Fighting Hawks end season with 24-6 playoff loss: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Today, the Fighting Hawks looked to win against the Colonels of Nicholls State on the road to extend their season to the second round of the FCS Playoffs.

That did not come to pass, as Nicholls State, lead by sophomore running back Julien Gums found holes up the middle all day en route to a 24-6 victory. He ran for 172 yards on a mere 16 carries to put the Fighting Hawks on their heels all game. Senior signal-caller Chase Fourcade was able to capitalize on UND needing to stack the box at times to find wideouts.

His biggest play o the day and one that arguably broke things open for the Colonels was a 45 yard perfectly lofted touchdown pass to Dai’Jean Dixon to get the lead for the Colonels into double digits.

For UND, this game was not the way anyone wanted the season to end. All day the Fighting Hawks were able to find some sucess, especially early on through the air, but never enough for a touchdown. The first couple of drives resulted in punts in Nicholls’ territory or a missed field goal. Senior UND quarterback, Nate Ketteringham never made more than one or two reads on the majority of his throws and while the offense found some sucess through the air, they did not find enough to get a touchdown.

It seemed that the Colonels looked at what UND brought to the game, a talented group of wideouts that are big and physical yet an offense still arguably in transition with players not recruited to play in the offense they now find themselves in, and forced UND to have to run the ball occassionally. Once they were one dimensional,  the Colonels keyed in on Ketteringham’s reads and forced him to be perfect. Unfortunately, despite a valiant effort he was not.

On defense, the Fighting Hawks played a lot and did a lot to keep the team in the game throughout. They bent for most of the game, keeping the game within a touchdown for the majority of the time. In his final game as a Fighting Hawk, Mason Bennett finished strong and notched two sacks as part of an eight tackle game. He will get some pro looks from the NFL, and the CFL, and one would think a team in need of a rangy, hybrid defensive end who can play outside linebacker and has a high football IQ would want to venture to Grand Forks to chat with him over the coming months.

Now What 

Well, the long winter of the offseason has now returned for this UND Football program. They did just enough to squeak into the 2019 FCS Playoff field with a perfect home record and a mere one road win. Nicholls State, to their credit, seemed to mimic what NDSU did to the Fighting Hawks back in September. They utilized big offensive lineman and speed up the middle to take UND out of their own rythm on defense, where they have thrived on stopping the run. On defense, Nicholls State took away the first read for the majority of the night, and made UND run the ball to win, a task it could not do.

What does this all mean going forward? Well first off thanks to all seniors who played their final game today. The legacies left by folks like Mason Bennett and Travis Toivonen are hard to top. This senior class has grown and seen nearly all of the Bubba Schweigert era first hand. Arguably, this senior class has helped spring UND from the abyss its football program was in to one that is competing for playoff berths every season. That is a step we should not look at likely, as there are plenty of college football programs at all levels looking for leaders to do just that.

Now, UND needs to take the next step as they fly to the Missouri Valley Football Conference starting next year. To me, it is the SEC of the FCS. The goal for this team next year of course will be to make the playoffs, but to continue the ascent this program has been on since Bubba took over as Head Coach needs to win at least one playoff game. This team is now in the same conference as NDSU, and however unfairly, will have every move compared to the Bison even more so, now that they share the same conference.

What do the Bison do yearly? Win Championships, and what does that take? Winning multiple playoff games. What does winning multiple playoff games every year mean? Along with adding to records, it adds time to the season for practice and skill development and builds the program. UND getting a bye next year or even just winning a game would be massive. Bubba has built this program in steps since he came here, first he helped establish a winning culture, next he helped this team leave no doubt and earn its first ever seed and home playoff game. Next, he showed that this program can fight through adversity, and after a year of multiple injuries at key positions had this team within one game of the playoffs .This year they made it back to the playoffs.

Now, the returners and this staff have to work with the big recruiting class it has coming in to get this program over the next hump. Changes could be on the way amongst the coaching staff as people move on to their next job or calling in life. I think this staff, especially the offensive staff lead by Danny Freund as the new coordinator, have breathed life into a once stagnant offense and should be given an immense amount of credit for utilizing players recruited for a different system and making them fit the new power spread look UND ran this year. Now, beginning to see players recruited for this system of offense will be the next marker for this team. How they can all work together to advance the offense will determine the fate of this team. Even the best defenses need some points to win games.

