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.

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.

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.

Saturday night high five

Five items from around the country:

1. Omaha rebounded to gain a split against Miami with a 5-2 win. Austin Ortega scored twice for the Mavs. Omaha got outshot 15-2 in the first period but actually came out of the frame with a 1-0 lead. The Austin Czarnik count is up to 17 assists with no goals. Word is that he passed up an ENG on Friday to give it to a teammate.

2. Wisconsin’s implosion continued by getting swept by Penn State at home. The Badgers are now 1-10-1. They got beat 4-2 and outshot 33-25. Andy Johnson of Bucky’s Fifth Quarter reported that prospect Brock Boeser was scheduled to visit Saturday.

3. Denver rebounded to gain a split against Cornell in Lynah Rink with a 3-1 win. That means the NCHC went 3-1 in nonconference play this weekend, raising its nonconference record to 36-17-2 (.673).

4. Colorado College dropped to 1-10 in the last 11 games with a 7-2 loss against Minnesota Duluth. The Tigers’ only win during that span was against Wisconsin. The Bulldogs are 8-1 in their last nine games now.

5. Jack Eichel is back on track and so is BU. Eichel had four assists as the Terriers beat Merrimack 4-1. Eichel leads the nation with 25 points.

UND shows poise with rally

Midway through Friday night’s game, UND trailed 4-1 at home, lost two forwards due to injury including the team’s leading scorer, and moved a blue liner up front to compensate.

Fortunately for UND, it has a veteran team that has proven it can have success in difficult situations.

UND rallied to score six consecutive goals and beat Lake Superior State 7-4 in the series opener Friday night. Game stories:

Grand Forks Herald – UND stages furious rally to beat Lake Superior State

Grand Forks Herald – Miller: McIntyre’s stability aids UND comeback

USCHO – Poolman’s goals key UND rally against Lakers

UNDsports.com – Five-goal second period fuels comeback win

Other notes and thoughts:

  • The first talking point will be Cam Johnson. His first start did not go well. It’s tough to know where he will go from here, though. If you remember, Brad Eidsness gave up five in his first start and ended up being fine. Aaron Dell and Zane McIntyre both had their share of struggles as rookies, too. So, it’s far too early to peg Johnson’s future, but McIntyre’s WAR is rather high right now (you’re welcome, baseball sabre-heads).
  • Although UND fell behind early, I thought the team was dominant from the drop of the puck. UND did not play down to LSSU’s pace. It caused massive problems for the Lakers’ young D-corps all night. Despite the early dominance, UND couldn’t finish chances and LSSU scored on nearly all of its opportunities.
  • The crowd played a role in UND’s comeback. Although UND got down, they never booed or anything, knowing that the team was out-working the Lakers. During the second period, UND had back-to-back outstanding shifts and the crowd gave the team a standing ovation. The players seemed to feed off of that energy and soon the avalanche of goals arrived.
  • McIntyre ended up being the unsung guy, making two huge saves on Gus Correale. He stopped him on an odd-man rush in the second period and on a breakaway in the third after Correale got past Paul LaDue. The breakaway save preserved a one-goal lead.
  • No word yet on the health of Drake Caggiula or Colten St. Clair. UND did have two healthy scratches at forward last night in Wade Murphy and Johnny Simonson. If needed, Tucker Poolman probably could go back up front, which he did Friday night after the injuries.
  • Every forward, with the exception of the two that left in the first period with injuries, ended up with points for UND. The scoring was very balanced.
  • Coltyn Sanderson played his first game since the opener against Bemidji State and registered an assist. Wade Murphy is the only skater left without a point this season.
  • Austin Poganski continues to make strides. He’s going to be a very good player in the second half of the season.
  • All four of Lake Superior State’s goals were that player’s first goal of the season.
  • Ralph Engelstad Arena showed its new ice crew that shovels the ice during the periods to help get rid of excess snow. No, it was not Lake Superior State’s JV team (they were in blue and yellow) cleaning the ice.
  • Lastly, UND public address announcer Darrin Looker did a nice tribute to longtime Purpur Arena PA announcer Mike Swendseid, who died last week, but opening with “Hey hey hello hello,” as Swendseid always did.

