second. 

Duluth controlled the tempo to start the third, then on the power play, Kobe Roth and Noah Cates got in behind the Western Michigan defense for a 2-on-0, with Roth finishing it off and getting the game back at even. Duluth took the lead as Cole Koepke, coming out of the penalty box, picked up a pass and fired it glove side on Bussi to make it 4-3 Bulldogs. The Broncos fought back after that goal, controlling the puck in their offensive zone most of the final six minutes of regulation. That hard work paid off as with 21.8 seconds remaining and the goalie pulled, Polin got his second goal of the night after a feed in front by Josh Passolt sent the game to an extra frame, the first in the quarterfinals. 

Both Duluth went back and forth and had chances early in the frame. However, Connor Kelley ended the game 6:24 into the frame, with a wrister from the point, beating Bussi. Western Michigan took exception to the way the puck was dropped on the face off as it hit the hand of the Duluth centerman and didn’t hit the ice.

THEY SAID IT

“As a team we knew it was going to be like that. Western Michigan has been playing great hockey at the end of the year. We knew it was going to be a one, two goal game. We just have to stick with the game. If something happens, we have to leave it behind and move on.”– Koepke on the back-and-forth nature of the match-up.

“We got to keep an even keel. We talked about it in the second intermission, we can’t get down on those things. It’s over, you can’t change it, but you have the opportunity in front of you to win it in overtime and we did that.”– Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin on keeping his team controlled through the game. 

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Monday’s semifinals will have St. Cloud taking on Duluth in the afternoon game, while the evening game will have North Dakota taking on Denver. The winner of the semi battle it out on Tuesday for the NCHC championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

NCHC Frozen Faceoff Day 1: Fighting Hawks, Huskies Move Onto Semis

GRAND FORKS, ND– For the first time in the eight year history of the NCHC, the Frozen Faceoff playoffs weren’t held in one of Minnesota’s twin cities, but in Grand Forks at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. The decision came as ideas were thrown about with the playoffs and how they would be handled, especially after the success of the Pod in Omaha to start the season. You can see that story from Brad Schlossman here

Friday and Saturday have two quarterfinals with the semis on Monday and final on Tuesday. 

The first game had the very barebone team in Colorado College and St. Cloud State. The Tigers had only 16 skaters and a single goalie for this game due to COVID protocols being in place for the team. That didn’t deter Colorado College, who kept the St. Cloud offense at bay for most of the game, but the Huskies came out on top thanks to a late goal by Nick Perbix to move onto the semifinals with a 2-1 win. 

After a scoreless first, Colorado College got on the board two minutes into the second after McKay Flanagan threw a harmless dump pass onto net, but the puck handcuffed Huskies goalie David Hrenak to put the Tigers up 1-0. Late in the second, Colorado College’s captain Zach Berzolla went knee-on-knee with Veeti Miettinen, which resulted in a five-minute major and game misconduct. St. Cloud tied the game up thanks to a Zach Okabe shot with 1:01 left in the second. 

It was all St. Cloud in the third, as it seemed Colorado College was just trying to hang on. The Huskies outshot the Tigers 17-0 in the final frame and only scored the one goal late thanks to the smart and sometimes desperate play of Matt Vernon in between the pipes for the Tigers. However, the Tigers couldn’t find the extra gear for the equalizer and the Huskies moved onto Monday’s semifinal. 

THEY SAID IT

“I’m really proud of our guys. They competed right to the end and we gave ourselves a chance. We had to shutdown a pretty high potent offense. Really proud about how we competed and battled.” — Colorado College head coach Mike Haviland

“It was more or less staying above them and not giving them a chance off the rush. I thought we did a great job. Four defensemen down the stretch hurt us, but we played above them. That was the game plan going ahead.” — Haviland on the game plan with a small roster. 

“These kinds of opportunities don’t come very often. I’ve always considered myself a playoff player. I knew that every single one of the guys would give it there all and I had to make sure I did the same.” — Vernon on his mindset coming into the game.

“You’re not used to having teams not forecheck you. The flow of the game was off. It took us a while to get adjusted to their game plan. About the 10 minute mark, we saw what they were doing, readjusted our game plan to go against them.” St. Cloud head coach Brett Larson on how his team adapted to the unique CC game. 