We will have more thoughts on UND Football in the offseason but wanted to talk about the game tonight, and my first thoughts on what’s next for this Fighting Hawks program. It is one on the rise, but still with a long way to soar to catch up with its new conference mates.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, and under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

Time to grow: The FCS Playoffs

What if i told you every year, that three conferences in the FCS do not participate in the playoffs. Well unfortunately that under the current 24 team setup is true. The Ivy League does not send its champion, and the MEAC and SWAC champions participate in the Celebration Bowl. Some years, like in 2016, a runner up MEAC school can make the playoffs but that is a rarity I wish we would see happen more frequently. This year I was moved by the plight of South Carolina State University. The Bulldogs won seven games that mattered in the FCS considerations (the Selection Committee does not count wins over division two, division three, or NAIA schools, but losses to them hurt your standing, FBS wins count as a plus but losses to them do not hurt).

The best win of this team quality wise was beating Wofford, a good Southern Conference team in the field of 24. The current format and setup of the two Division One HBCU conferences puts them at an unfair disadvantage. The best two teams from each of these conferences (in the MEAC’s case, second best as Florida A&M was ineligible for the postseason) is bound to play in the Celebration Bowl, a game which routinely out draws pretty much all of the FCS playoffs on a yearly basis.

I understand why the MEAC and SWAC send their champions to this showcase in Atlanta every year. The games are always great, and the bands (and all HBCU Bands) are always sensational. One of the most underrated parts of HBCU games for someone who did not grow up watching them, and has began following them a bit more since seeing multiple stars like Tarik Cohen head to the NFL, is that the bands consistently play throughout the game. It gives the game more pace and adds a unique element to every game.

Anyway, back to the main point, three conferences do not send their champions to the FCS Playoffs and it boggles my mind as to why. For the MEAC and SWAC, I would humbly propose that the SWAC eliminate their championship and play all games in one division. Schools could still have natural travel partners they play every year, but having a conference full of teams that you do not always play in one division is not unique to the SWAC at this level, it is a part of the Missouri Valley Conference for instance. In addition, I would work to ensure all SWAC games are done the same weekend the MEAC schedule finishes, before the selection of the field.

Regarding the Celebration Bowl, perhaps a post post season game could be played if the game is to go on, or if ended, I would propose that all MEAC and SWAC schools be awarded the fees from ESPN to broadcast the game, and in return each school gets a set amount more of exposure on the ESPN family of networks not harming the amount of money each school gets, and over time that the two conferences work towards a better deal.

As to the Bulldogs, one could argue that they did something a team in this field did not do, beat a playoff team . The team I am speaking of is Kennesaw State. While the Owls did a lot of great things this season, they did not beat a single team in the 24 team field.

As to the Ivy League, well that is its own issue. The Ivy League, which allows schools in nearly every other sport it sponsors teams in, including the time and travel intensive Men’s Basketball Tournament, for some reason bars its champion from participating in the tournament. While yes, the playoffs happen for a lot of schools around final exams, I find it upsetting that schools say to their student-athletes essentially, if you play football here you cannot play in the postseason, yet if you play basketball and find yourself in the Sweet 16 or make a wonderful run to the Final Four (rare but it can happen) you can miss multiple weeks of school no problem. It is not consistent to me, that needs to change.

How we change 

My idea is simple, expand the field to 32 teams, give auto bids to the MEAC and the SWAC Champions which gets us to 26 schools in the field. Next work with the Ivy League to find a solution to their concerns about compromising academics for sport and give their champ an auto bid as well, that gets us to 27 schools. For even numbers, and for parity sake with more schools jumping to the FCS level, giving out the remaining five spots as at large bids is truly the way to go. This would give us the same amount of weekends dedicated to the sport, and the committee could truly seed the field 1-32 and assign opponents accordingly.

So for example, the Bison would always play the lowest remaining school before Frisco and their yearly trek to the National Championship, and the lower seeded teams would be in and have a chance to shock the world yearly. If it is good enough for the true money maker of college athletics, the Division One Men’s Basketball Tournament, I think the FCS could learn from that.

