Considering half of this team’s forwards are new, the goalie is new, the coaching staff is revamped with a new bench boss and a new assistant, and considering they haven’t had a full practice yet, UND looked sharper than I was expecting during an 8-3 exhibition win over Manitoba on Saturday night.
Lots of thoughts from the first 60 minutes of the season….
1. For those who didn’t see, Colten St. Clair is out for at least the first half of the year due to surgery. His arm has been in a sling. I think the team found out yesterday that an operation was needed.
2. Yes, Brock Boeser looked like the real deal. The crowd gave an “ooooh” after he unleashed his first one-timer of the season, even though he didn’t score on it. His goal was a rocket. But on top of that, he also made some great setups to give linemates Grade A scoring chances. Great debut for Boeser.
3. Joel Janatuinen was given a prime spot with Boeser and Nick Schmaltz and he delivered. Janatuinen (pronounced Jana – twine – nen) was in the mix all night. The way he played tonight, it’s hard to see him out of the lineup. Janatuinen may end up bringing more offense this year than I thought he would.
4. Johnny Simonson, who didn’t score a goal last season, potted three. He has looked good in fall practice and I think we’ll see a good season carry over for him. He’s ready for a bigger role this season.
5. I thought both rookie defensemen — Hayden Shaw and Christian Wolanin — looked strong. The coaches are going to have an awfully hard decision there. I think they’ll find ways to get them both in the lineup.
6. Although Cam Johnson didn’t play the game that he probably wanted to in the opener — he’ll want the second goal back for sure — he’s clearly going to be the guy until Matej Tomek comes back and tries to challenge for that spot. If Matt Hrynkiw only saw seven minutes in the exhibition, that indicates to me that he’s probably not going to be playing much early this season.
7. The power play is definitely going to have a new setup this season with a guy in the high slot and one on top of the crease. There was tons of movement on that unit, and UND probably has the personnel to pull that off with the skilled blue liners. They’ve hardly practiced it so far, though.
8. Personnel on the power play will be interesting to follow. They tried a lot of guys there. I thought Poganski looked great on top of the crease tipping pucks and screening the goalie. He excelled at that in Tri-City, too. I think the power play numbers go up this year, simply from having Boeser out there, a terrific distributor in Schmaltz and Poolman’s cannon on the blue line.
9. Rhett Gardner’s ice time was a bit limited, but I thought he made a case to be back on the ice. Coaches will have difficult decisions there, too.
10. The practice 3×3 overtime was interesting. The biggest thing that jumped out at me was that it’s very difficult to change lines. You almost have to wait until you have possession, and then let two guys change while the third guy controls the puck. UND is going 2 F, 1 D on 3×3. Schmaltz scored the 3×3 goal with a snipe from in tight.
11. Overall, this looked like a very entertaining team to watch. Yes, it’s Manitoba. But firing 56 shots on goal is something this team hasn’t done to the Bisons in my time. Next weekend will be a much bigger test, but this was an entertaining start.
12. For an exhibition, the crowd was great. More into it than past exhibitions. The 10,590 is the highest attendance for a preseason exhibition since 2011.