A wild end to the weekend

UND was able to grab a 3-1 victory on Saturday night and earn a series split with the University of Denver. With that win, UND was able to head to Christmas break with the best record of the Dave Hakstol era.

That’s when the real adventures began.

Soon after the game, the fire alarms sounded in the building (and they were kind of creepy). It’s not the first time I’ve heard fire alarms in an area, but this time, there actually was a fire in the building.

I happened to run downstairs and get quotes when officials ran up to the press box and evacuated it. Apparently the fire started either in the kitchen or in the elevator shaft. When I got back to the press box, everyone was gone. Apparently, they came and cut Tim Hennessy’s postgame short.

I looked around the arena and saw no one. It was very eerie. Regardless, I made sure to get my story in by deadline. Soon after, everyone started returning.

Then, the adventures continued.

The team was scheduled to fly back after the game, but their flight was canceled because of fog in North Dakota. The team took off the next day, but once again, could not land in Grand Forks. They ended up getting diverted to Minot. They had to find a bus there to take them back home.

The UND women’s hockey team, coming back from Rochester, N.Y., also ran into the same problem on Sunday and had to bus to Grand Forks from Minneapolis.

I got stuck in Minneapolis and jumped in a car with someone who also got stranded and drove back to North Dakota.

On top of it all, it’s now finals week for the players. So, since the buzzer sounded on Saturday night, it has been rather hectic.

Some other thoughts notes from Saturday:

  • Nick Mattson re-entered the lineup and had a big impact on the game. Read more about him in this story.
  • UND enters break as the top defensive team in the NCHC, allowing just 2.16 goals per game. Offensively, UND ranks third in the league at 3.26 goals per game.
  • UND has not lost back-to-back games in more than a year (Nov. 2013). Only one team in the country has a longer streak — UMass-Lowell (Oct. 2013).
  • The first period was a 180 from Friday to Saturday. On Friday, Denver really dictated. On Saturday, it was all UND.
  • Mattson said they have worked a lot on transition plays in practice and it showed with both Mattson and Keaton Thompson making quick transitions that led to goals.
  • Denver outshot UND 16-3 in the third period, but UND with a 3-0 lead, all UND needed to do was keep the Pioneers to the outside and not let them have many odd-man or Grade A looks. If you keep them to the outside, you’re not going to beat Zane McIntyre three times in one period.
  • Hakstol said the team left everything they had on the ice and now it needs to get healthy for the second half of the season.
  • Nick Schmaltz left for the World Junior camp today. If he makes the team, he will miss the U18 exhibition game on Jan. 3, but he will be back the following weekend for the series against Minnesota Duluth.

Gameday final: UND 3, DU 1

TONIGHT’S VIEWING: NCHC.tv. No television. Lineup notes: Simonson and Mattson are in for Sanderson and Panzarella. UND juggles nearly every line and D combo. DU going with Jaillet in net for Cowley, while swapping RW on top two lines. DU also goes with Romig and Neville for Jacobson and VanVoohris on the fourth line and third D-pair. Full lines and live chat are below.

First period

UND 1, Denver 0 — Nick Mattson (Johnny Simonson) 13:48. Mattson pinches in, circles the net with the puck. He skates all the way around the right circle, holds on to it until he gets out front and rips one off the back bar.

Second period

UND 2, Denver 0 — Nick Schmaltz (Bryn Chyzyk, Keaton Thompson) 6:09. Thompson makes a long outlet pass to Chyzyk along the left wall to spring a two-on-one rush. Chyzyk freezes the goalie by faking a shot before dishing to Nick, who finishes it.

UND 3, Denver 0 — Drake Caggiula (Michael Parks, Nick Mattson) 8:04. Mattson makes a nice outlet pass to start a rush. Parks flies up the right wing and carries the puck to the bottom of the right circle before centering to Caggiula, who finished it.

Third period

UND 3, Denver 1 — Nolan Zajac (Josiah Didier, Trevor Moore) 9:01. Zajac gets the puck at the right point and blasts one through a ton of traffic to get the Pioneers back in the game.