The highest remaining seed has first right to host each round, paying the NCAA a guarantee similar to the current system through the semi finals. However, if their are facility issues, and a neutral site in the town is not qualified to host, then the lower seed could see the game at their place.

Eventually, the FCS playoffs will expand as more teams come in to this wonderful level of college football. Why not do it now and embrace the growing national awareness of FCS Football. It is a great game, let’s get more schools involved in the pinnacle of it, the FCS Playoffs.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, and under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

Vent about a tent: UND Football Opinion

This Saturday, the Fighting Hawks Football program heads south to Louisiana to take on the Colonels of Nicholls State. You will read plenty about on field happenings from other outlets and this one as well before, during, and after the game on Saturday.

The primary focus of this article is simply to implore the NCAA to, frankly, do better when it comes to awarding bids. In any other sport, at any other time, this situation of a visiting team playing for its season to continue would not be in any way acceptable.

I understand that Nicholls State is in the middle of renovating their facility and upgrading their facilities for visitors in the long run. That is great and should continue. I also get that during the season, some times accommodations need to be made and that no one will be happy with them fully.

What, to me, makes zero sense is how the Colonels, as a part of their facility profile they had to submit for this bid had this issue over looked by the Selection Committee. Those deciding who gets to host these first round games knew the locker room situation and thought this was fine. Assuming that the Colonels bid more than UND,  I understand why they were awarded the game, but again, any explanation for why seniors should have to play their potentially last game getting dressed in a portable tent while showering in what look like rent-a-showers, to me is not good enough.

Heck, I do not even think UND should be hosting as some fans do because of this facility issue. I just do not think the committee acted fairly towards its student-athletes that play this game. One of the goals of the NCAA, that I have heard constantly in everything it does is to make the student athlete experience better.

What part of making a team get dressed in a tent in a parking lot for a postseason game does that? Why is the money from the host institution seeming to be your only consideration? Assuming Nicholls State bid more than the Fighting Hawks for this game, I understand why it was awarded to them to some degree. Heck the tents may even be fantastic, but this creates the appearance of impropriety.

If you are a Bison fan reading this article, ask yourself this, when the Bison have to travel on the road in the FCS, or if they keep playing at the level they are, in the FBS one day, for the playoffs (assuming some level of expansion) would you be ok with this? I think we all know the answer.

Teams playing through renovations is quite fine and a part of sport at any level. What matters here is the fact that this is the postseason. On a humid day in Louisiana, one team will have a home field advantage not because of their fans being there, but because it appears that the NCAA decided that the money it gets from a team is worth more than a fair playing field.

This reeks of disrespect on the NCAA’s part. I do not think it was intentional but it comes off that way. Nicholls State should not be allowed to host this game, because before a single fan walks into the stadium, and before ESPN starts their broadcast, the deck, to some degree is stacked against UND. The last plus 80 degree day in Grand Forks happened on August 24, right as UND was wrapping up fall camp. I will surely bet it is not as humid here as it is in Thibodaux year round.

Nicholls State, congratulations for making the tournament, this article is not about your team or your bid. This is a simple request to the NCAA for future tournaments to simply do better. Having to dress in tents for what could be some of these seniors’ last ever football game is not in any way an advancement of the student-athlete experience.

As stated, UND does not need to host this game, I would have preferred Nicholls State being sent on the road to somewhere with better facilities for them to practice. The Fighting Hawks could have traveled as well.

With all of this being said, Saturday’s game will be electric and pit one of the best senior signal callers in the nation in Chase Fourcade against a pro style defense with novels worth of schemes it can run on a weekly basis. This article is simply a simple request to the NCAA for future FCS playoff matches, when selecting a host, value student athlete experience a little bit more than the guarantee you receive.

In short, NCAA, please, for the sake of everyone, do better.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, and under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

“Young Skokes” helps UND Football earn a 36-18 victory over Southern Utah to stay in 2019 FCS Playoff discussion

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

After the game he had, freshman running back for the Fighting Hawks, Luke Skokna stepped up to the podium as the first player to talk to the press. He illuminated a lot of key things throughout the week leading up to him getting his red shirt pulled playing in his fifth game as a freshman. For example, he noted that his position coach Malcom Agnew was critical in his development throughout the year and helped him get ready for this moment. In addition, he mentioned how positive his injured teammate Cam McKinney always is and how the two have bonded throughout the year.

