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.

UND HOCKEY: Early Period Goals Help Hawks Take Down Mavericks

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– The Fighting Hawks of the University of North Dakota close out their regular season and home schedule this weekend against Omaha. While there was the slimmest of margins to get home-ice for next week’s playoff round, the Hawks went about their business and found a way to win over Omaha 2-1 on Friday night.

After an early power play failed, Gabe Bast got UND on the board first with a lovely wrap-around goal. Coming down the wing, Bast sold a pass to the slot to make Evan Weninger commit to the pass, fumble on his feet, while Bast went around and tucked inside the post for the early 1-0 lead. North Dakota controlled play for the first period, outshooting Omaha 21-6 by period’s end, but did get into penalty trouble with two penalties by Zach Yon and Rhett Gardner to put the Hawks a two-man disadvantage at the end of the first and heading into the second.

The penalties paid off for Omaha, as Zach Jordan scored with the two-man advantage by banking a one-timer off the side of Peter Thome to tie the game a minute into the second period. Throughout the rest of the period, the play was fairly even, with Omaha getting more shots towards Thome, while their defense kept the shooting gallery away from Weninger. Omaha did outshoot UND in the frame by a count of 11-10.

North Dakota broke the stalemate in just under three minutes into the third period with Nick Jones tipping in Colton Poolman shot from the point, after Jones won the face-off back.

“I won the draw a little too clean,” mentioned Jones, “I was trying to win it to Yon there and it got back to Colton. He made a hell of a play with me off the to the side there and I was able to get a stick on it. I felt like the tips all year haven’t gone my way and I was fortunate enough to get it.”

After that, it seemed like a methodical game with not a lot of chances getting through to Thome or Weninger. Despite the last two minutes playing with an extra attacker, North Dakota held on for the 2-1 win.

The game marked the return of two key elements to the UND line-up in Jones and Grant Mismash. Mismash has been out since January 25th after take a knee-on-knee hit from Jimmy Schuldt of St. Cloud and was used as the extra skater tonight.

“We wanted to use him early,” said coach Brad Berry after the game. “In a one goal game with a guy who’s been out for six weeks, it’s tough to give him a regular shift. With conditioning, he’s not quite there yet, but he’ll get there. We thought by putting him in there a bit five-on-five that we might get a spark offensively.”

Western Michigan won against Miami, which meant that regardless of UND’s result– they will be on the road for their playoff match-up next weekend for the first time since 2002. The team found out about the game before the third period, but it did not shake them at all.

“We knew it wasn’t in our hands this weekend,” Jones mentioned. “We know we’re going to have to win two on the road next weekend. You’d obviously love to play at home– especially me with my last game at home tomorrow– at the end of the day, we have to win two games no matter where it is.”

“It doesn’t change anything that we have to do,” Bast said. “If we got to win a series on the road we’re going to do that. We’ve got to string a few games together and get into the national tournament that way. We have the group to do that right now. Home ice is home ice, but we’re confident going on the road and getting two wins.”

The last home game of the season and Senior Night is Saturday at the Ralph.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Dropped Spirited Affair Against #1 Ranked Huskies

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a split of a weekend in Omaha, the University of North Dakota came home on Friday for their last season in a month at The Ralph and it would be no easy task for the Fighting Hawks, as they took on the top-ranked St. Cloud St. Huskies for the weekend. There was a buzz in the arena that I personally haven’t felt since Minnesota came to town last year, which was a welcome change for a game of this profile. However, most of the 11,608 were sent home disappointed, as St. Cloud beat UND 3-1 on Friday night.

While the first part of the opening frame was a feeling out process, North Dakota had a slight advantage in their offensive zone in the first half of the period. Nick Jones opened up the scoring for UND with a rebound from a Jordan Kawaguchi shot that hit off the backboards, flicking a backhand off SCSU’s David Hranek and into the net for the 1-0 lead. The best chance for SCSU came when UND’s Hayden Shaw turned the puck over in his own zone to give Patrick Newell a mini-break on Adam Scheel. Scheel– however, was equal to the task, flashing the glove to preserve the 1-0 lead at the end of the period.

Another back and forth period, but business picked up when St. Cloud appeared to tie up the game, as the puck bounced and appeared to bounce over the goal line, but after review– the evidence was inconclusive, which kept the game tied up at one. However, St. Cloud atoned for that when after a power play, Micah Miller got a cross-ice pass from Nolan Walker  and put it five-hole on Scheel to tie the game with 13.7 left in the frame.