Live Blog No. 1 UND at No. 11 Denver

UND’s lines

9 Drake Caggiula–16 Mark MacMillan–15 Michael Parks
29 Bryn Chyzyk–27 Luke Johnson–8 Nick Schmaltz
21 Brendan O’Donnell–28 Stephane Pattyn–13 Connor Gaarder
11 Trevor Olson–10 Johnny Simonson–14 Austin Poganski

20 Gage Ausmus–24 Jordan Schmaltz
5 Nick Mattson–6 Paul LaDue
4 Keaton Thompson–3 Tucker Poolman

31 Zane McIntyre
33 Cam Johnson

Denver’s lines

8 Trevor Moore–19 Daniel Doremus–12 Ty Loney
16 Zac Larraza–27 Quentin Shore–20 Danton Heinen
26 Evan Janssen–9 Gabe Levin–23 Matt Marcinew
18 Emil Romig–25 Matt Tabrum–39 Grant Arnold

21 Joey LaLeggia–11 Nolan Zajac
7 Will Butcher–4 Josiah Didier
28 Adam Plant–2 Nick Neville

36 Tanner Jaillet
31 Evan Cowley
30 Greg Ogard

UND drops opener at DU

DENVER — Mark MacMillan got tossed early in the first for checking from behind, UND fell behind early and couldn’t catch up in losing 4-1 to Denver in Magness Arena on Friday night. Game stories:

Grand Forks Herald – Cowley, Pioneers knock off UND

Denver Post – DU beats No. 1 North Dakota

USCHO – Cowley solid as Denver stymies UND

UNDsports.com – Host Pioneers topple top-ranked UND

Other notes:

  • Obviously MacMillan’s ejection forced UND to juggle its lines throughout the game. UND moved Nick Schmaltz up to center of the top line. I thought that line had lots of possession as the game wore on, but nothing to show for it.
  • In the third period, UND decided it wanted to roll four full lines, so it moved Tucker Poolman back up front and played with five defensemen the rest of the way.
  • The call itself wasn’t a great one. Replay showed that MacMillan had his hand on the Denver player’s shoulder, but never pushed or extended. It appeared that the Pioneer player, Zac Larraza, was losing an edge.
  • UND did a nice job killing that Denver power play — and actually did a nice job on the PK all game long. Andrew Panzarella was asked to play big penalty kill minutes.
  • I think that’s a big reason why the coaching staff went with Panzarella instead of Mattson. If you go with Mattson, you are going to have a PP guy also doing more PK, which could lead to more tired legs in the elevation.
  • I thought one of UND’s biggest bright spots was the play of Keaton Thompson. He definitely elevated his game. I think the coaches have to be excited by some of the confidence and playmaking that he’s showing.
  • Denver had a great start to the game and pushed UND on its heels right away. Definitely a key period for the Pioneers.
  • We talked all about defenseman scoring before this series, and sure enough, the Pioneers got 3 of 4 goals from blue liners.
  • I thought Joey LaLeggia’s goal was a dagger for UND. Bryn Chyzyk had just cut the lead to one goal and UND had a pretty good push going on to tie it. But UND lost LaLeggia on the back side of that play and he’s going to bury that most of the time.
  • Evan Cowley definitely left some rebounds out front, but UND wasn’t able to get to any of them. There were two scrambles in the third period that somehow stayed out of the net (not sure if Cowley made a save or if the D blocked it). If UND is going to win tonight’s series finale, it will need to get to some of those rebounds.
  • It has been over a year since UND has lost back-to-back games. The last time was November 2013, when it lost the series finale against Minnesota Duluth and the next weekend’s series opener against Boston University.
  • UND is aiming for a series split. These teams have split the last three series at Magness and six of the last seven.

Gameday final: DU 4, UND 1

TONIGHT’S VIEWING: Root Sports Rocky Mountain; DirecTV 683; Dish Network 414; TSN2 in Canada. There is NO webcast tonight. Lineup notes: Chyzyk returns to the lineup. Panzarella replaces Stecher (inj). Sanderson stays in. Mattson and Simonson are the healthy scratches on the trip.

First period

Denver 1, UND 0 — Josiah Didier (Gabe Levin, Evan Janssen) 18:31. Janssen makes a nice pass to Levin, who enters the zone with space and drops a pass for Didier. The pinching defenseman shoots one past McIntyre with traffic set up in front.

Second period

Denver 2, UND 0 — Quentin Shore (Ty Loney, Evan Cowley) 12:49 (pp). After a clear, Cowley quickly turns the play the other way for a power-play rush. Loney skates it deep up the right wing and centers one to Shore, who tips it high over McIntyre from point-blank range.

Third period

Denver 2, UND 1 — Bryn Chyzyk (Connor Gaarder, Stephane Pattyn) 4:05. Pattyn goes forward with an offensive zone draw. Gaarder gets to it, makes a perfect backhand dish to Chyzyk, who buries it on top of the crease in his first game back from injury.