UND, Omaha tie in Game 1

For as many tight games as we’ve seen between UND and Omaha, it’s kind of surprising that we hadn’t seen a tie until tonight. Equally as improbable, UND went its first 34 NCHC games without a tie. Finally, it happened. Stories:

Grand Forks Herald

Grand Forks Herald column on the first shootout

Omaha World Herald

UNDsports.com

Other notes and thoughts:

  • For clarification, the game goes down as a tie. Omaha gets an extra point in the league standings for winning the shootout, though.
  • Since UND was the home team, it got to choose whether to go first or second. UND coach Dave Hakstol chose to go first. He said that he didn’t think it really mattered percentage-wise.
  • We got our look at the shooters, and none were a surprise. Michael Parks has a ton of poise around the net. Drake Caggiula is one of UND’s hottest scorers. And Mark MacMillan is up there, too. I was pretty confident that Parks and Caggiula would be UND’s first two shooters. I thought there was a chance that Jordan Schmaltz could be UND’s third.
  • It was a real see-saw game. UND played very well in the opening 10 minutes. Omaha had a nice stretch after that and carried that through the second period. UND had a good start to the third. Omaha was better at the end. And UND controlled overtime.
  • I thought UND made too many soft plays and turned the puck over too much trying to get it out of the zone. There were opportunities to get it out sometimes and UND did not. That contributed to the problems in the third period.
  • Although Omaha had lots of possession time in the third period, it didn’t register a single shot on goal from the prime scoring area. So, UND did a good job of keeping the Mavs to the perimeter. Even so, the Mavs had too many point shots with good traffic. Those can often result in goals, tip-ins or — as UND has learned the last three games — bounces off of the D-men and in. Speaking of which….
  • Three of the last six goals UND has allowed have come on shots off UND’s D-men.
  • UND’s player of the game, for me, was Luke Johnson. He made a terrific play to set up the game-tying goal and was just solid much of the night.
  • I thought Keaton Thompson looked as confident as he has in a while. Nice game from him.
  • Nick Schmaltz admitted that it took him a while to get going, but we started seeing what makes him so dynamic once again. He was able to finish the Johnson setup and he nearly made a heck of a pass to Colten St. Clair for an overtime chance.
  • The controversial play of the night is the trip on Connor Gaarder that went uncalled near the end of regulation. Gaarder would have been in alone with a Grade A scoring chance.
  • UND didn’t have a ton of power play time — 5:37 — but it went 0-for-3 and the drought there continues.
  • Omaha is now 5-0-2 on the road this season and has an eight-game road unbeaten streak going back to last season.
  • Last but not least, I believe that I saw Brock Boeser at the game tonight. His Waterloo team had the night off. Boeser is a highly touted recruit, a potential late first-round or early second-round NHL pick, who recently de-committed from Wisconsin. He’s believed to be considering Wisconsin still along with UND and Minnesota.

Lineup shifts work for UND

UND made several lineup shifts for Saturday night’s game against St. Cloud State and it resulted in a 3-2 victory over the Huskies. The lineup shifts addressed UND’s biggest problems from Friday night’s loss: faceoffs and scoring from Lines 2, 3 and 4.

Both of those items are discussed in my game story. Read that here.

There are still several storylines to follow as UND looks ahead to this weekend’s series against Nebraska Omaha.

1. On the injury front, Bryn Chyzyk missed Saturday’s game and was watching with his arm in a sling. One of his teammates let it slip at the presser that it’s his shoulder. He’s out indefinitely.

2. Mark MacMillan moved back to center Saturday. Coach Dave Hakstol said that MacMillan had been politicking to get back to center. Hakstol’s biggest concern was MacMillan wearing down over 60 minutes. His faceoff numbers did dip in the third period, but Hakstol was pleased with his play. I think he probably stays there.

3. Nick Mattson came back in on defense. I thought he didn’t look as confident as normal, and that’s bound to happen when you get scratched a few times. Through time, he’ll regain that confidence that makes him such a dynamic threat. UND is 6-1-1 in games that Mattson plays and is 3-2 when he does not.

4. Tucker Poolman moved up front for Saturday. Clearly that’s not his future. You could tell he wasn’t as comfortable up there as on the blue line, but he still was able to add a little bit up there.

5. It will probably be hard to keep Trevor Olson out of the lineup with the way he played with his fellow rookies. Speaking of that line, Austin Poganski had has best weekend yet. Maybe not surprisingly, he was at home.

6. UND had a rare 3-on-0 rush and was unable to bury a puck. Charlie Lindgren did make a great save on a shot by Michael Parks and Connor Gaarder just missed the rebound. I do not believe that I’ve ever seen UND work on a 3-on-0 drill at practice.

7. UND is 6-0-1 on Saturdays so far this season.

Saturday night high five

There wasn’t quite as much action on Saturday night as Friday, but there were still several notable results.

