Nothing has come easy for the 2018-19 University of North Dakota hockey team. Currently, UND sits at 21 in the Pairwise Rankings. If the NCAA tourney started today, the Fighting Hawks would be sitting at home for the second season in a row.
How did we get here? On January 4-5, 2019, UND was unceremoniously swept (1-3, 1-2) by Canisius College Golden Griffins. Currently, Canisius sits at 52 in the Pairwise Rankings. That sweep could end up being the dagger that kills the 2018-19 Fighting Hawks. There’s hope. UND can get out of the Pairwise purgatory with some timely victories against their NCHC brothers.
Here are the four teams UND will play the next five weeks. Included is their current Pairwise Rankings and record against UND: St. Cloud 1, (0-0-0) Denver 3, (1-1-0), Western Michigan 14, (0-2-0) and Minnesota-Duluth 4, (1-1-0). UND has a 2-4 record against those four teams. UND plays SCSU and UMD at home. They’re on the road against WMU and Denver.
The path forward seems easy enough, right? Not really. It’s a tough road, but that’s life in the NCHC. Come out these eight games with a winning record and UND will improve their Pairwise Rankings significantly.
With 12 games remaining in the regular season, the mission is crystal clear win and you’re probably in the NCAA tourney. The Fighting Hawks players know what’s at stake. They’re in playoff mode already.
“It’s been crunch time since November now,” senior forward Rhett Gardner said. “We’re just worried about St. Cloud right now we know the next few games is a good opponents coming that we will be playing against. But we kind of see as an opportunity to jump the pairwise and you know, if we want to get our rank higher, you got to beat better teams and it’s a good opportunity for us.”
Gardner’s teammate echoed his sentiments.
“So, we’ve got about 12 games left, I think, is somewhere around there with the NCHC and obviously, all those teams are ahead of us,” junior captain Colton Poolman said. “That’s what we got going for us right now. Because that’s what we kind of need, right now. Obviously, our Pairwise Ranking isn’t where we’d like it to be or where we needed to be, so, it’s going to be some pretty tough sledding. Obviously, it’s what we need but also there are pretty good teams, too. So, the threat of losing is always there, but it’s going to be a good challenge and you’ve got to look at it as an opportunity.”
UND Fan Base Uneasy
For UND hockey fans, it’s hard to put a happy spin on the season right now. UND sits at 12-10-1, 6-6-0 that’s currently fifth place in the NCHC standings. Fans are getting anxious. When you play at UND, the expectations are very high. It’s almost a given that UND will make the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and play for an NCAA title. Anything less is unacceptable. The players know the fans are unhappy.
“We love our fans, they’re such a such a passionate group and I would rather have it that way,” Poolman said. “So, sometimes, we get some criticism and a lot of times it is deserved. But other times, it’s just something got to say you know, some of the most important opinions are the 26 guys in the locker room and the coaching staff.”
Poolman continued, “Good or bad people write about us and we can’t get too focused on the good and you can’t get too focused on the bad. So, it’s awesome when things are going good and you’re getting stories written about you that are cool, and then it’s pretty terrible and things are getting criticized and you’re not playing so good.
“It’s one of those things where that’s kind of on a spectrum it’s a little bit of balance of both and knowing that our fans are really passionate and they love this program, and so do we, too. It’s just about, you know, kind of balancing out which opinions you get a focus on. The most important things are ourselves and the coaching staff and people who are around this program.”