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.

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.