1. Michigan Tech’s stay at No. 1 is already over. The Huskies got swept by MSU-Mankato at Houghton, 2-1 and 3-2. The Huskies travel to Huntsville this weekend, then their schedule gets interesting: Minnesota Duluth, the GLI, Wisconsin and Northern Michigan.

2. The misery continues for Wisconsin. The Badgers dropped to 0-8 after losing to Colorado College and Denver. Wisconsin now has a chance to right the ship, playing only two road games between now and February — 12 of the next 14 are at the Kohl Center.

3. Minnesota Duluth’s six-game winning streak ended with a 4-1 loss to Nebraska Omaha, but the Bulldogs still were impressive, outshooting the Mavs 40-18 in that game. Omaha got Jake Guentzel back from injury this weekend and he provided an immediate impact with a goal and an assist Saturday.

4. Nick Ellis, not Jon Gillies, gave Providence a 1-0 win over New Hampshire with a 29 save performance. It was the first start of the season for Ellis.

5. Air Force beat Colorado College for the third time in four years, winning 3-1 on Saturday. Grafton’s Chad Demers had an assist and Air Force goalie Chris Truehl stopped 35 of 36.

Brodzinski lifts Huskies

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Here’s a simple recipe to lose a hockey game: Allow Jonny Brodzinski to shoot the puck 16 times.

The Husky sophomore, one of the league’s best shooters, eventually broke through and tallied three points in St. Cloud State’s 3-1 win in the series opener. Game stories:

Grand Forks Herald

St. Cloud Times

USCHO

UNDsports.com

Other notes:

  • As I wrote in the game story, faceoffs were a major problem for UND. It started early in the first with the Huskies winning four or five clean in a row in the offensive zone, leading to scoring chances. It didn’t get better all game. With Nick Schmaltz out and Mark MacMillan unable to take draws, UND needs to find someone else who can win important faceoffs.
  • After the Friday game against Providence, UND’s power play was at 31 percent, ranked fifth in the nation. Since, it has converted on 3 of 31 chances (9.7 percent).
  • Friday night marked UND’s first road loss of the season. UND previously was 5-0 on the road.
  • UND needs to win tonight or else it will lose its first series in the National Hockey Center since 2001.
  • UND coach Dave Hakstol didn’t have any immediate update on the status of forward Bryn Chyzyk after the game. Chyzyk left the game in the second period and didn’t return after absorbing a big hit.
  • St. Cloud State’s power play, which entered the weekend as the league’s best, continued to roll along with two power-play goals in four opportunities.
  • UND captain Stephane Pattyn talked about the importance of playing simple — driving wide and getting to the net. Getting to the net will be a key again in the series finale as there were rebounds to be had last night.

Top line helps UND get a split

When the national polls come out this afternoon, UND could be ranked No. 1. Or it could be Boston University. Or Michigan Tech. Or Minnesota Duluth. Or Minnesota. Who really knows?

There are some items that appear to be shaking out across the country, but the top teams are still anybody’s guess.

UND was able to put itself in the mix by grabbing a series split against Miami with a 4-1 victory on Saturday night. Game stories:

Grand Forks Herald

USCHO

UNDsports.com

Other notes:

  • If UND does grab the No. 1 ranking, it would be the first time since the end of the 2011 season, when UND was in the top spot for seven consecutive weeks.
  • In my game story, I focused on the return of Mark MacMillan, who helped form the game’s most dominant line. Although the protective brace on his wrist is restrictive, it was hard for us to tell from up top. He had a great night for UND and now has 10 points in 4 NCHC games.
  • UND junior Drake Caggiula is now tied with four other players for the national lead in scoring with 16 points. Caggiula has 15 points in the last eight games.
  • Miami had an apparent goal disallowed in the first period. The supervisor of officials confirmed that it was the correct call as Miami’s Conor Lemirande used his stick to push Zane McIntyre back into his net, causing McIntyre to extend his leg and knock the puck in the net.
  • UND did a nice job on Miami’s top players, Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber. They combined for no points and a minus-6 rating this weekend.
  • UND kept the Troy Stecher and Gage Ausmus pairing together on defense (Stecher was fantastic once again this weekend), but mixed up the others. Jordan Schmaltz and Paul LaDue did not play together as LaDue moved to the right side with Nick Mattson, who re-entered the lineup for Tucker Poolman.
  • The only forward group that’s a lock to stay together is the top line. Spots are still up for grabs on the other lines.