KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Good morning from Kalamazoo, a town that UND doesn’t need a tour guide to show it around.
That’s because it has Brad Berry.
The assistant coach played professionally here for the K-Wings (IHL at the time, ECHL now) for seven or eight years. Berry was a three-time all-star here.
The K-Wings play at Wings Stadium, which is in the southeastern part of town. UND and Western Michigan will square off at Lawson Ice Arena, which is on the southwestern side of town. That’s where UND has a rather important series against the Broncos.
UND needs to find some consistency as soon as possible. If that doesn’t happen in the next few weeks, UND will probably be looking at the NCHC tournament as the only option to keep its NCAA tournament streak alive.
I’ve been asked a lot about this team on game chats and live chats. But I’ve never blogged about it, so I’ll post some general thoughts here.
As I’ve said many times, I don’t think this team has a ton of skill. It has a couple of very skilled players, but not a lot. Let’s go into more detail on that one.
I know the first thing I will hear is about how many draft picks this team has on the roster.
One thing you have to take into account is that almost half of this team’s draft picks are freshmen and about two-thirds are underclassmen.
While I say that I don’t see a lot of skill on this team, I do believe that a lot of these guys will turn into skilled players. They just aren’t there yet.
You will remember back a few years ago when Brad Malone and Matt Frattin were freshmen. They were both NHL draft picks, but they were not very skilled as rookies. The two of them COMBINED for five goals that season.
Through their years at UND, they developed. By the time they were upperclassmen, they were very skilled players. During their senior season, they combined for 100 points and they formed the top line in the nation.
Both of them eventually ended up being NHL players. But it’s easy to forget where they came from.
Luke Johnson and Adam Tambellini are not scoring a lot right now, but, believe it or not, they are on pace to score more goals this season than Malone and Frattin did as rookies.
If you take Brock Nelson’s stat line on Dec. 6 of his freshman season, it read exactly the same as Johnson’s: 1 goal, 4 assists.
Don’t get the wrong impression that I’m saying these guys will be Nelson, Malone or Frattin. I’m not. Everyone takes their own path and I don’t know where they will go from here and how quickly. But I do think that they will eventually become skilled players. They aren’t there yet, though, and that’s not unusual.
Now, because this team doesn’t have an abundance of skill like the past few years, it cannot overcome an average performance and win games.
A couple of years ago, UND could play poorly and still win because it was just that much more talented than everyone (see: the sweep in Mankato in December 2010).
Last year, they could play average, and Danny Kristo and Corban Knight could come to the rescue and win the game for the team.
This team cannot. This team’s margin for error is small. If its goaltenders don’t play well, they will lose. If the team doesn’t execute well, it will probably lose. If it has some bad breaks or bounces go against it, a loss is likely.
So, right now, the challenge for this team is to navigate that small-margin-for-error path to victory.
It needs to play desperate. It needs to get good goaltending. It needs to execute as well. It needs to get some contributions from everyone.
The 2011-12 team, similarly, had a narrow margin for victory, too. That squad did a remarkable job of walking that line while playing under-manned every night because of its major injury problems. They ended up winning the Final Five and becoming an unlikely No. 1 seed.
Now, this team isn’t going to be a No. 1 seed, that I can guarantee. But a spot in the NCAA tournament is not out of the question yet. This team just needs to learn how to walk that narrow line as quickly as possible.
And, maybe by the end of the season, some of the young guys will develop and give this team more of a margin for error (which also happened in 2011-12).
On to some stories this week.
For Thursday’s paper, I wrote about this team’s faceoff struggles. The team is under 50 percent in the faceoff dot right now, the lowest number in the Hakstol Era by far. If Mark MacMillan returns, which is looking more and more likely, that could provide a boost there. He was expected to be the top faceoff guy this season.
For today’s paper, I wrote a series preview. Check it out to see what Western Michigan coach Andy Murray is saying about UND and sophomore forward Rocco Grimaldi.
Look for a Q&A with Jordan Schmaltz to be posted on the Herald’s site sometime today, too (Schmaltz and Grimaldi may be the two most skilled guys on the roster right now).
The Kalamazoo Gazette has a good Q&A with Dave Starman posted here. Starman will call today’s game for CBS Sports.
The Gazette also has a short preview for the series here.
Around the NCHC….
Denver at Miami: The Pioneers need their special teams to continue to shine if it is going to win a game in Oxford (DU is the only team in the nation to rank in the top 10 in both PP and PK). Not sure that will happen against a very good RedHawks squad. Miami sweep.
St. Cloud State at Minnesota Duluth: The battle of the two Minnesota teams in the NCHC, I think this will be a great series. The Huskies are probably the best team I’ve seen play against UND this season, but I think the Dogs get one at home. Split.
Omaha at Colorado College: The Tigers dropped to 1-10-2 last weekend. Offense continues to be a major issue. I think the Tigers are due for a win, but playing a very dynamic Omaha team on that big ice sheet? That’s not good for CC. Omaha sweep.
UND at Western Michigan: Generating consistent offense has been an issue for UND. Defense has been a strength for WMU. UND doesn’t match up well here. Western Michigan win in regulation, UND win in shootout.
On the women’s side, UND has arguably the biggest series of the season against Clarkson.
UND only has four nonconference games this season. These will be huge. UND is ranked No. 4. Clarkson is ranked No. 6. Clarkson’s goaltender hasn’t allowed a goal in almost 200 minutes and defenseman Erin Ambrose is the top-scoring blue liner in the nation.
Get ready for a great series in Potsdam.
Coach Brian Idalski says Minnesota and Wisconsin also will probably be cheering for UND in this series as it could impact the WCHA’s seeding in the NCAA tournament. Women’s hockey fans across the country will definitely have an eye on this series.
Darrin Looker is out in Potsdam and will broadcast the game on 1440 AM. Game time is 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
For a full preview on that series, go here.
The big question for UND is whether it can bounce back from a couple of tough games against Wisconsin at home. UND only got one point out of that series.
That’s all for now. Check back for updates in the afternoon.