McKinney and Skokna are both, as UND Head Coach Bubba Schweigert says “home-run hitters” capable of quick scores and capable of changing the course of a game with a simple juke or two. Skokna produced a lot of those as, filling in for an injured McKinney, he finished the day with 16 yards on a mere 11 caries with two end zone visits among them to spur UND forward to a 36-18 win to move to 7-4. Finally, senior wideout Travis Toivonen, who was waiting to chat with the media loudly praised his teammate yelling joyously “Young Skokes!” supporting his teammate when Skokna finished his time with the press. On his redshirt being pulled so he could play today, Skokna “everything happens for a reason.”

The game opened up for the Fighting Hawks who weathered a tough storm in the first half full of turnovers and gifting Southern Utah chances to score on short fields, which they converted on two out of the three turnovers. Thunderbirds quarterback Chris Helbig quietly had a nice day against a stout UND defense, utilizing a lot of crossing routes and underneath looks to go 24-42 for 258 yards (one touchdown) with only one interception on the day.

His ability to extend plays and convert on key third downs helped Southern Utah hang around through into the third quarter. UND had to adjust their coverage a bit to disrupt some of the crossing looks presented by the Thunderbirds and as the game went on, thanks to the help of Defensive Coordinator Eric Schmidt’s staff, UND’s defense reasserted themselves in the second half.

One standout was Mason Bennett, although he did not get a sack, he finishd with five tackles and a quarterback hurry. He sometimes had to work through double teams and still set the edge for the Fighting Hawks quite well along with standout Jaxson Turner who finished with six total tackles on the game. As those two work back to full health, if UND gets to play again next weekend, good things could happen.

Now What 

Tomorrow is Selection Sunday for UND. They will know around 11:30 or so what the fate of this 2019 group is. They will have a first round game next weekend, or their season will be over with the 30 point loss at Idaho State, and the Weber State potential upset slipping through their fingers being the the two biggest marks on their record one could concede to the committee for letting in a similar team with a similar resume who won one of those games that UND did not. At the end of the day, projections are great, but the committee’s is the only one that matters, let’s see what happens.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

UND earns balanced 4-2 win over St. Cloud State: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

After a wonderful series in Denver where the Fighting Hawks Men’s Hockey Team took five of six possible points from the Pioneers, starting on time at home against an always fast St. Cloud State Huskies side was crucial. Beyond the first shift, the Huskies actually had the better run of play for the first few minutes of the game. They were leading in shot attempts 7-3 with 12:28 left in the first period. After that, for the rest of the game the Fighting Hawks massively controlled possession winning shot attempts 63-26 for the rest of the game. The Huskies tried to replicate Miami’s formula to keep Saturday night close, but to no avail. Throughout the game St. Cloud State was able to get through the neutral zone, but unlike the Red Hawks tried to shoot straight against Adam Scheel.

For the most part he did his job. Arguably Scheel would like the second goal allowed against Nick Poehling back as he got him clean through the five hole, but other than that he was able to square up the Huskies’ shooters all night, only having to make 17 saves on 19 shots faced.

Now we move to the Fighting Hawks. Shane Pinto had a wonderful evening, as he has had most nights throughout the year. He was the beneficiary of playing with Westin Michaud who earned assists on both of his first period goals that set the tone for the game. Pinto and Michaud set the tone for the game. In the post game, when asked about what it means to play with Michaud, Pinto called him an “Energizer Bunny”, which is an apt description given how relentless Westin is on the forecheck and in generating turnovers to provide quality looks for his team.

42 schools were interested in Michaud when he was going through the grad transfer process. 60 schools currently sponsor men’s college hockey. That means 70 percent of college hockey wanted Michaud to play for them, and thankfully for this Fighting Hawks team, he chose to play here. He is able to generate offense in an instant, and plays a similar game to one Drake Caggiula who now makes his living with the Chicago Blackhawks. There is a pro market for the style of game Michaud plays and the turnovers he generated Friday night will be part of his highlight reel for years to come. In terms of generating possesion and quick chances, Michaud has arguably made the biggest impact in getting everyone else to play to their potential just by getting his team the puck back more often.