St. Cloud showed off why they were the top-ranked team in the nation in the third, controlling the play in the neutral and offensive zone, moving the puck around to create several chances for themselves to break the tie. Luckily for UND, Scheel and the shot-blockers got in the way of many pucks to hold the tie. After UND killed another crucial penalty, Nolan Walker picked Colton Poolman’s pocket behind the net, slid a pass across to Patrick Newell, who beat a sprawling Scheel to make it a 2-1 Huskies lead.

Colton Poolman/Photo by Jen Conway

“I accept responsibility for that second goal,” an emotional Poolman said after the game. “I owe my teammates better to be more focused at a critical juncture in the game like that. That’s where it went sideways, so I accept responsibility for that.”

Later in the period, Grant Mismash took a hit by Jimmy Schuldt and was down on the ice in pain, but got a penalty for slashing the stick out of Schuldt’s hand. No penalty was given to Schuldt, as the refs told UND coach Brad Berry that they deemed the hit to be clean. A hit like that is reviewable by the referees, but neither decided to go to the scorer’s table to review it.

“I am very, very disappointed,” said Berry. “I’m not going to get in any trouble by making a comment, but that was a knee-on-knee play that should have been reviewed. We have a protocol in place and it was reviewed and I’m very disappointed. It’s not the result of the game I’m alluding to, it’s one of those things where you know when anything is 50/50 in a game like that, it’s got to get reviewed. We have that in our protocol.”

When asked about Mismash’s status for tomorrow, Berry simply said, “He’ll be out.”

As UND pulled the goalie, Blake Lizotte fired it into the open net to give SCSU the 3-1 win. Though, after the hit– you could see the emotion rising, plenty of activity after the whistle and in the penalty boxes, as well with both SCSU and UND players yelling at each other between the boxes. This should be a great precursor for the game on Saturday night.

UND HOCKEY: Another Night of Free Hockey, Another Two Points for North Dakota

GRAND FORKS, ND– Following an overtime victory last night, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks looked to add another notch in the win column and complete the weekend sweep of Colorado College. It would be a bit of a different look for UND, as Gabe Bast was out of the line-up due to a suspension from his hit on Alex Berardinelli. The team was also hampered with a sick goalie, as Adam Scheel came to the rink in the morning under the weather and not at 100%. However, he made a quick recovery to help the Fighting Hawks sweep the Tigers with a Saturday night victory in overtime.

Hayden Shaw got the Hawks out to a quick start with Jordan Kawaguchi finding Shaw streaking down the slot and put it bottom right corner on Alex Leclerc just 1:18 into the game. While UND did get some chances on the power play, it wasn’t until they were down a man that they would get their second goal, as Andrew Peski’s clearing attempt was picked up by Dixon Bowen, who streaked in to beat Leclerc under the blocker side to make it 2-0.

Dixon Bowen/Photo by Jen Conway

“Finally nice to get that monkey off my back,” Bowen said. “It’s funny because in practice when I try to deke, I never score and the boys make fun of me in practice and say I’m a shooter. So I was like okay, I’m gonna just shoot this one and it went in.”

Colorado College would open up the scoring the second with a shorthanded goal of their own as Adam Scheel kicked out a rebound off a Grand Cruikshank shot to the stick of Westin Michaud and cutting the lead to one. Colorado College could have had two more goals, but both were called off– first for goalie interference and then as the puck when in just hundredths of a second after time had expired.

The Tigers did even it up, as Cole McCaskill made a fantastic stretch pass to Trey Bradley, who broke in behind the defense and beat Scheel far-glove side to even it up at two. North Dakota kept the pressure on, sustaining pressure on Leclerc and playing with patience– though you could argue too much patience. With no goals to be scored after Bradley’s equalizer, we got another night of free hockey.

The free hockey didn’t last long, as just 50 seconds into the free frame, Nick Jones’s forecheck proved to be as deadly as usual, gaining possession behind the goal-line, trying to wrap it around, but getting blocked. Luckily, Jordan Kawaguchi was streaking in to put home the game-winner for UND in order to sweep the weekend.

“Honestly, I just blacked out the whole play,” said Kawaguchi post-game. “I remember seeing the puck and trying to get it towards the open net. Jonesy made a helluva play.”

A few years back, it was a different scene as the BCHL alums were jawing at each other on different sides of the puck in the playoffs. However, the combination of them both at UND has proved to be a solid match for the Fighting Hawks.

