Sweep lands UND back at No. 1

UND continued to take care of business Saturday night, finishing off a sweep of a Colorado College team that was much better than the one UND saw in October. With the sweep, UND regained the nation’s No. 1 ranking today. Game stories:

Grand Forks Herald – UND finishes successful homestand

Grand Forks Herald – Team still has room to grow

UNDsports.com – Balanced scoring leads UND to sweep

Other notes:

  • UND moved up to No. 2 in the Pairwise after the weekend. It is sitting in great shape there. Because everyone else UND plays is so high in the Pairwise, it almost feels like splits the rest of the way will probably be good enough to get in.
  • UND coach Dave Hakstol is two wins shy of going 11-for-11 in 20-win seasons.
  • Forward Connor Gaarder missed some shifts at the end of the game. Immediately afterwards, Hakstol said he doesn’t believe it’s going to be anything longterm, but he said he can’t say 100 percent right away. The line of Gaarder, Brendan O’Donnell and Austin Poganski was terrific all weekend, even if they didn’t get rewarded for it.
  • The race for the Penrose Cup now takes a turn and becomes more difficult. UND is on the road for six of the last 10 games going against Omaha, Western Michigan and Miami.
  • Colten St. Clair came back into the lineup and immediately provided an impact, setting up Stephane Pattyn’s goal with a nice far pad shot on a rush.
  • A total of 11 players tallied points in the series finale. Only four forwards did not. Three of the four forwards were Gaarder, O’Donnell and Poganski, who may have been UND’s best line.
  • UND had an uncharacteristically low four power-play chances the entire weekend, converting on one of them.
  • I thought Jordan Schmaltz started cranking up his game this weekend, doing some special things with his skating ability to create scoring opportunities. We’ll see if he can keep that up this weekend against Omaha.
  • Nick Schmaltz has three assists in six games since returning from the World Juniors. It will probably help him to have next week off.
  • Keaton Thompson is the defenseman of the week in the NCHC.

Weekend rewind

UND took care of business winning 7-1 and 5-0 against Niagara over the weekend. With the wins, UND moved up to No. 4 in the Pairwise rankings (one loss would have plummeted UND to No. 10).

As I wrote in Sunday morning’s paper, UND did a terrific job of taking care of business in nonconference play this season. Yes, its schedule ended up being a lot weaker than anticipated, but UND still did a great job going 9-0-1 after that season-opening loss to Bemidji State.

That puts UND in a strong position with all conference games remaining. Because of the NCHC’s success in nonconference play, there will be opportunities to increase the RPI down the stretch.

Sometimes, it’s hard to take too much away from a pair of blowout wins against an overmatched team, but here are some of my thoughts from the weekend:

  • UND was finally able to play with the lead on back-to-back nights at home. That hasn’t been the case a lot this season and it was important not to let Niagara settle in. Coming into the weekend, UND had allowed the first goal at home seven times in 12 games.
  • Three of the four lines played well this weekend. The one that didn’t seem to generate a whole lot was the Stephane Pattyn-Luke Johnson-Wade Murphy unit. My first thought is that we won’t see this unit again together this weekend, but then again, UND has scored 5, 7 and 5 goals in the last three games.
  • The second power play unit finally got one to go on Saturday night, but that unit hasn’t been very good lately. Also wouldn’t be shocked to see a couple changes there.
  • I’m guessing Niagara was pretty disappointed to see Zane McIntyre in goal against on Saturday. He’s playing terrific right now and he’s putting himself in the mix for postseason awards. How high could those awards go? Well, ask me in a month after UND goes through a grind of a schedule.
  • Could Tucker Poolman play forward the rest of the season? With a deep defensive corps, I don’t think it’s totally out of the question.

A few items around the country that stand out:

1. Western Michigan is quietly one of the hottest teams in the country. The last two weekends, they’ve swept Notre Dame and taken five of six points at Minnesota Duluth. Overall, the Broncos have lost one time in their last 10 games. Look out for them.

2. Minnesota has an absolutely huge weekend coming up. Potentially, it could play Pairwise No. 1 MSU-Mankato and Pairwise No. 5 Duluth. Would give the Gophers a great chance to move up from their spot at No. 18. After that, it’s all conference play for the Gophers.

3. Colorado College got its first NCHC win of the season Friday night, beating first-place Omaha 4-3. The next night, Omaha earned the split with a 4-1 victory, but the Tigers actually outshot the Mavs 28-14 in that game. Holding an Omaha team that sometimes likes to shoot from anywhere to just 14 shots is pretty outstanding.