What Now

Going into the finale, we learned some more about this Fighting Hawks team. We know they can score with a lot more regularity than their past two groups could. After last night we know that they learned from the Miami and Denver series regarding keeping teams to the outside and limiting chances. Arguably the most impressive team sequence for the Fighting Hawks was when the Huskies went with the extra attacker. They tried to walk the puck through the middle of the ice to gain entry, but one Cole Smith stood them up at the blue line, and fired the puck in to the yawning cage to provide the final margin of victory.

Saturday night at the Ralph Engelstad Arena will feature a pumped up crowd looking for another series sweep and a desperate Huskies side looking for a split to get their season back on track. If UND can play disciplined hockey and keep gumming up the middle preventing easy zone entries, look for good things to happen at the Ralph tonight.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

Just Win: UND Football

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Remember the 2018’s UND Football  Team’s final result on the field? They lost a winnable game to Northern Arizona on the road. Had they secured that victory they most likely would have been in the 2018 iteration of the FCS Playoffs.

Well, this year’s team featuring both multiple program-defining wins over ranked teams, and head scratching losses like a drubbing on the road at the hands of the Bengals of Idaho State, has a chance to make the playoffs. Their ill fated loss to the Wildcats of Weber State, the number three ranked team in the country, one could argue, did not change what needs to happen the next two weeks, nor the impact of this team’s perception in the big picture.

This team plays its final two games at home at the Alerus Center against two sub .500 Big Sky teams in Northern Colorado and Southern Utah. If there was ever a cases of a team looking to play spoiler these next two weeks will provide two teams looking to do just that. They could put Fighting Hawks fans on the other side of the equation from Head Coach Bubba Schweigert’s first year where his side spoiled the playoff hopes of Northern Arizona to end his first season as head coach of UND Football.

This article is simply to point out a few things I have seen this week on social media. First off, could UND be ranked higher? Well yes, and given its resume one could argue for that as several Fighting Hawks fans and media members have done. If I had a vote in the FCS Stats Poll which is compiled by media members around the country, well I could see ranking the team anywhere from 20-30 (if you include those receiving votes). To me 26 in the media poll is not as big of a slight as some have argued as this team, for all of its success this year, has not won more than two games in a row once this season. That streak included winning on the road barely against a Cal Poly team that for all of the good they have done this year, will not be in the FCS playoffs and currently is 2-7.

Are all the wins over ranked teams impressive?

You bet they are.

Are those wins alone enough to get this team into the playoffs?

No they are not.

If this team does not win its last two games, they will not make the playoffs and by that point the media poll will not matter.

If this team wins one game, and finishes 6-5 they will not make the playoffs again despite finishing with two winnable games and having a win against the number three ranked team in the country just elude their grasp. Then the questions about why this team did not schedule 12 games in a year where that was possible will consume part of another long winter of regret in Grand Forks.

All of this is to say the following. Should this team as built assuming it gets back its defensive line stars in Mason Bennett and Jaxson Turner and gets healthy for these last two games make the playoffs, well yes. Will the media under ranking UND for a few weeks matter? No it will not. Attacking media members who watch a lot of FCS ball weekly for not having UND ranked higher, after a loss, in a poll meant to be a snapshot of the moment to see who the best 25 teams in the country are is at best myopic.

I do think that you could argue the team be a bit higher and that’s fair. This piece of my opinion is designed to remind Fighting Hawks fans of the reality of the day. If UND does not win its last two games we will have the following things to be upset about at the end of the day.

Again, a great mostly injury free Fighting Hawks side with great wins came up just short of the playoffs despite having a chance to play an extra non conference game in a 12 game season and finishing its season against two teams whom they should win against.

That is it, that is the list right there. Head Coach Bubba Schweigert and his players are focusing on winning two more games at home. If they do, Sam Herder of Hero Sports thinks they will be in the FCS playoffs based on how things stand at the moment. Regardless of where they get in the big dance if they do make it, then that will be the time for this team to prove people wrong. They need to punch two more sections of their ticket to earn entrance to the 24 team FCS playoffs.

