UND Hockey: Exceeding Expectations

Back in September, if you’d told me that the UND hockey team would be leading the National Collegiate Hockey Conference with two weeks left, I might have said you’re crazy.

Seriously?

It was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Not a lot of people saw this coming. After last season’s amazing run, UND lost seven of their top-10 points leaders. That equates to (71g-121a–192pts). Yes, that’s a lot of offense. If we’re doing math, UND lost 62% of their offense.

During the offseason, UND also lost junior goaltender Adam Scheel. He left UND as the program’s career leader in GAA (1.95), second in winning percentage (.729), fifth in save percentage (.916), seventh in wins (52), and sixth in shutouts (7). Scheel’s departure left a huge hole in the net.

No doubt, there have been challenges.

During the 2021-22 season, it’s been interesting. At the halfway point of the NCHC season, UND sat at the top of the standings. In January, the Fighting Hawks went through a rough patch and lost the top spot to the Denver Pioneers, going 1-4-1 (.250). In the past eight games, UND righted the ship and is 6-1-1 (.812) including a 5-1-0 (.833) record during the month of February. UND took 21 of a possible 24 points during their most recent run. This past weekend, UND locked up home ice for the NCHC playoffs.

If you haven’t seen the highlights of Saturday’s game between UMD and UND here’s the highlights. It was a 10-round title fight.

Picking up the Slack

Here are a few things that stuck out for me this past weekend, there were a lot of positives. On Saturday night, UND played with a depleted lineup. Add forward Riese Gaber to the list. He was injured in Friday’s game and is day-to-day. Conducting an accounting of who is missing; Gavin Hain lower-body long term. Mark Senden day-to-day, Brady Ferner week-to-week, Jake Sanderson (Olympics/injured) evaluated when he returns to UND.

Before missing Saturday’s game against the Bulldogs due to injury, sophomore forward Riese Gaber has been providing a big piece to UND’s offense. Gaber leads UND in points with (14g-21a–35pts), he’s also a plus-seven. He’s tied for third in the NCHC points race. Nationally, he’s tied for 14th in the scoring race, and tied for 13th in points per game. Finally, he’s tied for 15th nationally in power play goals.

During UND’s sweep of the Bulldogs, four UND players scored the first goal of their career (Luke Bast, Carson Albrecht, and Dane Montgomery). Additionally, sophomore d-man Cooper scored his first goal of the season, the third goal of his career.

Smoking Hot

Junior defenseman Ethan Frisch has been on a hot streak. Frisch has scored (6g-1a–7pts) in the last eight games. In the last eight games, he’s also blocked 19 shots. Finally, look where Frisch is scoring his goals from. Most of the are from the top of the faceoff dot. His shot is deadly.

Goaltending

During the middle part of the season, Graduate Student goaltender Zach Driscoll struggled. For a brief period, he’d lost the net to freshman goalie Jakob Hellsten. Since retaking the net, Driscoll has been on fire. In his last seven appearances, he has a .945 save percentage. He’s also 5-1-1 in those seven appearances. In 27 games Driscoll is (17-9-0, 2.44 GAA and .903 save percentage) he also has two shutouts. Looking at the conference rankings, He’s ranked third in the NCHC with 17 wins. He’s also ranked third in goals-against average 2.44.

During the weekend series against the Bulldogs, Driscoll stopped 69-of-74 (.932) shots. Driscoll has also been named the Goaltender of the week, two weeks in a row. Will he receive that honor for a third week in a row?

“He’s (Driscoll) a fifth-year guy, and I think that’s a big deal,” UND head coach Brad Berry said in the post-game press conference following UND’s sweep of the C.C. Tigers. “When you sit out a game … to Jakob Hellsten’s credit he was playing well in practice and he wanted to get an opportunity. We gave him an opportunity. Zach patiently waited until he got his opportunity. He wasn’t moaning or he wasn’t being a bad teammate. He supported Jakob, and he waited for his opportunity and he was focused. He wants to net he wants to take the net.”

How Sweep it Is

Sweeps don’t come easy at Amsoil Arena. UND last swept UMD on home ice was during the 2015-16 season. December 11-12, 2015, UND beat UMD (3-0 W, 3-0 W). UND goalie Cam Johnson stopped all 78 shots that he face in leading UND past UMD.

I know there are yearly expectations fans have about the UND hockey team, and some in the fanbase have questioned this year’s version. However, I think that the coaching staff has done a good job molding a new team together. There are a lot of new players. The 2021-22 UND hockey team has been a pretty good. They lost 62 percent of their offense from last season. Instead of bringing in a bunch of their recruits in early, the coaching staff used the transfer portal and made good choices. The bottom line is Brad Berry is a good coach, and they are first place in the NCHC standings. Based on who they lost, they’re exceeding expectations. I included the NCHC standing below.