“We tried to stay with it and try to wear them down. Just work it low and get our chances in front of the net.” –Purbix about the St. Cloud mindset. 

“Obviously we were getting all our chances. We were fighting all day, but we knew one of them would go in.” –Okabe on the offensive chances St. Cloud had.

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In the second match-up, the top-seeded and host North Dakota Fighting Hawks took on the Miami RedHawks. The only match-ups between these teams came at the NCHC Pod in December, North Dakota winning both of those games. 

North Dakota got off to a quick start, with Collin Adams putting UND up 1-0 only 14 seconds into the first after a two-on-one with Jordan Kawaguchi. Miami had plenty of pressure after that goal, creating turnovers in the UND end. However, the Fighting Hawks counterpunched that saw Louis Jamernik tally his first college goal and make it 2-0. Seconds later, Adams got his second of the game off the face off and banking a passing attempt over a Miami defender to put the Fighting Hawks up 3-0. Miami got one back after the half-way point of the period, as Phil Knies put one over the right shoulder of Adam Scheel to make it 3-1. Riese Gaber got the three-goal lead back after picking up his own blocked shot to put it past Ludvig Persson and make it 4-1. 

UND made it a four-goal lead with Jacob Bernard-Docker getting a tally from a one-timer at the point through traffic in front to make it 5-1. While UND carried the pace for most of the period, Rourke Russell was able to sneak a shot past Adam Scheel, as a rising shot caught Scheel off-guard, bouncing off his blocker and kicked off his skate to make 5-2. 

Brendan Budy made it 6-2 when he gathered up a shot off the post from Adams and put it into the open net. For Adams, it was his fifth point of the night. A scary moment in the third when Bernard-Docker was retrieving a puck, he tripped himself up on a pivot and the side of his head hit the back boards. He laid in a heap as Miami continued to possess the puck before getting back into the play and helping out the penalty kill. After that sequence, he went to the dressing room and did not return. No immediate update on his status for Monday. 

THEY SAID IT

“This is a serious time for Miami hockey. We’re looking for people that can help us win. And I say that meaning this game tonight. If you can’t help us try and win this game tonight, you’re wasting your time and you’re wasting our time. Because that’s the bar.” Miami head coach Chris Bergeron on the future of the RedHawks program.

“What I liked from our group was the fight back. A tough thing about playing North Dakota is going nose-to-nose and letting them know you’re here to play. We pushed back and we had opportunities. It’s not moral victory time, it’s baby-steps. It’s changing the culture and going from there. The vibe on our bench was not a team that was down. We kept pushing back and I like that in a group.”– Bergeron on the feeling on the bench against a top-ranked team.

“Just how resilient this group is. We went through a lot of adversity and there were a lot of sacrifices made to make sure this season went ahead. The guys in this room know something great is going on and there’s definitely a bright future for those guys in the room there.”– Knies on the team this season and the direction of the Miami program. 

“We referenced that game (St. Cloud/Colorado College) in our locker room about how this league is so tough that you have to get out to a quick start. Got to commend CC for the line-up they had and they played a tough game against a tough St. Cloud team. Where you are in the standings in the regular season doesn’t matter. You got to prove it every day now.” — North Dakota head coach Brad Berry on his team’s focus at the fast start. 

“You have to have an answer. If you get scored on, you want to have an answer right away to show the other team you don’t want to back down. When team’s score a goal, you have to get right back at it again.” — Berry on the counter-attack his team had against Miami.

“Those guys are pro hockey players. It’s not surprising, they know what to do and how to do it. Collin should have had a hat-trick, he’s had a couple chances. A five-point game is nice, but to us, it’s no surprise.”– Jamernik on the Adams/Kawaguchi duo.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Capture Back-to-Back Penrose Cups

Photo via University of North Dakota Twitter

GRAND FORKS, ND– With the Penrose Cup for best regular season record in the NCHC in the building, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks came into the day looking to take care of some business on home ice. They did just that with a big 7-1 win against the Omaha Mavericks, capturing their second straight Penrose Cup and fourth in the program’s history. 

“I’m extremely proud of this team,” head coach Brad Berry stated, “I’ve been here a lot of years. This ranks up there as one of the highest in trying to capture it. Players who come here, they have to be team first, but at the same time there’s chances to go to the next level. There are guys who could have went elsewhere after last season, but chose to come back. This has to rank as one of the toughest to win because of pod at the beginning of the season, because you grind away and  then have to come back and wait for the weekend game and try to stay focused. This one is at the top with all that adversity they went through.” 

