UND freshman goalie Peter Thome (Photo Credit: Rus Hons)
Last season, the University of North Dakota hockey team was coming off an NCAA title and lost a big chunk of their firepower to graduation and the NHL. Nine players from the 2016 championship team (Drake Caggiula, Bryn Chyzyk, Coltyn Sanderson, Nick Schmaltz, Troy Stecher, Paul LaDue and Luke Johnson, and Keaton Thompson) were gone.
Statistically, that was a nightmare, 81 goals and 217 points were missing from the lineup. That meant 50 percent of the 2015-16 offensive production was no longer in the lineup. Four players from the 2015-16 championship team went on to play in the NHL during the 2016-17 season. Brock Boeser made his NHL debut following the 2016-17 season. Now he leads the Vancouver Canucks in points.
UND started the 2016-17 season with 19 underclassmen on the Fighting Hawks roster trying to make up the difference. While it sounds like a cliché, there’s no substitute for experience.
While I was going through my Facebook feed this morning, this post came up.
I wrote this — As I was writing this, I wondered, are we putting too much pressure on a young team? It seems like the Fighting Hawks are getting closer to being a pretty good hockey team. They lost a lot of firepower from last season and younger players are going to be filling big roles that were vacated by more experienced, older players.
At UND, teams are expected to compete for a conference title and an NCAA title every season. But in reality, they may not be able to. So far this season, UND is 5-3-1 and starting to figure things out. Head coach Brad Berry seems to think that his team is improving and making progress.
“The consistency side of it, absolutely,” coach Berry said. “I think going into Duluth two weeks ago and then into Minnesota a couple of tough environments on the road. We’re playing against good teams this weekend and next weekend. I think there’s a fine line between winning and losing. Part of that is playing a 60-minute game, part of that is managing your game and controlling what you can control.
“We saw on Saturday in Minnesota night, if you can control what you control a lot of times you will have success. That night, in particular, we didn’t on the scoreboard but we did in a lot of different areas. We have to make sure what we remain consistent in what we do in what we can control.”
When asked where his team is right now, coach Berry gave his analysis of the state of his team, “There’s a lot of work to do in many different areas to build our game. I think we’re in a good spot right now. I think the biggest things is trying to manage from the offensive side of the game to try and find secondary scoring other than the one line. Whether that through five-on-five play or through the power play.”
The 2016-17 UND hockey team never really figured it out until the end of the season. They took longer to gell and deserved a better fate in the NCAA playoffs. Young players played key roles and gained valuable experience. So far, that appears to be paying dividends. Junior defenseman Christian Wolanin is leading the team in points with three goals and nine points, he’s also a plus-four. Freshman forward Grant Mishmash is second on the team with three goals and eight points.
Fast Forward to 2017-18
Through 10 games, the Fighting Hawks are 6-2-2 and have a lot of potential to go very deep in the NCAA playoffs. Last weekend, All-American goalie Cam Johnson suffered an undisclosed injury. In Johnson’s absence, freshman goalie Peter Thome made career debut and performed very well. Thome’s line for the weekend, 1-0-1, GAA 1.92, .935 save percentage. For his efforts, Thome was the Bauer NCHC goaltender of the week.
So far this season, UND has gotten better every week. Defensively, they’ve given up more than two goals only once. The Fighting Hawks are ranked 4th nationally giving up 1.70 goals against per game. That’s the best of any NCHC team.