“It’s kind of ironic they’re playing together right now,” mentioned head coach Brad Berry. “They both came from very good, storied programs and they were very dominant players for each of them. There’s not a lot of love loss between them. But that’s the beauty of North Dakota. I remember years back, players coming in from different leagues and there was real animosity. But when you get together, you’re a teammate and your goal is to win a National Championship.”

The Fighting Hawks will take this sweep in stride as they prepare to travel to Omaha to face the Mavericks next week in yet another NCHC battle.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Need Extra Time to Topple Tigers

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a weekend that saw them throw everything and the kitchen sink against their opponent, but still only able to muster two goals in the weekend; the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks needed to rebound quick, as NCHC play started back up in full force. This weekend, they welcomed the Colorado College Tigers into The Ralph and used almost every minute of regulation and overtime to get a 4-3 win on the first game of the weekend.

It took until halfway through the first for UND to solve Alex Leclerc and it took a power play to do so. After the two-man advantage was killed, Nick Jones got the puck down low from Jacob Bernard-Docker and somehow was able to find space where there didn’t seem to be any over the shoulder of Leclerc to make it 1-0 for the Hawks. While UND did have a shot advantage in the first of 11-7, they seemed to have better quality chances against Leclerc than Colorado College had against Adam Scheel.

After plenty of sustained pressure in the zone, Andrew Peski’s shot from the point went off of Colorado’s Zach Berzolla and past Leclerc to make it 2-0 for the Hawks. Colorado College cut the lead in half after a power play goal by Westin Michaud– who drew the penalty– as his shot trickled past Scheel despite the UND goalie getting a glove on it– but couldn’t stop the momentum afterwards.

Under three minutes into the third, Colorado College tied it up after Erik Middendorf picked up the puck off a blocked shot and put it past a scrambling Scheel. Off the goal, Gabe Bast leveled Colorado’s Alex Berardinelli, which resulted in Berardinelli needing help off the ice, as Bast got a five-minute major and ten-minute misconduct for targeting the head. Less than thirty seconds into the power play, former North Dakota forward Chris Wilkie put home his fourth of the season with a wicked shot from the top of the circle and put the Tigers up for the first time in the game, though it was the only goal on the extended power play. With almost five minutes to play, UND got back on the board, as Jordan Kawaguchi tipped home a Nick Jones slap-pass/skate tip shot to knot the game at three, which led to overtime.

Jordan Kawaguchi/Photo by Jen Conway

“I didn’t see anyhing,” said Kawaguchi post-game. “I just went to the net with my stick on the ice. I don’t know if Nick’s shot would have gotten in or not, but just going to the net with my stick on the ice. It’s something coach has been talking about, getting into the dirty areas and goals will come.”

Just when it looked like it would go to a shootout to see who got the extra NCHC point, Ludvig Hoff tipped a Jacob Bernard-Docker point shot over Leclerc’s shoulder to give UND the overtime win by a score of 4-3.

“It was huge for a lot of reasons,” remarked head coach Brad Berry. “First of all, get back in the win column. Second climbing the standings in the NCHC, Pairwise is a big thing. But the morale of the group here. You’re working hard all year and in the end, sometimes you don’t get rewarded. We got rewarded tonight.”

UND is hoping that the rewards continue and try to finish the weekend with four points on Saturday night.

Arizona State Finally Finding Their Own Footing

Photo by Heather Weikel/TheSunDevils.com

This is a team that is more than just the EXCLUSIVE GREY that they tout in their jerseys. While some will say that they haven’t faced the competition that other programs have, some of that is really not their fault. The Arizona State University Sun Devils have climbed up through the dregs of club hockey, the struggles of their first couple of years in Division I, and now are 13-6-0 at the end of the semester, have the leading goal-scorer in the NCAA (Sophomore Johnny Walker with 17), and have beaten some names in college hockey. 

It’s a welcome change from the first three years of the program, who had a total of 21 wins in their first three seasons. They already have a franchise-high 13 wins, though after the semester break, they have quite the schedule with Clarkson, either Duluth or Mankato, Boston University, Boston College, and Cornell. While they’re ranked in the top-20, ASU seems like they can hold their own– but can they do it for the long haul?? The win against Penn State kind of brought them into the limelight, but losses to THE Ohio State and then losses to Omaha take the shine away. 