It took less than 90 seconds for UND to get on the board, as Shane Pinto made a backhanded pass from behind the net out in front to Brenden Budy, who put it past Isaiah Saville to make it 1-0 Fighting Hawks. While UND tried to control the pace, Omaha wouldn’t go away. Their consistency paid off as Kevin Conley redirected a Kirby Proctor shot and made it 1-1. The Fighting Hawks answered with under 90 seconds left in the period, as Tyler Kleven picked up a Jasper Weatherby pass and wired it past Isaiah Saville to make it 2-1. 

The second had Omaha get plenty of control in the offensive zone, but couldn’t cash in thanks to Adam Scheel. Just after a flurry by the Mavericks, a turnover in the neutral zone after a Mavericks’ defenseman lost an edge allowed Jordan Kawaguchi to break in alone and beat Saville blocker side to make it 3-1. Penalty trouble plagued the Mavericks, as back-to-back calls against Omaha allowed for North Dakota’s power play to be out there and after one unsuccessful round, Jasper Weatherby wired home his 10th of the season after great work from Jake Sanderson and Jacob Bernard-Docker to move the puck around the perimeter to start the power play. After trading penalties, Collin Adams notched another power play goal off a rebound from a Riese Gaber shot, which ended the night of Saville. 

Penalties were on the mind of Omaha in the third, after a quick start for the Mavericks to get some shots on Scheel. However, after Shane Pinto got denied by Austin Roden, Pinto made good for it with a rocket on the power play to extend UND’s lead to 6-1. As North Dakota was playing somewhat conservative, another Collin Adams goal happened off the face-off thanks to a solid pass by Judd Caulfield, who had an Omaha defender draped all over him. 

With under a minute left, many emotions boiled over as Louis Jamernik cross checked an Omaha player off the face-off and all hell broke loose. The result was Gabe Bast, Louis Jamernik, Jackson Keane, Griffin Ness, and Tyler Kleven from UND and Jonny Tychonick, Brandon Scanlin, Noah Prokop, Joey Abate getting ejected from the last minute. 

When all was said and done, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks came out a 7-1 winner and lifted their second straight Penrose Cup for best team in the NCHC’s regular season. However, there’s still two games left for UND over the next two weekends– both against Omaha. Berry, who started to rest some of the top players at the end of this game, said they’ll start to focus on how to go about the rosters on Monday.

“It’s a good thing we clinched,” said Berry. “It’ll allow us as a coaching staff on Monday to look at what we’ve got and make sure we’ve got everyone at the top of their game going into the playoffs.” 

THEY SAID IT

“You could feel it in the morning skate and  going into the meetings. There wasn’t a lot of laughing and guys being loose, it was a business attitude. You kind of knew we were going to get our best tonight. Everyone was focused and I  gotta hand it to them– they dug in and focused and tried to hang another banner.” — Berry on the mentality of the team going into Saturday’s game.

“They’re a team on the rise and we both play hard. We’re all trying to get top four, when you get two top teams in the conference, that’s what happens. The NCHC gets you ready for the postseason by grinding it out during the season. The NCHC has success because of the gauntlet going on in the regular season.” Berry on the budding UND/Omaha rivalry

“It was a lot of unexpected turns of events. The first half in the pod, nothing like that has happened. Then you have to go back and deal with the rescheduling and all that. You have to roll with the punches and overcome the adversity.” — Scheel on the craziness of the season

“It’s the friendship in the room. We’re best friends off the ice and that’s why we play so well on the ice because we all play for each other.” — Scheel on the comradery of this year’s Fighting Hawks team.

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: Hawks Keep Home Cooking Fresh, Beat St. Cloud 4-2

GRAND FORKS, ND– After getting into the top-five nationally this week, the University of North Dakota had to take on the St. Cloud State Huskies in an NCHC match-up. While the Huskies have struggled this year, the team still has a lot of solid players and made it a difficult sixty minutes for the Fighting Hawks. In the end, however, the Hawks came out with a 4-2 victory for their eighth straight home win of the season and 10th straight over the last two seasons.