Denver 3, UND 1 — Joey LaLeggia (Danton Heinen, Gabe Levin) 7:51. Skating at 4-on-4, Heinen spots LaLeggia pinching on the back side of the play. The Pioneer defenseman was left wide open and he made no mistake, beating McIntyre high stick side.

Live Blog Men’s Hockey at Denver

UND’s lines

9 Drake Caggiula–16 Mark MacMillan–15 Michael Parks
21 Brendan O’Donnell–8 Nick Schmaltz–27 Luke Johnson
29 Bryn Chyzyk–28 Stephane Pattyn–11 Trevor Olson
26 Coltyn Sanderson–13 Connor Gaarder–14 Austin Poganski

6 Paul LaDue–24 Jordan Schmaltz
20 Gage Ausmus–3 Tucker Poolman
4 Keaton Thompson–22 Andrew Panzarella

31 Zane McIntyre
33 Cam Johnson

Denver’s lines

8 Trevor Moore–19 Daniel Doremus–20 Danton Heinen
16 Zac Larraza–27 Quentin Shore–12 Ty Loney
26 Evan Janssen–9 Gabe Levin–23 Matt Marcinew
14 Larkin Jacobson–25 Matt Tabrum–39 Grant Arnold

21 Joey LaLeggia–11 Nolan Zajac
7 Will Butcher–4 Josiah Didier
28 Adam Plant–6 Matt VanVoorhis

31 Evan Cowley
36 Tanner Jaillet
30 Greg Ogard

Friday morning reading

For as average as UND has been in the first half of seasons, December has not been part of that.

UND is 19-1-2 in December in the last five years (the lone loss being in overtime) and is 10-0-2 in the last 12 December games.

This year, UND is 2-0, but it has a huge test this weekend at Magness Arena, a place that UND has not swept since 2003. Nearly all of the series in Magness have been splits.

Traditionally, it has been a fan-friendly place for UND with tons of alums in the area. Denver ditched the ticket policy it had a year ago, where fans couldn’t purchase single-game tickets (they instead had to buy a group deal of 25+ or get tickets to three other weekends).

Many UND fans seemed to just get the 25 and distribute them among friends. It certainly didn’t keep the fans out.

I think this series is a great one for the NCHC.

A lot of in-conference rivalries have died off, but this is one that has been heated for the past decade, and it’s important to stay intact.

In fact, one Denver player told the Denver Post that North Dakota’s visit is his “favorite weekend of the year.”

For Thursday’s paper, I wrote about a few of the incidents that have happened in this rivalry, including George Gwozdecky’s infamous walk across the ice. Isn’t that what comes to everyone’s mind when thinking about this rivalry?

Speaking of Gwozdecky, I think his absence leaves a tiny void in this rivalry. His personality was great for it. I never got a sense that many UND fans hated Gwozdecky. I think they loved to hate him, and they were sad to see him go.

For today’s paper, I wrote a larger piece on goal scoring in college hockey hitting an all-time low this season. Is it a problem? Or are games entertaining enough as is? What say you?

There’s also a “Get to Know” segment with Austin Poganski. The freshman says that he hated hockey after his first day of practice as a kid and quit for that season. He gave it another try the next year, and that was a good decision.

What’s the scouting report on Denver?

UND can sort of look in the mirror. The Pioneers are getting outstanding goaltending from Evan Cowley, who took the reigns from Sam Brittain. Cowley is at .922 and 1.98. For UND, Zane McIntyre has been very good (.929, 1.94).

On the defensive corps, both teams are exceptionally skilled. UND fans are quite familiar with Joey LaLeggia and Nolan Zajac. Will Butcher also is turning into the standout he was projected to be when he committed.

UND will counter with a very good D-corps, but one that’s without Troy Stecher. Who replaces Stecher? That’s hard to say. Nick Mattson brings skill and power play ability to UND’s lineup. Andrew Panzarella brings the grit and the penalty killing ability. Those attributes may decide who plays.

The good news is that Bryn Chyzyk continued to practice this week and it’s likely that he’ll play in the series opener tonight. Chyzyk is off to a nice start to the season and will help UND’s penalty kill. That’s crucial because Denver has the league’s top power play.

Up front, I think DU is like UND. They are not as skilled as Miami or Duluth, but they have a lot of really good players, including Ty Loney, who is expected to return to the lineup tonight after missing four games. Loney has played some of his best hockey against UND, tallying six points in the last six games in the rivalry.

Predictions for this weekend…..