That’s not to say they aren’t building. To have someone like Walker on the team gives them a cornerstone to build on. Greg Powers has stayed on track and it’s paid off for him. They have a good mix of upper (11) and underclassmen (16) to help mentor and build for the future and lead them maybe into something bigger. While it took Penn State quicker to be successful– they had the help of powerful alumni to give money in building a new rink, they were in a power conference, and they were in an under-served area of the US for recruits to go. 

The Sun Devils only check one of those boxes with the under-served market. They’re still without a big money donor to improve on their arena situation, while also being without a conference. The WCHA was an option for ASU, but the money they’d have to pay to other teams for travel costs is something the Sun Devils didn’t think was wise on their side of things. The NCHC has said that they don’t have plans to expand from the eight teams they have. My UND press-box colleague Eric Burton had an interesting take on the NCHC situation

The NCHC has a good thing going. Adding a couple of team changes that dynamic. More teams means less non-conference games. Bottom line, playing 10 non-conference games helps a team’s Pairwise Rankings. If your favorite team has a good non-conference record. Lastly, here’s another angle, think back to the old WCHA before re-alignment, big schools like Minnesota and Wisconsin wanted to control the terms.  During the formation period, the NCHC walked away from Notre Dame because of this. ASU is a big school and is going to want to have the same influence.

While I understand the idea with bigger schools wanting influences, I don’t think that ASU is as into themselves as Notre Dame is and wants influence when it comes to hockey. They just may want a fairer shake with a conference that would be a little less travel overall and they won’t get screwed out of money. However, you’d also have to find another team if they wanted that even-numbered conference.

This puts them in a weird spot because they’re freelancers who may have a good record, but if they can’t get bigger schools to play against them– then they might be hooped when it comes to wanting to be in the national tournament. However, if they keep winning and climb up the standings as they are, it’d be hard for them not to have people pulling for them to get an at-large bid. 

The upside of the Sun Devils’ play, as well as Penn State’s meteoric rise in college hockey is that it gives the NCAA options to look at other club teams to join the D1 ranks. They’ve already have those NHL studies looking at how feasible it is at the University of Illinois (which they’ve found the team would flourish) and Oakland University in Michigan (again, good results). It gives club hockey teams hopes of an upgrade, especially in the mid-Atlantic and South– something I’ve stumped for for a while. It gives players more opportunities at a D1 college career, which would help them get exposure they may not have gotten playing in lower levels. 

UND HOCKEY: Defensive Lapses Doom Hawks, Lose 6-2 to Broncos

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– It was a weekend to forget for the University of North Dakota, as they were swept at home for the first time since January 2017, as Western Michigan closed out the two-game series with a 6-2 victory on Saturday night and got their first sweep against North Dakota in the program’s history.

North Dakota struck first, making the most of their power play chances. Jasper Weatherby got his first NCAA goal after crashing the net and finding a Colton Poolman rebound off the pads of Trevor Gorsuch and hitting the back of the net as he dove to make sure he got the rebound off. Colt Conrad got it back for Western Michigan later in the frame, as during a scrum in front, he found the loose puck and flicked it with the toe of his stick to the back-bar to tie the game at one, which is where the frame would end.

Midway through the second, the bad bounces haunted UND again, as a Corey Schueneman broke his stick on a one-timer, but the puck bounced off UND’s Andrew Peski for a 2-1 Broncos’ lead. Two minutes later, WMU struck again on the power play, as Wade Allison went top-shelf on Adam Scheel to make it 3-1 for the Broncos. The Broncos continued their second period charge, as Josh Passolt ended Adam Scheel’s night by rifling a wrister from the top of the circle high blocker on Scheel making it 4-1 and putting Peter Thome in the cage for UND. Defensively, the Fighting Hawks weren’t the best this weekend. Blowing coverages, ill-advised passes, bad transitioning– not a good look after an otherwise solid start to the season.

The start of the third showed the lack of defensive coverage, as Colt Conrad and Josh Passolt had a give-and-go on an odd-man rush, ending with Passolt scoring on a wide-open cage to make it 5-1. Penalty troubles for UND put them two-men down and the Broncos capitalized late with Hugh McGing banging home a one-timer to make it 6-1. With 10.2 seconds left, Rhett Gardner tipped home a Matt Kiersted shot to make it 6-2 and then it ended with UND being swept at home for the first time since January 2017 against Minnesota-Duluth.

Post-game, you could see how distraught the Fighting Hawks were to this loss, especially given their disappointing defensive performance. Captain Colton Poolman seemed to take the loss very hard, coming into the interview room almost at a loss for words about not only Saturday, but the weekend as a whole.