Up to the first media timeout, St. Cloud looked like the team who was ranked in the top-five in the nation, controlling the play and forcing North Dakota to make ill-advised turnovers. However, after the first media timeout, UND got back on it as Shane Pinto put it behind David Hrenak after a great pick-pocket and pass by Westin Michaud. St. Cloud tried to charge back, but Adam Scheel was stellar in net to stave off the pressure. 

“We found a way to win, but we’ve got to be a lot sharper with our execution,” said head coach Brad Berry. “We came out in our first shift very good, but I thought half of our team tonight wasn’t that sharp and the other half was. When you’re playing a team like St. Cloud, everyone’s got to be sharp. The NCHC is a tight lead and you have to be ready to go every night.

An early power play in the second period yielded another Pinto goal, this time off a great pass from Jordan Kawaguchi cross-ice in Pinto’s wheelhouse and it was no doubt off his stick to the back of the net. Minutes later, however, St. Cloud got one back as Luke Jaycox found the puck after a mess in front to make it 2-1 for UND. Collin Adams restored the two-goal lead, putting it through Hrenak’s five-hole after a soft little pass from Kawaguchi at the side of the net. After a second too many men call, Nick Poehling banked a shot off the pads of Scheel and the power play goal cut it to a one-goal game again.

A back and forth third period yielded a few chances on either side, but both Hrenak and Scheel were stellar. Just before a minute to go, Cole Smith sealed another home win for the Fighting Hawks, as he put his fifth into the open net to make it a 4-2 lead and victory. 

THEY SAID IT

“He’s a strong, heavy-bodied centerman. The one thing on that power play goal is he drew that penalty and ironically scored that goal. He did a lot of good things to create the offensive game.” — Berry on Shane Pinto’s play tonight

“Wes is the Energizer Bunny. He’s always playing well and he’s always playing hard. He just always brings the energy. It’s good to be around and it’s good to uplift everyone.” — Pinto on having Westin Michaud as a teammate

“It’s nice having him out there. He’s seen it all. Playing for four years, it’s good to have that experience in our line-up. After practice, he’s always out there working on his shot. He pulls guys aside and ask them what they want to work on. He just wants to make people better around him.” Judd Caulfield on Westin Michaud.

When There’s No Fan Advantage on Home Ice

Student sections in college hockey are a treat. Plenty of passion from the student-body, representing their school and doing all they can to hype them up for the game going on below them. On Saturday at The Ralph, that was very much on display…by the visiting fan base’s student section. And the picture from the Michigan Tech Twitter tells it all. Tech fans up and yelling, while University of North Dakota fans were sitting there taking it.

Even when the North Dakota student body and other fans in the building tried to drown them out, it was only for a fleeting moment before they got worn out and the Michigan Tech’s Mitch’s Misfits took over the building with their chanting and support. Big props to them for not only travelling all that way to come into North Dakota, but for also supporting as loudly as they did and for as long as they did. That’s dedication.

But it also shows a big problem I’ve seen with The Ralph when it comes to crowd noise– which is that there’s very little of it for very long periods of time. Aside from the Minnesota game a few years ago, the atmosphere hasn’t been anything too special for home game at The Ralph, there’s nothing that makes it special for North Dakota. Sure, the arena is one of the biggest, sure it sells a lot of tickets and gets the attendance numbers, but there’s times that a library would be considered louder than during game play at a Fighting Hawks game. It’s even more noticeable when the students are on a semester or holiday break and they aren’t at the games– things are even more sterile in terms of cheering outside of momentary occurrences of goals, hits, or saves.

It didn’t used to be that way, as the old Winter Sports Center was a rucousy place for UND fans. Like many old college arenas, it had it’s own special feel to it with the fans right on top of the action…hanging over the boards, even. That seemed to change with the more corporate feel that The Ralph has. Not to say it isn’t a lovely building and all that, but it seems like it’s too clean for college sports. The student-athletes get plenty out of it with the facilities being akin (or in some cases better) to professional venues, but the other atmosphere seems to be lacking with this arena despite the North Dakota paraphernalia around the concourse and up in the rafters.

