The University of North Dakota men’s hockey team has a rich and storied history. UND is a hockey program that’s committed to excellence. Looking at their 71-year history, who’s the greatest all-time UND hockey player? In the past, this has been a topic of considerable debate.
The UND hockey team has won eight NCAA Division I titles and 17 conference titles and 11 conference playoff titles. UND is tied for second all-time in NCAA titles with the University of Denver with eight.
UND’s connection to the NHL
During UND’s 71-year existence, the school has had many former players go on to play professionally. Ninety-seven former UND hockey players have gone on to play in the NHL. During the 2016-17 season, 22 former UND hockey players played in the NHL. Eleven of those players made their NHL debut.
Counting the 2015-16 NHL season, 15 former UND hockey players have won the Stanley Cup. Three former UND hockey players have won two Stanley Cups (Jay Caufield, Matt Greene, and Jonathan Toews). Five of the last seven Stanley Cups champions has had a former UND hockey player on their roster. This season, another former UND hockey player, Carter Rowney has a chance to add his name to the Stanley Cup.
Who’s the greatest all-time UND hockey player?
Obviously, there’s a lot of great hockey players that have played at UND, but who stands out above the rest?
During its 71-year history, UND has had two players win the prestigious Hobey Baker Memorial Trophy, Tony Hrkac (1987) and Ryan Duncan (2007). Just for comparison sake, UND has had 21 Hobey Baker Memorial finalists, that’s second only to Boston College.
All-time, there are 84 former UND hockey players with 100 or more career points. Looking at the top 10, you can see that there are many different eras included.
Top 10 All-Time North Dakota Career Points
1. Greg Johnson (1989-93)……….272
2. Mark Taylor (1976-80)…………265
3. Jeff Panzer (1997-01)……………228
4. Dixon Ward (1988-92)…………219
5. Lee Davidson (1986-90)……….202
6. Doug Smail (1977-80)…………..195
7. Steve Johnson (1984-88)………191
8. Ben Cherski (1951-55)………….188
8. Phil Sykes (1978-82)…………….188
10. Rick Zaparniuk (1976-80)…..185
13. Ryan Duncan (2005-09)……..172
Quantifying the greatest all-time UND hockey player
The biggest question is how do you quantify who’s the greatest all-time UND Hockey player? UND hockey has 71 years of hockey history, not all things are equal.
In my opinion, the biggest question is how do you compare the different eras? For instance, the 1980’s and 1990’s are a much different era than today’s college game. Over the years, the college game has evolved a lot. Is it even possible to definitively name the greatest all-time UND hockey player?
If you don’t think the game has evolved, take a look at the goalie equipment over the years. Compare Eddie Belfour’s goalie equipment to Zane McIntyre or Cam Johnson’s, there’s no comparison. Could you imagine Tony Hrkac with a carbon fiber stick? That’s a scary thought for goalies of any era.
College Hockey’s Changing Landscape
Looking at all of the players that played for UND, only one UND player scored 100 goals and a 100 assists during his career, Dixon Ward (110g-109a—219pts). Just for comparison sake, during the 2000’s, former All-American forward, and Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner, Ryan Duncan is UND’s top point getter, scoring (85g-87a—172pts) in 175 games.
In today’s game, blue chip players rarely stay in college for four years. This could be a reason why there aren’t any recent players in UND’s top 10 career points leaders. If All-American forward T.J. Oshie had stayed another year, he would have had a great chance of cracking the top 10 in career points. Former UND All-American forward Brock Boeser scored (43g-51a—94pts) in 74 games, if he had played another season, he would’ve easily surpassed the 100-point total.
Finally, should winning Hobey Baker’s put a player at the top of the list? UND hockey fans differ on that point, too.
In conclusion, I am not so sure that you can definitively pick the greatest all-time UND hockey player. Moreover, if you were going to pick someone, who would you pick to be your greatest all-time UND hockey player? Why?