4. MSU-Mankato is 13-1-1 in the last 15 games. But the North Star College Cup will be a battle for the Mavs.

5. Michigan has won five games in a row now. The last three? 4-3, 7-5 and 10-6. Yes, they can score. And yes, it appears defense is a problem.

Friday night rewind

Five notable results from around the country:

1. Western Michigan continues to be impressive by gaining a tie and a shootout win over Minnesota Duluth. The Broncos have only lost once since Thanksgiving (6-1-2 in that span).

2. Rivals Michigan and Ohio State played a ridiculous game that the Wolverines won 10-6. World Junior star Dylan Larkin had five points for Michigan, which sits in first place in the Big Ten.

3. Colorado College got its first NCHC win of the season by downing Omaha 4-3 in World Arena. Hunter Fejes had two goals for the Tigers.

4. Minnesota outshot Wisconsin 49-20, but Joel Rumpel helped the Badgers steal a tie and a shootout win in Mariucci Arena. After a 7-1 start, the Gophers are now 3-6-2 win their last 11 games.

5. Look out, here comes Boston College. After starting the season 7-7, the Eagles are now on an eight-game unbeaten streak after beating rival BU. Wild first-rounder Alex Tuch scored twice for the Eagles.

UND 7, Niagara 1

UND put the pressure on early, scored first and gave the fans a relaxing night of watching hockey by blowing out Niagara 7-1 in the first of a two-game set in Ralph Engelstad Arena. Game stories:

Grand Forks Herald

Grand Forks Herald column on UND’s ‘fourth line’

USCHO

UNDsports.com

Other notes:

  • After the win over Niagara, UND sits at No. 5 in the Pairwise Rankings. To illustrate how important these games are, UND would have dropped to No. 11 with a loss.
  • Tucker Poolman continues to be a force on the power play, where he leads the team with five power-play goals. This was the same reputation he had in the USHL. Interestingly enough, only two UND players have more than two power-play goals and both are defensemen: Poolman (5) and Jordan Schmaltz (3). UND’s defensemen have 10 power-play goals, its forwards have nine.
  • Zane McIntyre continues to have trouble finishing off shutouts, but he did make some fantastic stops on Friday night. Niagara’s best period was the third, and he had a couple of great saves, including a pad save through traffic.
  • As Miller pointed out in his column, UND’s ‘fourth line’ of Brendan O’Donnell, Austin Poganski and Connor Gaarder had three goals, eight points and was a plus-nine.
  • UND coach Dave Hakstol said that he likes the improvements that Wade Murphy has made to his game defensively and he said Murphy isn’t cheating for offense right now, even though nothing is going in for him. Still, he’s the only guy on the team without a point right now, so tonight may be his last shot on a power-play unit.
  • Niagara’s blue liners struggled much of the night, making a few glaring mistakes (the bad pass to Stephane Pattyn, getting beat wide, leaving guys open on top of the crease). That’s completely opposite of how the Purple Eagles played the last two times UND and Niagara met, and definitely something they will want to do different tonight.
  • Who will start in net tonight? That’s a question for both teams. UND could try to get Cam Johnson another start. Niagara, I think, will go back with Jackson Teichroeb, who started Friday.

Dogs impressive in Game 1

Minnesota Duluth looked everything like the No. 1 team in the country in beating UND 4-1 on Friday night in Ralph Engelstad Arena. Game stories:

Grand Forks Herald

Grand Forks Herald column from Duluth angle

Duluth News Tribune

USCHO

UNDsports.com

Other notes:

  • I’m thinking there will be wholesale line changes tonight. I’m guessing that not one line stays together, especially not the top line of Brendan O’Donnell, Mark MacMillan and Michael Parks. They only registered one shot on goal on Friday night.
  • UND got outshot by 13 shots, the most of this season. The previous most was 11. The last time UND got outshot by 13+ was Ferris State last season (19).
  • UND ended up wasting an outstanding goaltending performance by Zane McIntyre. He made several big saves to keep it a one-goal game and allowed UND to tie it up in the third.
  • I thought that Bulldog goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo fought the puck at times, but UND didn’t get to enough rebounds and didn’t challenge him enough. The only goal he allowed was a bad one. It was far too easy of a game for the Finnish freshman.
  • The third period has been, by far, Duluth’s best period of the season. The Bulldogs are even against teams in the first period (13-13). They’ve outscored opponents 21-15 in the second and 28-12 in the third. Once again, the Dogs had a big third, scoring three times.
  • The biggest surprise this season for the Bulldogs has to be the defensive corps. We all knew Andy Welinski was a standout, but they were significantly better on Friday night than they were when the teams met in Duluth a season ago.
  • Ten different Bulldogs had points. None had more than one. The Bulldogs, as advertised, really spread out the offense, scoring chances and production.

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.