“I think we lost our cool,” Poolman said trying to control his emotions. “We turned on each other for a little bit. It’s hard to say but that’s the truth. We just didn’t play well. We just started trying to do things by ourselves. Some guys tried to do too much. Some guys weren’t going enough. That’s what happens. That’s pretty embarrassing. That’s not Sioux hockey. That’s not what we do as a family, but we call a spade a spade when we put performances like that. That’s not good enough for the caliber of program we should be.”

“Tonight, it seemed everyone was on a different page as far as D-men stepping up and out of the neutral zone, forwards not coming back through the neutral zone,” said head coach Brad Berry. “We weren’t crisp in our team play and that resulted in what you saw. We had guys doing things that we normally don’t do. Over the course of our first 10 games, our play away from the puck has been impeccable, giving up less than probably 10 scoring chances per game.”

The Fighting Hawks are probably in for a big week of practice before the annual Thanksgiving weekend set, this year welcoming in Alaska-Anchorage. The upside is that the Seawolves come into these games with only one win on the season. The downside is that the Hawks need to really show their skill and will on the weekend to show they’re back on the right track and gelling together as a unit rather than individuals.

UND HOCKEY: Bad Bounces, Missing Net Doom Fighting Hawks in 2-0 Loss to Western Michigan

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– Coming off a split in their first NCHC weekend, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks came back to The Ralph to kick off the home side of their conference schedule against Western Michigan University. For the first time in six contest, sophomore Peter Thome was in net for the Fighting Hawks, a crease that freshman Adam Scheel had carved out for his own.

“Obviously exciting to get back in there,” said Thome. “We were playing great hockey. Sucks sitting out, but it’s all about being a good teammate. When you’re winning games, you can’t say coach should change the line-up.”

“(Thome) worked hard in practice,” said head coach Brad Berry of his roster change. “Last couple of weeks he’s been doing all the right things that warranted the opportunity to play. I thought he was sharp and has looked that way the last couple of weeks.”

The first period was controlled by UND for the most part. With 16 shots in the first period, they had their chances, especially with three power plays in the frame. However, Western Michigan’s Trevor Gorsuch was solid thanks to his defense in front of him keeping high percentage shots to a minimum and allowing Gorsuch to see a lot of the Fighting Hawks best chances. The same story for the second period, less the power plays. North Dakota kept making Gorsuch look good with shots right into his pads.

“It’s hockey sometimes,” captain Colton Poolman remarked after the game. “You can do all the little things and then maybe they won’t go. The goalie played really well, they blocked a lot of shots. We got frustrated in the second. It’s something we have to address in the locker room. Sometimes things will go that way. We just got to keep plugging away.”

Luck struck for Western Michigan in the third, as an errand pass to Josh Passolt went off his stick, then off the toe of Hayden Shaw’s skate and behind Thome for the 1-0 Broncos’ lead. UND pressed and pulled Thome with about three minutes left, but the Broncos kept the Hawks off the scoresheet, got it out of the zone, and killed time with their passing before Colt Conrad was able to bury the empty-netter.

“Always have to look at yourself,” mentioned Thome. “It’s a tough play, but tough plays happen. If I would have found a way to have that one stay out, we’d probably still be out there, but it was a tough bounce.”

“You’re defending and boxing the guy out and doing all the things right to prevent a goal and that’s hockey,” said Berry about the bounce on the game-winning goal. “Hopefully the bounces even out and we can get some tomorrow.”

As mentioned before, UND seemed to get frustrated. Plenty of shots at Gorsuch, but nothing getting through. It was another game that the Hawks outshot their opposition by double-digits, but didn’t have a win to show for it. As the game went along, the biggest thing for the Hawks was to keep things level-headed.

“It’s just on the bench, just trying to keep things up,” Poolman said of the frustration level. “You know, you may not score on the shift, but you got to keep the momentum going. You’re not going to take a negative on the shift. Shift-by-shift you got to keep the calm kind of demeanor out there.”

“You got to stay with and the way to stay with it is to play the third period like you played the first two period,” mentioned Berry of the frustration level. “I think there’s a little desperation on our part to stretch a little bit or do things out of the normal of our system. One thing that was evident tonight was we had some pretty good chances and we missed the net. When we have those chance, you have to hit the net. If you don’t score, you can create a rebound.”

North Dakota will try to get that win back Saturday night at The Ralph before going into the Thanksgiving holiday.