Last season, we saw another example of how important nonconference games are when it comes to the Pairwise and the NCAA tournament selection process. The NCHC’s struggles — and UND’s loss and tie at BU — were big factors in UND being on the bubble despite a good record.
Here’s a quick, early look at UND’s nonconference games for this upcoming season.
BEMIDJI STATE – home and home – (Oct. 10-11)
The Beavs had a disappointing ’13-14 season, but there’s some good news. They only had two seniors and bring in a very good recruiting class, featuring the top defenseman in the BCHL, the top point-per-game scorer in the BCHL and the top overall scorer in the league. Cory Ward is back as a legit goal-scorer, too. They should be much better than they were last season. Should be an interesting matchup off the bat to open the season.
PROVIDENCE (Oct. 24-25)
This will be the highlight nonconference series of the year. Providence is a legit top 10 team and could contend for the Hockey East title. Goalie Jon Gillies will steal all the headlines. It was a big of a surprise that he returned for his junior year and he could be a Hobey finalist. Up front, it has its top five scorers back from a squad that went to the NCAAs last season. Major Pairwise points are in play in this one.
AIR FORCE – single game – (Nov. 1)
Air Force’s top four scorers last season were all juniors, so this will be a veteran team. One of those guys is Chad Demers, who led Grafton-Park River to a state championship in Ralph Engelstad Arena. Chris Truehl got his feet wet in goal last season and put up strong numbers.
at Wisconsin (Nov. 7-8)
The Badgers will look like a completely different team than the one UND played in the NCAA tournament. They sustained huge losses. Their top five scorers and seven of their top eight scorers are gone. Guys like Grant Besse and Morgan Zulinick will produce more next season, but even so, the Badgers are bound to have growing pains with such a young team. With it being early in the season, UND will need to take advantage of that.
LAKE SUPERIOR (Dec. 5-6)
There will be a new coach behind the bench for the Lakers next season and he’ll have plenty of new players. The Lakers lose both of their goalies and four of the six regular defensemen in front of those goalies. That’s a weekend where UND needs to be able to sustain a lot of pressure and put up some offense.
NIAGARA (Jan. 16-17)
The Purple Eagles don’t get much recognition but quietly, Dave Burkholder has turned this program into one of the more consistent ones in the country. They’ve finished over .500 in seven of the last nine seasons. They finished under .500 last season as they broke in two freshman goalies (Hobey finalist Carsen Chubak turned pro early the year before, leaving them in that situation). But this team will have a lot of guys who were on the squad that played UND in the first round of the NCAAs two seasons ago.