UND forward Shane Gersich (Photo Credit: Russell Hons UNDSports.com
The University of North Dakota hockey team is moving forward and not looking back after being swept by the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (5-3 L, 5-2L). The Fighting Hawks need points if they want to contend for a top-four finish in the NCHC standings. To say this weekend’s series against the University of Denver Pioneers is important is an understatement. Despite all the hand wringing, the sky is not falling. In fact, the sun came up on Sunday morning.
Today, as I was walking in the hallway to the press room in Ralph Engelstad Arena, I spotted a picture of former Fighting Sioux All-American Matt Frattin scoring the game-winning goal against Denver on March 19, 2011, at WCHA Final Five. That game was an instant classic and almost seven years later, UND and DU are still having memorable games. For UND fans, this is a memory of good times. Even better, a week later, UND would pound DU again in the Midwest Regional 6-2.
Currently, UND is ranked 12th in the Pairwise Rankings and would be three seed if the NCAA tourney started today. Like my good buddy, Scott Williams would say, “the only thing that matters right now is the date, and it’s only January 24, 2018.”
In other words, there’s a lot of hockey left until selection Sunday in March and a lot of things can happen between now and then. First things first, the UND hockey team needs to start playing consistently on Friday nights (6-5-2) if they want to make another run through the NCAA tourney.
Red Cross Squad
The 2017-18 season hasn’t been kind to head coach Brad Berry, in 26 games the Fighting Hawks have used 26 different lineups. That means that there have been 50 different line combinations and 10 different D pairings. During that 26-game stretch, UND has lost 55 man-games due to injury or illness. Breaking down of the numbers: Trevor Olson (11), Cam Johnson (8), Dixon Bowen (7), Ludvig Hoff (7), Gabe Bast (5), Johnny Simonson (4), Rhett Gardner (3), Andrew Peski (3), Collin Adams (2), Joel Janatuinen (2), Peter Thome (2), Josh Rieger (1) and Zach Yon (1). (UND HOCKEY)
Historically, UND leads the series against the Pioneers 145-124-12 (.537). UND has an outstanding record against the Pioneers in Grand Forks; they lead the Pioneers 84-43-8 (.652). UND’s record against DU in Denver is much different; UND trails 54-73-3 (.427). At neutral sites, UND trails 6-8-1 (.433), however, UND is 2-0-1 in the last three neutral site games, including a 4-2 win in the 2016 Frozen Four. Under head coach Brad Berry, UND leads the series UND leads 5-4-2 (.545).
It’s a Tie
Contrary to what the seven fans that follow the Pioneers hockey team have to say, DU isn’t heads and shoulders above UND. It’s just not true. During the last 10 games, the series is tied 4-4-2 (.500). Both teams have won an NCAA title during that time.
Because this is a rivalry series, the Fighting Hawks players have to temper their emotions or pay the price. The Pioneers have great special teams, and the Fighting Hawks players can’t afford to lose their cool and take needless, selfish penalties. The players need to be careful to keep their emotions in check especially after the whistle. And that’s not always easy.
As I noted earlier in the month, the Pioneers are enjoying a huge disparity in power plays so, UND doesn’t want to start a parade to the penalty box.
UND Struggling on Special Teams
By now, you’ve probably heard that the Fighting Hawks are struggling on the penalty kill. Last weekend, the Fighting Hawks penalty kill went an unimpressive 5-for-11. Currently, the UND power play is ranked 30th in the nation clicking along at (21/109, 19.3). UND’s penalty kill is ranked 27th in the national (87/107, 81.3). Yes, the Hawks are working on their penalty kill in practice this week.