Hakstol reacts to No. 1 ranking

UND is the No. 1 team in both national polls. This means that I got to antagonize coach Dave Hakstol about it at the weekly press conference (for those who don’t know, Hakstol is known to disregard polls).

I asked him about the reaction of the coaching staff when they found out UND was atop the polls. He said: “Streamers and balloons.”

I also asked him whether the team had a big watch party where they stared at the computer until the rankings were updated. Apparently, they did not.

Hakstol did say he thinks polls are a good thing for generating conversation among fans, but he said it doesn’t change their preparation and that the team hasn’t talked about it at all this week.

On the injury front, both Brendan O’Donnell and Bryn Chyzyk are skating again. Hakstol sounded optimistic that O’Donnell would play this weekend, but said that as of now, Chyzyk is probably still out.

With the addition of O’Donnell and Chyzyk to practice up front, Tucker Poolman is back on defense, as expected.

Lake Superior State is scheduled to leave for Grand Forks tonight. They are taking a sleeper bus and the players will sleep as they go from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., to Grand Forks. It’s about 12 hours. When they wake up in the morning, they will be in town and ready to practice.

O’Donnell out, Schmaltz skates

One step forward, one step back for UND on the injury front.

Nick Schmaltz returned to the ice Wednesday and skated in practice. His status is still up in the air for the weekend, but the fact that he’s out there with the team is a good sign. He did not skate at all with the team last week.

Brendan O’Donnell, however, will not play. O’Donnell took a big hit along the boards in St. Cloud, but played the rest of the game. I’m not sure if that’s the hit where the injury occurred or not. UND coach Dave Hakstol said he’s out for the Omaha series and he did not skate Wednesday.

Bryn Chyzyk also continues to be out indefinitely. He sustained what a teammate described as a shoulder injury on Friday at St. Cloud. Defenseman Paul LaDue also didn’t skate Wednesday, but Hakstol did not mention him as out for this weekend, and nothing appeared visibly wrong with him so it could be a maintenance day as he’s still coming back from his leg injury.

Hakstol also said he liked what Tucker Poolman brought at forward last week and that he would be confident in putting him back there this weekend. So, don’t be surprised if the East Sider plays at least one game at wing.

There was a special guest at practice today in Paul Chadwick, who played for UND from 1977-81 and helped the team win a national championship in 1980. He currently lives in Vail, Colo., but will attend Friday’s game.

Chadwick had an interesting piece of trivia for me, too. If UND does play Arizona State in hockey, it will not be the first time that the program has played a game in Phoenix.

During Chadwick’s sophomore season, UND traveled to play Northern Arizona on the road (Dec. 8-9, 1978). Game 1 of the series was played in Phoenix. UND won 10-2. They went up the mountain to Flagstaff, Ariz., home of NAU, for Game 2.

Chadwick said it was brutally cold in North Dakota when the team left. When they got to Phoenix, local residents were in a panic because it was 40 degrees there. But the team enjoyed the big temperature difference and sat at the pool with their shirts off.

Weekly Wednesday update

No more off weeks the rest of the season for the UND men’s hockey team unless it reaches the Frozen Four.

The mad dash to the finish in the NCHC is about to begin. The stretch run — five weeks of all conference games — starts with Nebraska Omaha this weekend at The Ralph.

I think it’s unlikely that we’ll see Zane Gothberg this weekend as he’s still not practicing with the team yet, but it’s entirely possible that Clarke Saunders would have received the call this weekend anyway with his history against Nebraska Omaha.

Saunders stole games for Alabama Huntsville against Omaha his freshman and sophomore years. He stole another one in November in a game where several members of the team were under the weather.

Omaha goaltender Ryan Massa is doubtful for the weekend, too, though Mav coach Dean Blais has never been predictable when it comes to goalies. Kirk Thompson has played 11 games this season for the Mavs.

UND has the best home record in the NCHC, as listed below, but Omaha has been better on the road than at home this season.

In Friday’s paper, I’ll have a story on Stephane Pattyn, who some teammates describe as a “man’s man.” You’ll find out why. You’ll also find out what teammates called him before he became “The General.”

This week’s Q&A is with Colten St. Clair.

Weekly Wednesday update

Apologies for the late update, but today was a way-too-busy day with way-too-many stories to write before deadline.

UND will bench freshman defenseman Paul LaDue for Friday night’s game because of a noisy party citation he received this week. The 21-year-old has played in every game so far this season for UND.

That makes it more likely that we will see freshman defenseman Keaton Thompson in the lineup. Thompson was the NCHC’s rookie of the week for his performance against St. Lawrence. If he’s not in, UND also could move Andrew Panzarella back to defense.

Junior center Mark MacMillan is back practicing and UND coach Dave Hakstol said he’s “hopeful” that MacMillan will be able to play against the Broncos. That would be a big lift – assuming he’s able to skate better than he could against Duluth.

Hakstol said that Colten St. Clair won’t be back this weekend, but didn’t rule him out for the Northern Michigan series. He said chances are that St. Clair will return sometime after Christmas. He has been skating.

As for goaltending, sophomore Zane Gothberg said he thought he played his best game of the year on Saturday. He said he felt very comfortable in the net. He also said he knows that his next step is finding more consistency.

UND will be going up against Frank Slubowski, aka The Big Slubowski, who is one of the NCHC’s top netminders. WMU plays great defensively around him and UND will really have to work to generate offense against the Broncos. Slubowski is the guy who was in net for WMU for the 2012 NCAA regional game.

UND fans also will see a familiar face on the other side in senior forward Mike Cichy, who played two seasons at UND. Things haven’t come easy for Cichy early this season – he has no points in 10 games – but I’m sure he’d like nothing more than to get on track this weekend.

That’s it for now – off to Kalamazoo today. Hopefully we’ll have some more updates (not related to the weather and travel problems). Did I mention that it is 58 degrees in Kalamazoo right now?

Similar lineup expected

Brendan O’Donnell should be back in the lineup Friday when UND takes on St. Lawrence in nonconference action at Ralph Engelstad Arena, but that may be it for UND’s injured players.

Injured forwards Mark MacMillan, Colten St. Clair and Derek Rodwell are all expected to miss this weekend’s series.

That means UND should have a similar lineup to last weekend’s series against Boston University.

O’Donnell has practiced all week. St. Clair and Rodwell have skated at practice, but they’ve been limited. MacMillan is not skating.

UND coach Dave Hakstol said that defenseman Andrew Panzarella will remain at winger this week for UND. The coaching staff is still trying to decide whether to play Gage Ausmus at wing or defense.

If Ausmus is at wing, presumably Keaton Thompson will be in at D and Mitch MacMillan will be out. If Ausmus is moved back to defense, then Thompson will be out and MacMillan in.

UND short forwards vs. BU

It’s unlikely that UND will have enough healthy forwards to fill four lines when it goes to Boston University this weekend.

Mark MacMillan, Brendan O’Donnell and Colten St. Clair have all been ruled out for the series and Derek Rodwell’s status also is in doubt.

That would leave UND with 11 available forwards.

To address the issue, UND has moved defensemen Andrew Panzarella and Gage Ausmus up front to wing this week in practice. Hakstol says we should expect to see them there this weekend.