Offensive D-man commits to UND

UND received a verbal commitment from an offensive defenseman from Elk, River, Minn., on Saturday.

Matt Kiersted, a sophomore, made a visit to UND on Saturday, received an offer and committed.

“Ever since I’ve been a little kid, I’ve always dreamed of going to North Dakota and playing for the Sioux,” Kiersted said. “When I played for the Minnesota Machine, we would go up to Winnipeg and play and we’d always stop on the way in Grand Forks and get a tour of the arena. I fell in love with the town and the school ever since then.”

Kiersted expects to play next season with Elk River. He will get picked in the USHL draft next month. There’s a good chance he could play his senior year in the USHL with whatever team picks him.

Last season, Kiersted had 25 points (6 goals, 19 assists) in 27 games for Elk River, which lost in the section final to Duluth East.

He’s a 1998-born defenseman who stands at 5-foot-11, 165 pounds. Kiersted said he likes being the fourth guy in the rush and adding offense. He plans to work on his defensive game and being gritty in the corners and in front of the net next season.

His UND arrival date is up in the air.

“Coach (Dave) Hakstol said it will depend on my development,” he said.

Kierstad said he’s happy with his decision.

“Even going up there today, I like how it’s not a huge college and not a small college. It’s right in the middle,” he said. “I like the class sizes. It just seemed like a good fit for me. I like the small-town feel.”

The final rankings

UND is ranked No. 4 in the final USCHO poll this season (for whatever it’s worth) and I decided to go and look up some past polls. Some of the findings were interesting.

Only five teams have been ranked in the final poll in each of the last five seasons (which tells you a little about the parity in the sport these days). Who are those five teams? North Dakota, Boston College, Michigan, Denver and Union.

So yes, Union has been having similar success to the nation’s best programs over the past five seasons. Its national championship did not exactly come out of thin air.

The other striking stat to me: UND is the only program that has been ranked in the top 16 for each of the past nine years. And the lowest UND has been in that span is No. 7. While UND hasn’t finished off a national championship in that span, that is rather remarkable.

If you go back the last decade, UND has been in the top 10 each season in the final USCHO poll.

Worst final rank of the last decade

10. North Dakota (2005)
17. Denver (2014)
20. Michigan (2013)
20. Boston College (2009)
NR. The rest of the country’s teams

*Of note, USCHO used to do its final ranking before the start of the NCAA tournament. The last four years, they have conducted a poll after the NCAA tournament.

It was interesting to me that UND’s worst season of the last decade — as ranked by the polls — was a year in which it played for the national championship.

The 2014-15 schedule

UND’s 2014-15 schedule (subject to change) is highlighted by two big nonconference matchups — at Wisconsin and home against Providence.

The Badger series will be a rematch of the NCAA regional game and the Friars have nearly everyone back, including star goalie Jon Gillies, from their NCAA tournament team.

UND also will host the Hall of Fame Game on Nov. 1 against Air Force.

I posted the new schedule on the right side of this page, so you can return here for quick reference and not have to seek out this blog post.

2014-15 schedule

Oct. 5 — Canadian exhibition TBA
Oct. 11 — at Bemidji State
Oct. 17 — at Colorado College
Oct. 18 — at Colorado College

Nov. 1 — AIR FORCE (Hall of Fame Game)
Nov. 7 — at Wisconsin
Nov. 8 — at Wisconsin
Nov. 14 — MIAMI
Nov. 15 — MIAMI
Nov. 21 — at St. Cloud State
Nov. 22 — at St. Cloud State
Nov. 28 — OMAHA
Nov. 29 — OMAHA

Dec. 12 — at Denver
Dec. 13 — at Denver

Jan. 3 — U.S. UNDER-18 (exhibition)
Jan. 9 — DULUTH
Jan. 10 — DULUTH
Jan. 16 — NIAGARA
Jan. 17 — NIAGARA
Jan. 30 — at Omaha
Jan. 31 — at Omaha

Feb. 13 — DENVER
Feb. 14 — DENVER
Feb. 20 — at Western Michigan
Feb. 21 — at Western Michigan

March 6 — at Miami
March 7 — at Miami
March 13-15 — NCHC first round (higher seed)
March 20-21 — NCHC tournament (Target Center, Minneapolis)
March 27-29 — NCAA tournament (Scheels Arena, Fargo)

April 9-11 — NCAA Frozen Four (T.D. Garden, Boston)

Some notes about the schedule:

  • If UND makes the NCAA tournament, it will automatically be placed in Fargo. UND is the host of that regional. The other regional sites are South Bend, Ind., Providence, R.I., Manchester, N.H.
  • Two North Dakota kids will return back home to play in Lake Superior State’s Bryce Schmitt of Minot and Air Force’s Chad Demers of Grafton.
  • UND will go almost a month and a half without a road game from the middle of December to the end of January. UND has a lengthy Christmas break followed by three straight home series to open the second half.
  • For those curious, Wisconsin’s football team is on the road at Purdue when UND is in Madison. So, you won’t be able to check that out if you make that trip, but it should mean that there are more hotel possibilities.
  • Duluth is the one place that UND does not visit and Western Michigan is the one team that doesn’t come to The Ralph.
  • UND closes the regular season in Oxford against Miami. With the RedHawks getting all of their stars back for next season, that could be a series with huge implications.
  • Lastly, we could potentially have two Serratore fan lunches in a month span. Does it get any better than that?

Schmaltz, Gothberg returning

Decision season is underway. So far, so good for UND.

Jordan Schmaltz and Zane Gothberg are among the players who have decided that they are returning to UND for their junior seasons, which means the strength of next year’s team will be from the blue line back.

Schmaltz will get the unique opportunity to play with his brother, Nick, who will be a freshman on next year’s team.

Schmaltz’s father, Mike, also had that opportunity at UND. He played football alongside his brother, Marc.

Gothberg had a terrific end to his sophomore season, going 18-5-1 with a .933 save percentage and a 1.72 goals-against average.

Michael Parks also confirmed that he will be back for his senior season. It appears that Rocco Grimaldi is the last remaining player to make a decision.

Mattson commits to UND

UND received a verbal commitment Tuesday from Grand Rapids sophomore forward Mitchell Mattson (no relation to Nick).

Mattson is a 6-foot-3 forward with good skills. He’s UND’s first 1998-born recruit. Mattson’s arrival date is still up in the air.

Mattson also had an offer from Minnesota Duluth and was planning to visit Minnesota, but after his trip to Grand Forks, he knew that’s where he wanted to play college hockey.

His older sister, Sidney, is a UND volleyball recruit.

Here’s the Herald story on Mattson’s commitment.

Nelson to play at Worlds

Former UND forward Brock Nelson just completed his rookie season in the NHL with 14 goals and 26 points. But he’s not done just yet.

Nelson was one of the first 15 players selected to Team USA’s World Championship roster on Tuesday.

Nelson, who played two seasons at UND and led the WCHA in goals as a sophomore, will head to Belarus next month to play in the tournament.

Three 2013-14 college players will join the roster, too, including UMass-Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck, BC’s Johnny Gaudreau and Kevin Hayes, according to USA Today.

Seven chasing the Cup

Seven former UND players will be chasing the Cup this playoff season.

They are Jonathan Toews (Chicago), T.J. Oshie (St. Louis), Chris Porter (St. Louis), Zach Parise (Minnesota), Brad Malone (Colorado), Matt Greene (Los Angeles) and Matt Frattin (Columbus).

Also of note, Rick Wilson is an assistant coach for the Wild and James Patrick is an assistant coach for the Stars.

A couple of them will be going head-to-head: Parise vs. Malone; Toews vs. Oshie and Porter.

The playoffs start Wednesday. For a full schedule, including TV listings, check this site.

Union wins the title

Union won its first-ever national championship on Saturday night, downing Minnesota 7-4 in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center. Union threw 49 shots on goal and 96 shot attempts at the Gophers.

The win completes a remarkable stretch of hockey for the Dutchmen, who went undefeated after January. Only once in about the last two months did an opponent come within a goal of Union — that was Boston College on Thursday (the Eagles scored with 4 seconds left to make it a one-goal game, too).

So, you won’t see many arguments that the Dutchmen weren’t the best team.

Shayne Gostisbehere put together a memorable performance in the final, scoring a goal, adding two assists and registering a ridiculous plus-7 rating.

A few final thoughts about the Frozen Four:

1. This was the seventh Frozen Four that I have covered and I thought that Wells Fargo Center was the worst venue of the group. It’s only four years older than the Xcel Energy Center, but it feels like it’s 20 years older. For the media, the facilities were really cramped. The building would massively fail fire codes. One person in the Herald group went in the staircase and got locked in and had to bang on the door until someone opened it. We also couldn’t get out of the building on the first day we were there. That’s not safe.

2. For spectators, Philly was probably a decent site. During off days, there’s plenty to do there. Lots of history. Lots of tourist attractions. Lots of food to try. Frozen Fest continues to be a success.