From there, everything is possible for this team, and then they can then work to prove those in the media who have undervalued their wins due to not winning more than two games in a row all year. They have to make the tournament first, all else to this team is secondary.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

Fighting Hawks hang on in 5-4 thriller to earn sweep: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Coming into this weekend, Jasper Weatherby had a lot to show for his efforts this season. Routinely, the sophomore Sharks’ prospect is the first choice to take faceoffs in key moments and he has continuted to get better with his net front presence to the point where his screens have helped contribute to multiple goals this season. He had not tallied a goal to match his efforts. This weekend,with one on each night his goals total has started to get a little closer to matching the hard work he has put in for a Fighting Hawks side that has found its replacement for Rhett Gardner in big moments to take faceoffs.

The Fighting Hawks earned a sweep of the Miami Red Hawks with a 5-4 thrilling win on Saturday night at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, in large part thanks to Weatherby’s efforts, combined with the consistent play of Colin Adams who put up two goals on four shots.

His game has continued to grow as well as he finished the night 11-3 on faceoffs, complimented by Weatherby’s 9-5 mark. Again, the faceoff dot is a recurring strength for this team, as the Fighting Hawks finished 40-23 on the evening.

That consistency setup a strong first two periods which featured all of UND’s scoring as Adams, Weatherby, Westin Michaud, and Jordan Kawaguchi would all find the twine for UND on this wacky night replete with offense from both sides.

All of UND’s goals to some degree involved getting Miami goalie Ryan Larkin to have to move off his spot laterally, he typically was not fast enough for the skilled shooting of the Fighting Hawks combined with their superb playmaking showcased throughout the evening. The goal that best personified that was on the power play for the Fighting Hawks, as Westin Michaud made a wonderful backhand pass to Weatherby in space. In mere milliseconds the puck was off his stick and in the top opposite corner of the net, far away from Larkin. Weatherby burying a few more like that, combined with Adams’ ability to help out in the faceoff dot and develop his scoring touch gives UND even more options going forward, which they will need to take on Denver next weekend.

The defense, and now what?

While the goal scoring was quite nice for UND, they did show some vulnerabilities on defense. Goaltender Adam Scheel made some key saves as he does, but at points looked positively human. Miami at times took the game to the Fighting Hawks and made Scheel move laterally, and like Larkin, it seemed as if Scheel had some trouble doing so with any frequency, as the Red Hawks often had sucess burying turnovers, especially on the rush, and through the five hole. While Scheel does not often have nights like this, how this team responds to the issues laid bare at home tonight will go a long way to determining its fate. Keep an eye on the Denver series and look how the Pioneers attack Scheel. They play a speed game and like to score goals off the rush with goalies being forced to move around.

Like the Mankato series, and to some degree tonight, UND could find themselves chasing games if they stay a little too loose in their own end defensively as teams will be more willing to open up their systems a bit more against a Fighting Hawks team that defensively seems more vulnerable on the rush compared to being beaten on a long shift. What happens against Denver remains to be seen, but this team showed that it can score sometimes at will, a welcome upgrade from the morass of great effort but little results this team found itself in last season for vast swaths of it.

In the postseason, being able to win games in multiple ways can often extend your season, we now see that UND can win high-flying games. They have until Friday night at Magness Arena to sure up some things to limit the need to play in more of them, but know that they can play this style if needed.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

An idea for UND Athletics road trips to bring the community together

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

One of the first things I learned about Grand Forks when I came to UND is how passionate this fanbase is about its athletics at-large. One of the other things I learned pretty fast is how expensive it is to be a college hockey fan, and a fan of a lot of teams when they travel on the road, single game streams for some sports alone can range from 7-10 dollars, and more and more the only option available is to purchase a month long stream that can cost around 30 dollars to follow college hockey.  For that, you also have to make sure you remember to cancel the auto renew to see your team play on the road or hope Midco Sports picks up your game on the road as they have done when UND played Duluth and Omaha in hockey last season.

What’s a busy fan of UND Athletics who doesn’t want to pay for athletics streams to do?