Colorado College at Western Michigan: Colorado College is 1-10 in its last 11 games and 0-8 on the road this season. It has been a disastrous start. Western Michigan is only 1-4-1 at home this season. I say the Tigers get a point but not a win. CC 2, WMU 2; WMU 5, CC 2.

Minnesota Duluth at Michigan Tech: Probably will be Tech’s most challenging opponent to this point in the season (yes, Mankato is good, too). But the Bulldogs have been getting my No. 1 vote in the polls, and I think they will prove why this weekend. Duluth 4-1, 3-2.

St. Cloud State at Omaha: The Huskies don’t have many breaks in the schedule this season, do they? Another weekend, another tough series in Omaha. The Huskies haven’t been able to gain any traction this season with a sweep yet, and I don’t see it coming against a good Mavs team. St. Cloud State 4-1, Omaha 4-2.

UND at Denver: Expecting a good crowd and very good entertainment between these teams. When has there ever been a boring game at Magness? Exciting games are the norm and so are splits. Denver 3-1, UND 4-2.

Lastly, I will leave you with the video that never gets old. Thanks to Pat Sweeney for the great call.

Stecher out roughly 6-8 weeks

UND defenseman Troy Stecher will be out for roughly 6-8 weeks after sustaining a lower leg injury during Saturday night’s win over Lake Superior State.

It’s a big loss for UND as Stecher has been one of the team’s best two-way defensemen this season. He has been a huge part of the penalty killing unit that will be put to test by the NCHC’s top power play this weekend.

Stecher also has been able to add offense. He has nine points in 17 games so far this season, putting him in a tie for eighth in the NCHC among defenseman scoring.

In his absence, UND will look to either Nick Mattson or Andrew Panzarella to step into the lineup. Mattson gives UND more of an offensive presence, while Panzarella adds to the team’s physicality.

Weekend viewing

There were questions about this on the live blog, so hopefully this clears it up.

Friday’s game (8:37 p.m.) is available on ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain, which is DirecTV Channel 683 and DISH Network Channel 414 or 5414 HD.

Saturday’s game (8:07 p.m.) is not on television, but IT IS available on NCHC.tv.

Hopefully that helps.

UND ‘grinds’ its way to a sweep

UND didn’t burn out the goal light on Saturday night, but they were able to finish off a key home sweep in a game that coach Dave Hakstol referred to as a “grind.” Game stories:

Grand Forks Herald – UND sweeps Lakers

Grand Forks Herald – UND awaits word on Troy Stecher

USCHO – Lakers’ tough night showed on missed open net

UNDsports.com – Strong defensive effort keys sweep

Other notes:

  • I’ll pass along any official word on the Troy Stecher injury when it becomes available. Based on how much pain he was in, I think it’s safe to say that he won’t be playing this weekend in Denver. His absence will be large. He leads the team in plus-minus (+10) and blocked shots (39).
  • The injury bug has bitten UND hard this season. It has already hit Paul LaDue, Mark MacMillan, Nick Schmaltz, Brendan O’Donnell, Bryn Chyzyk and Colten St. Clair.
  • I thought the Lakers played significantly better in their own end on Saturday. They probably cut UND’s Grade A scoring chances in half. They blocked a ton of shots (11 in the first period alone). Although they didn’t score as many goals, I thought they were much better.
  • The one shot Lake State wishes it had back: Gus Correale had a wide open net to shoot the puck on a power play. It would have tied the game 1-1. But I was told that the slow-mo replay showed the puck hopped straight in the air just as he was shooting it, causing him to put it over the net. Correale also had the breakaway and the odd-man chance Friday. He will be seeing those in his sleep.
  • The talent disparity really showed up on special teams. UND went 5-for-8 on the power play over the weekend. One of the opportunities that they missed was only 9 seconds long. The Lakers were 0-for-9 on the power play, dropping their conversion rate to 6.2 percent, the worst in the country.
  • LSSU coach Damon Whitten ripped the officials (see my game story) for calling a penalty with four minutes to go because the Lakers were playing games after icings. Apparently, they did indeed get at least one warning. This is a new point of emphasis this season.
  • The Lakers really had a tough time generating offense through the first 40 minutes. They had just 3 even-strength shots through two periods.
  • Mark MacMillan is becoming UND’s go-to guy in the faceoff circle. He went 17-6 on draws Saturday night. He’s at 57.4 percent for the season.
  • UND continues to take care of business in nonconference play with this sweep. That’s good because the five nonconference opponents that UND has played to this point have a combined record of 21-41-6 (.353). The final nonconference opponent is 3-11 Niagara.
  • UND figures to retain the No. 1 ranking today in the national polls.