3. It was great to have Tim Hennessy back at this Frozen Four. When we found out that he wouldn’t be able to do the 2011 Frozen Four (read why here), immediately, things didn’t feel right at all. It felt a lot more normal this time to have him back broadcasting the game.

4. All three games were highly entertaining for the fans and the potential casual fans who were tuning in. It has been a while since we’ve had a Frozen Four that was this entertaining.

5. The makeup of Union’s team, I think, is pretty similar to what UND should look like next season: Prolific defensemen that lead the offense and veteran forwards.

Season comes to an end

PHILADELPHIA — UND’s season came to a close Thursday night in stunning fashion with Minnesota scoring a shorthanded goal with less than a second left in Wells Fargo Center.

It’s the fifth Frozen Four trip in a row that UND has lost a semifinal game. This one was like a few of the others, where UND played more than well enough to win.

Shots on goal were 37-28. Shot attempts were 83-52. In the decisive third period, UND outshot Minnesota 13-7 and had a 30-15 shot attempt advantage.

This seems to keep happening, doesn’t it?

After a fifth straight Frozen Four semifinal loss, you start looking back at the others for a pattern. What do they need to change? What’s going wrong? And that’s the baffling part.

Other than the obvious answer of “more goals,” what would anybody change about tonight’s game? I thought UND executed its game plan to a T.

UND had more zone time than Minnesota, which is a great puck possession team. UND had traffic in front of Adam Wilcox often. UND created some scrambles around the crease. The defense generated. UND did a great job of getting in passing lanes and making it tough for the Gophers to create offense (Dillon Simpson was terrific tonight, I thought).

In fact, here’s the shot chart in the period where UND lost the game:

Same thing with 2011 in St. Paul. I would take that performance against Michigan (40-20 shot advantage, 26-10 in the final two periods) every day of the week.

You could even go back to the 2005 title game loss (45-24 shot advantage) as another performance that you wouldn’t change anything.

The UND program certainly hasn’t caught many breaks in the Frozen Four lately, and on this night, it was a blocked shot that ended up on the stick of Minnesota’s Justin Holl for the game-winner.

UND may have been a No. 4 seed that managed to surprise everyone on its way to the Frozen Four, but after watching this game, I really do think that UND probably was one of the four best teams in the nation by the end of the season.

The progress of this team over the season was remarkable.

UND outshot Vermont 36-34 in the opening game of the season and got a win. Then, things got hard for UND. It won just two games in a 10-game stretch. When it did win, often times it was because of its goaltender.

In fact, after the season-opener against Vermont, UND won six games in the next two months, but got outshot in all six of them (four of them by double digits).

But slowly, this team turned into a very good team that finished the season 21-7-1 in its last 29 games, and it was outshooting even the best teams in the country (Wisconsin, Minnesota).

Yes, there’s a lot for UND fans to be excited about for next season. If everyone stays (and I think there’s a good chance of that), UND only loses Simpson and Derek Rodwell from tonight’s lineup.

I do think UND will be a better team next season. But here’s the truth: UND could have a better team and not make it to the Frozen Four.

It’s hard to get to the Frozen Four. Only 4 of 59 teams do it and far more teams are capable of it than a decade ago. The tournament is volatile and unpredictable. Getting there six times in 10 years is not normal.

UND overachieved this season and made it a lot further than most of us thought they would. But that’s what makes this loss tough for the team: When you get to the Frozen Four, you want to make the most of your opportunity, because you don’t know when you’ll be back.

UND has things set up pretty good for the future with this young D-corps and the stable of recruits lined up. But who knows what the future holds with the unpredictable NCAAs.

When you look at the season as a whole, it was quite a wild ride for this team.

Remember when we all went to The Ralph on a Sunday afternoon for Game 3 against Colorado College wondering if this was the last night of hockey for the season? Seems ages ago.

A lot has happened since then. The fans who I talked to today at McFadden’s said they really enjoyed watching this team turn into a lunch-pail group, led by guys like Connor Gaarder and Stephane Pattyn.

For me, this season blew by. It is hard to believe it is already April and the season is already over. Feels like it was just yesterday when I was scrambling to finish our annual preseason special section preview and it probably won’t be long before it’s time to start working on it again.

In the meantime, I think there will be plenty of interesting storylines around college hockey this summer for me to work on, starting with a season recap next week.

I’ll try to think of new ideas to make the Herald’s coverage of college hockey better next season. As always, if you have any ideas or suggestions, please, by all means, drop me an e-mail or leave a note in the comments.

Other than that, thanks a lot for reading the coverage this season, and thanks to the fans who introduced themselves this weekend in Philly (and elsewhere the rest of the season that matter).