Now, this isn’t a knock on the student section per se– they can only do so much with what they’re allowed to do in the environment and according to NCAA bylaws and such; but it seems they don’t carry on as much as they could or should be able to. There are some outside of the student section that tries to get some people going, but it’s few and far between. People are content on just watching the game rather than trying to feel like they’re a part of it. The games seem more like a place to be seen than a place to be hear among the masses. It’s a shame, especially in a building as big as The Ralph, you’d think that the sound would be even bigger; really making it hard for opposing schools who may already be caught off-guard by the size of the arena to begin with. Without a distinct noise-level or other distractions– once they get over the size of the arena, they settle in and don’t get as rattled as they could get.

One of the biggest thing is the fact that while The Ralph has a big attendance number for tickets sold, there’s noticeable empty seats through the arena as of late. While the team has had a few off years and many in the area can’t deal with not being one of the top-dogs every year (which is noble, but also a bit headstrong), that’s no reason to not show up after you’ve bought the tickets for the game. It’s bad optics for an event and bad for an atmosphere that’s already lacking in vocal support for the team.

Maybe these heel tactics– while true in some cases– will actually get people’s attention to the lack of home-ice advantage in the stands in Grand Forks. It really showed this weekend when Mitch’s Misfits were far-and-away the loudest bunch in the rink and the North Dakota faithful couldn’t drown them out or even keep up with them.

Prove me wrong, UND faithful– prove me wrong.

UND HOCKEY: Scheel Solid in UND Victory

Photo: Kelsey Lee/ Violet Turtle Photography

GRAND FORKS, ND– On a night that honored the Teddy Roosevelt Medora Foundation– with a Teddy Roosevelt cosplayer to boot– the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks gave Bemidji State a rough-ride as they went on to sweep the weekend with a 4-1 victory. It marked the four-straight regular season win for the Hawks, marking the first time since the 2016-17 that the team started out undefeated at home to start the season. 

“This is our home, this is our house,” said head coach Brad Berry. “We have pride in that. I know a lot of teams come in here and see the amenities we have at The Ralph. We’re very lucky to have the Ralph Engelstad Arena and they like to have motivation to bring it down a little bit. But this is a place where we wanted to establish consistency and play a heavy game with a lot of patient pressure and establish our identity at home.” 

“We have a very resilient group,” mentioned goalie Adam Scheel. “No matter what the score is, we believe in each other in the room and know we’re just gonna get it done.There’s nothing like it in the world, a home game at The Ralph.”

It only took 36 seconds for the Fighting Hawks to strike, as Jordan Kawaguchi causes a turnover behind the net and passed it out to Grant Mismash, who had a wide open net to tap it in to opening the scoring. UND kept Bemidji to the perimeter, but one big chance happened when Ethan Somoza put a shot on a seemingly open cage, but Adam Scheel slide across to get his right pad on it to keep it out. With just over three minutes remaining in the first, Cole Smith drove through the zone hard, tried a wraparound, but Mark Senden was there to bang home the rebound for his second of the season. 

The Hawks did have some chances in the second, but it wasn’t until 13 minutes in when they struck again, with Jonny Tychonick having his first career goal come off a tasty pass from Mismash to make it 3-0. UND controlled the pace of play throughout the period and seemed to hold all the cards against the very defensive Beavers’ team. 

The action was pretty stagnant in the third, not many chances on either side until 1:17 remaining when Aaron Miller batted home a Tyler Kirkup rebound to break the shutout for Scheel on the Beavers’ 18th shot of the game. Nineteen seconds later, however, Colton Poolman put it in the empty net to make it 4-1. 

THEY SAID IT

“On the first shift, you always want to do something impactful to get yourself and your team into the game. It was kind of a broken play and Gooch (Kawaguchi) was on the forecheck there and he made a good pass and I just had to tap it in. It was a good first shift to get our line going, as well as the rest of the team.” — Grant Mismash on his goal in the opening minute. 

Adam Scheel/ Photo: Jen Conway @NHLHistoryGirl

“No matter who you’re playing, Saturday night– especially after a win– is a tough one. They came out hard. Sometimes the shots on the scoreboard don’t really reflect it.” — Adam Scheel

“A couple of guys last night struggled a little bit and that was an opportunity for other guys to come in. They do all the right things on and off the ice– they work hard in practice, in workouts, in the classroom– and they’re older and experience guys. The second game is the toughest to win. You want to have guys who have been in those battles before.” — Brad Berry on line-up changes made for Saturday night. 