Well this is where the Athletic Department and Learfield Sports could step in and save the day. One thing that could sell as a sponsored right fairly fast is designating an official watch spot for all UND Athletics road matches. Not only for men’s hockey, but for football, volleyball, soccer, men and women’s basketball, softball, and any other sport that is being live streamed in any fashion. While the games for some of these sports are free, i think that there is an element of revenue out there to be had for the athletics department and Learfield who helps them sell sponsorships for their media entities.

Imagine for a minute, for the big road match up UND Football has today against Weber State, a bevy of fans gathered at a local place, perhaps Buffalo Wild Wings. While they may stream the game already I believe an element of community is not being as engaged as they could be. Imagine having I Heart Media (the official radio rights holders to UND Athletics)  on hand with one of their wonderful radio personalities on site with giveaways and specials on food and drinks during the game. During pregame for football today, you could have I Heart on site and have one of their hosts getting messages of encouragement for UND Football and all sports. If a fan’s message is selected for the pregame or use in further ads, they could win a gift card from the sponsor, say Buffalo Wild Wings or whomever gets the deal.

Then, the UND Home of Economy Radio Network could spice up their ads promoting further UND Athletics broadcasts with organic content from fans most passionate about the team. You could even work with alums for Men’s Hockey and other sports in town to provide another reason to attend. If a program graduate (say Ryan Duncan for Men’s Hockey) wants to guest host you could have them help amp up fans,and maybe sign autographs.

Does this require more work to figure out? Of course it does. Is it an opportunity for UND and Learfield to improve fan engagement and sell a big rights deal to a local restaurant to further engage passionate Fighting Hawks fans and provide an outlet for those looking for that sense of community that only things like sport can bring even on an away game? Yes it does. I am sure outlets around town already stream games to some extent, and some surely will even without “sponsoring” official watch parties.

What they cannot bring to the party that Learfield and I Heart Media can is further incentive driving fans to one spot, the engagement possibilities leveraging media rights holder I Heart Radio, and potential to increase revenue and engagement for UND Athletics, Learfield Sports, and local businesses looking to provide giveaway items to the most engaged fans in town. Bringing together fans all around Grand Forks is something UND Athletics does on a weekly basis, why not leverage that community on away games for any sport to help the Athletics Department bring in more revenue to hit its goals.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

Opportunistic Bemidji State earns 7-1 victory over Lake Superior State

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

If you look at the score, you see a 7-0 Bemidji State win, and rightly so. Adam Brady finished with two goals  along with Charlie Combs to lead the way in scoring for the Beavers, Kyle Looft earned his first career college hockey goal, and Zach Driscoll earned a 28 save victory with superb play throughout, including on multiple key breakaways in the first period where he kept the game tied before Bemidji State found their footing and took hold of the game. Max Humitz provided the only marker for the Lakers on a breakaway late in the third period.

Looking beyond the box score you see how close this game was in the first despite the score. Ian Johnston and Louis Boudon each hit the frame of the goal in the first period, arguably each were the Lakers’ two best early chances. The Lakers would keep things close on shot attempts through the first period, only trailing by six, 23-17. Those two hit pipes changed the course of the game and gave the Beavers and opening they did not miss. The Lakers paid for those misses throughout the game, as they never really controlled time and space for very long other than the first few minutes where they hit those pipes on Friday night.

After the first, in terms of possession, Bemidji State began to assert themselves a bit more. Their stymieing style of defense sinking back four players in the neutral zone made it tough for the Lakers to get through with any consistent speed. In the second, the Beavers added two of their five markers to provide the final score at the end of Mitens’ 40 minutes of tough service.Despite being pulled after two periods, Mitens made several great saves and showcased his lateral quickness throughout the game, he typically as beat on grade a chances that the Lakers need to clamp down on to have a better chance at winning the finale, Mitens’ lateral quickness has actually improved year over year since we have first started covering him, and he faced an absolute barrage of shots on net tonight. After the game, Coach Damon Whitten and forward Yuki Miura both noted the need to limit shots on net. Whitten noted the need to win more puck battles, which often cost the Lakers dearly. Roman Bengert finished up in the third period for the Lakers making 10 saves on the night facing 12 shots fired towards him.

