Friday morning reading

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.

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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.

18 thoughts on “Friday morning reading

  1. Spot on with this post. This team doesnt have anyone they can rely on to score. It seems that when they get behind, they just lose fire and confidence and just give up. Looked that way against St. Lawrence on Friday. Hopefully they can make it into the national tourney…..never know what could happen there….just look at Yale last year.

  2. That lack of skill shows in the area I’ve been focusing on when talking about recent team performance…puck possession. This team has not been able to control and hold the puck for sufficient periods of time. Remember Frattin, Trupp, and Malone weren’t great at puck possession as freshmen. But by the time they were seniors, they were able to gain the zone, cycle the puck, wait for an opportunity, and generate a good scoring chance. This team lacks in this area. Puck possession is awful, in all three zones. If you don’t possess the puck, it only generates opportunities for your opponent. The shot differential between UND and our opponents is not good, especially in the third period.

    • We could also analyze how many games UND has been victorious vs how many they have won…. All joking aside, great post Brad. It’s been a frustrating start when in my head all I hear is how many draft picks, but its so misleading considering how young we are. Completely agree on how in years past we’ve been able to play poor games and still come out on top, this year, not at all. It’s like we have to play perfectly sound games to get wins and if not the other teams score at will.

  3. Agree with all of this…the only problem is we probably shouldn’t put all of our stock in all this young, raw talent sticking around for four years to become hopefully “polished” college players. Sure hoping that we get to see all these guys stick around for a while and keep adding some talent in future classes.

    • I think most of them will stick around four years. My initial count is that under Hakstol, UND has lost 16 players early to the pros. Only two of those 16 were drafted in rounds 4-7 (one is Brady Murray, who left to take advantage of a loophole that was closing with the Swiss league. The other was Hextall). Almost all of UND’s picks this year are the 4-7 round types, which means they may not be huge impact guys right away, but they are more likely to stick around and develop.

    • I think most of them will stick around four years. My initial count is that under Hakstol, UND has lost 16 players early to the pros. Only two of those 16 were drafted in rounds 4-7 (one is Brady Murray, who left to take advantage of a loophole that was closing with the Swiss league. The other was Hextall). Almost all of UND’s picks this year are the 4-7 round types, which means they may not be huge impact guys right away, but they are more likely to stick around and develop.

      • I hope your right. The fr. and soph. players on this team along with the kids projected to come in the next few years make the future look awful bright. Thanks for all the work you put in to this website, paper articles and other forms of media.

  4. Yep well written post brad. Nice to see somebody call it like they see it! Gothberg needs to play like he did last Saturday for the rest of the season if this team is going to have any chance at postseason play.. I say Gothberg not because I don’t like Saunders (he is a very good goalie that will make money playing professionally) but I just think he is our Wilcox and his upside is greater than Clarkes. Honestly I hope Clarke proves me wrong but for now, this is my humble opinion.

  5. Hey Brad – Any chance you’ll give us a “Brad about town” reports on Kalamazoo (i.e. food, accomodations, visitor attractions, campus, etc.)? I enjoy hearing what you experience on these road trips.

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