UND is back home for a one-off against Michigan Tech in the US Hockey Hall of Fame Game at The Ralph next Saturday.

UND HOCKEY: Quick Strike in OT Gives Hawks the Weekend Sweep

Graphic from University of North Dakota Twitter (@UNDMHockey)

GRAND FORKS, ND– It was the ending of an era. Not just because the North Dakota Fighting Hawks won’t be hosting a playoff game for the first time in 17 years, but because they say goodbye to five seniors from the team on this night. Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, Hayden Shaw, Ryan Anderson, and Nick Jones all skated their last time on the ice at Ralph Engelstad Arena, but make sure to not let that emotion get in the way of the task at hand against Omaha. It took extra time, but Jordan Kawaguchi scored in OT to get the sweep of Omaha and give UND a 5-4 win and a three-game win streak heading into the NCHC playoffs.

The seniors were ready to play, as only 23 seconds into the game, Nick Jones got a lovely pass from Rhett Gardner and put in a backhand past Evan Weninger to make it 1-0 UND within the first minute of the game. UND was firing on all cylinders, putting plenty of good chances on Weninger, but getting nothing out of it. However, a wild sequence of events which saw Peter Thome stop a Nate Knoepke shot, but Dixon Bowen lost the handle of the rebound into Peter Thome, which saw Tyler Weiss crash the net, into Thome, and in the net. After a long official review, the goal stood.

After a penalty to Jordan Kawaguchi for cross-checking, Omaha’s power play struck as Fredrik Olofsson found a wide-open Zach Jordan on the far wing and put it past Thome to make it a 2-1 game. UND got a power play of its own in the middle of the frame and made short work of it, as Jones found Kawaguchi in the slot, putting it past Weninger to tie the game at twos.

While there was some offensive pressure by Omaha, a bad clearing pass found the stick of Cole Smith, who snapped it to the glove of Weninger, where it bounced off the cuff and into the net to make it 3-2. It took to the middle of the frame for Gavin Hain to make it 4-2 on a rebound off a Smith shot to make it 4-2. After a fracas in front of the Omaha net, it went to four-on-four.

While Gardner was dragged down on the play, it resumed and resulted in Knoepke streaking down the slot and putting Omaha within one-goal, with Gardner down in the Omaha zone. UND did get into some penalty trouble, going down two men following a fracas in front and a tripping call seconds after the initial penalties. However, the team sold out on the power play in order to keep the puck out of Thome’s net and preserve the one-goal lead. With only 1:07 remaining in regulation, Tristan Keck tied the game with Weninger pulled after Kawaguchi couldn’t get a handle on a cross-ice pass and it landed on Keck’s stick, who went off the cross-bar and past Thome.

It only took 16 seconds for UND to end the game with Kawaguchi picking up an interception off the stick of an Omaha defenseman with Weninger out of position to end it quick and sweep the weekend for the Hawks. It was a goal that Kawaguchi said was his after giving up the Omaha tying strike.

“You know that turnover was on me,” Kawaguchi said post-game. “I take responsibility for that. I should have gotten the puck out of that area and I didn’t and they score. Obvious feel pretty bad about myself. I got back to the bench and I told the boys, ‘It’s on me, but I can get you back, I got this one’ and just so happened first chance I got was right in the first shift.”

“I think he felt pretty bad,” mentioned coach Brad Berry after the game. “He had the puck on his tape on the tying goal and he came back to the bench and you know, I really commend him because he said, ‘You know, it was my fault guys, I got the next one, I got the one in overtime.’” And you know what, 16 seconds later he got it so it says a lot about him.”

It was also a big deal with the seniors being sent off with a win and a sweep. It was also the last class to be a part of the 2016 National Championship team.

“It was fitting with a win,” mentioned Berry. “They came in their freshman year, they only had six losses in it and they won a lot this year. This team has a lot of pride and the seniors have a lot of pride and they wanted to end their career here at the Ralph with a win. The challenge going forward from here, and our guys are embracing it, is that we’re going on the road and keep continuing this thing.”

“They put so much into this program and we wanted to show them how much they meant to us,” said Smith. “They’ve given everything they’ve had. They got us the start we needed and the finish we needed.”

Now, UND will travel to Denver next weekend to take on the Pioneers in a best-of-three series for the right to play in the Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul in two weeks.