If the Lakers can get an early goal, like they have done with some regularity this season, in the series finale, they can make the Beavers do what they had to tonight, play out of their comfort zone. When the Lakers attack and press the issue this season they typically can compete with most teams. When their opponents score first they have had to force passes not always there and look for stretch passes and play out of their system.

Look for more on these Lakers in the coming weeks, but for tomorrow night keep an eye on who scores first, for the most part this season that has told the story of win or loss for the Lakers of Lake Superior State University. If they can earn a split on the road before facing off against Michigan Tech at home, that is the best outcome they can hope for Saturday night in Bemidji.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college athletics please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about college athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

UND Soccer: Some more breaths

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Every home game this year for UND Soccer has had them warm up to a diverse playlist including a clean version of Future’s song entitled “Last Breath”, one lyric in the song that stands out because it personifies the mentality of this team is below:

“I got angels all around me, yeah, yeah
I got love all around me, yeah, yeah
I’ll be a fighter ’til the end, ’til my last breath
I’ma hustle ’til my last breath”

This bit of the song personifies the mentality of this team this season. Thanks to a Mary DeWalt marker for the Pioneers of Denver on Sunday, UND earned a place in the tournament over their in state rival whom they outplayed in most metrics other than score, the Bison of North Dakota State. This team has shown all year that they consistently hustle until the clock strikes zero or the golden goal goes in. In addition, this is a team greater than the sum of its parts which in and of themselves are pretty good.

This Fighting Hawks team has been in nearly every game they have played this year throughout the entire 90 minutes, with one of their rare exceptions being in the 7-0 loss to the Pioneers. In that game, Mimi Eiden had the first good chance and did not convert before the Pioneers put away two goals late in the half. Head Coach Chris Logan then opened up the pace of play in the second half which lead to more chances for UND, but also more goals for Denver on the counter attack. Logan was happier with the effort from his team that day than in their 1-0 overtime loss to Oral Roberts, because of the quality of chances created against the Summit League Regular Season Champion was higher.

The forward group for this Fighting Hawks side has been impressive to watch this season. While Mimi Eiden lead the way with goals scored and is often the fastest player on the pitch, that, to me at least is not what stood out most about her play this season. She has been able to consistently track back on balls and plays the entire length of the pitch as needed. In addition, she has developed her finishing throughout the season and still has another to play for this Fighting Hawks side.

In addition to Eiden, freshman sensation Bailey McNitt has provided another spark to this team. She plays a sound technical game with a lot of the speed of Eiden and an ability to generate top flight crosses. Her most memorable moment this season was coming off the bench to take a corner kick in double overtime against the Gaels of Saint Mary’s that found its way off Meghan Wilson’s foot and into the back of the net for the golden goal.

Olivia Knox has added to her superb freshman season with another strong one this year. Her value to this team has been her ability to play in the midfield or forward as needed. She started the year in more of a central defensive midfield role before moving back to her forward position as the temperature fell and the meaning of the games went up. Her consistent presence for this team regarding getting and holding the ball through the midfield and setting up the talented wingers this team has cannot be understated.

Finally, on defense, Hannah Olson has been this team’s most consistent defender leading a strong back line of players who allow the talented forwards on this team to push forward as needed. Olson often dispossesses players of the ball and dishes it the other way pretty quickly, she can join the attack as needed, and is just a freshman.

These are just some of the standouts this team has had this year, this is the most well rounded team Logan has had, and they face Denver at 3 PM tomorrow. If this team wants its season to have breath in the Summit League Championship, they need to score first against Denver and defend without sacrificing any attack to do so. Easier said than done as the Pioneers have multiple award winners leading the way for them, but keeping this all in perspective, a team with three seniors and a talented underclassmen core gets another chance to challenge one of the most veteran teams the Summit League has. At the beginning of the year, Logan planned to get his team in the tournament.

The Fighting Hawks can now prove some people wrong tomorrow against the Pioneers, and regardless of result, this season will go on until its last breath because of the hustle and dedication of this team to consistent development. Whatever the result, this team has set the standard for team soccer in the Division One Era so all Fighting Hawks teams that come after it have a much higher benchmark to reach for.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.