Double Deflection Does in Fighting Hawks in 2-0 Loss to Western Michigan: Three Thoughts

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee- Violent Turtle Photography)

Coming into this one, both teams had some injury issues, and tonight North Dakota came out on the short end of things on the ice losing 2-0. The Fighting Hawks out shot the Broncos 32-19 but lost the game 2-0. Western Michigan goalie Trevor Gorsuch spun a 32 save shutout in the win. Peter Thome made 17 saves on 18 shots for UND.

The lone goal of the affair came on a double deflection in the third period 12:24 in as Josh Passolt deflected a Hugh McGing pass off the skate of Hayden Shaw and past Thome. Colt Conrad added an empty net marker a few minutes later to provide the final 2-0 margin for the Broncos. Of the 62 shot attempts for the Fighting Hawks, only 32 found their way to Gorsuch.

Despite having three power plays in the first, UND generated only eight shots on net during them combined. None of them found the back of the net. Western Michigan utilized an aggressive penalty kill and took away the time and space of the Fighting Hawks, especially on the points on special teams to limit good power play looks. UND actually lead the night in blocked shots with 18 (18-13) but Western Michigan’s aggressive defense limited quality looks and increased misses for the Fighting Hawks on the evening.

Read on to find out how UND can build on the opener to get a few more in the back of the net Saturday night.

Simplify

Whenever UND comes up short this seems to be a theme for the Fighting Hawks. UND needs to simplify its approach on special teams to generate more chances from high-quality scoring areas. As Western Michigan utilizes an aggressive penalty kill and system to limit quality chances, UND needs to find a way to capitalize on that system. One idea is generating a few more head-fakes and juke moves to open lanes. Think back to the Jacob Bernard-Docker overtime winner against Wisconsin. That patience and poise allowed him to make a nice move to open a lane and provide the final margin that night. That same ability to wait out an opponent did not manifest itself for UND as much on  Friday night at the Ralph.

Add Quality

If the Fighting Hawks finish the series finale with less shots reaching the net, but more goals, no one will be disappointing. The top line number of 32 shots on net was nice, but a lot of those chances as the game wore on were outside chances. It would be equivalent to a basketball team taking a lot of extra shots from beyond the three-point line but not connecting. If UND is able to find more chances down low utilizing the skills it has to mitigate the physical style of hockey the Broncos play, the result in the finale could be a bit different.

Patience

One of the things that impressed me when UND went on its  five game win streak was its patience. If shots did not open up right away, the Fighting Hawks made the extra pass and did not force the issue unnecessarily. That ability to be patient is one of the hallmarks of this team when it is rolling. So now, we patiently wait for game two of the series and see what the Fighting Hawks have in store on a Saturday night in Grand Forks.

 

 

 

Pick Six Propels UND Back Into Playoff Picture: Three Thoughts

(Photo Credit: Russell Hons-FightingHawks.com)

Yesterday, in front of a loud group of Alerus Center fans, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks were able to propel themselves back into the playoff picture with a 17-10 win over the Portland State University Vikings. This was a defensive game that featured multiple interceptions, including a game-breaking one from Lenny Nelson IV that sealed the victory for the Fighting Hawks. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Jaxson Turner was able to deflect a pass up for Nelson who took it and scampered 58 yards to the end zone for UND. The Fighting Hawks later tacked on a Brady Leach 19 yard field goal to provide the final margin of victory. Here are some thoughts on the win and what to look for next week.

Front Seven Wins Games

Throughout the season, we have seen this theme emerge again and again. Yesterday was no exception to this rule. The Fighting Hawks had five sacks yesterday, and could have had quite a few more. Portland State quarterback Davis Alexander was able to avoid pressures multiple times and capitalize on edges that collapsed in to find openings and escape for positive rushes multiple times.  That said, UND did a superb job generating pressure and forcing him to react quickly. Mason Bennett had 1.5 sacks yesterday to move within three sacks of the single season record shared by incumbent defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt and Wes Atkinson. How well UND can get off the ball next weekend and force the issue will go a long way to determining their fate this year.

Playoff Possibilities Pop Up 

Coming into yesterday, the Fighting Hawks’ playoff chances took a bit of a hit with their loss last weekend to Idaho. That said, they were able to do their part on the field and took advantage of a wacky day all around the FCS, especially in the Missouri Valley Conference that saw two teams (Western Illinois, and Northern Iowa) fall out of playoff contention with their fifth loses. That said, the Fighting Hawks need to win next week, and assume nothing. A few years ago a strong UND team with an FBS win was unable to get into the field despite a 7-4 record. All this team can do is finish strong against Northern Arizona and wait for their fate to be announced.

Shorthanded Offense 

Yesterday, UND was limited with what it could do in its passing game as multiple wide receivers (Izzy Adeoti, Garett Maag, and Travis Toivonen) did not play due to injuries. Their leading wide receiver yesterday, Noah Wanzek, only had 57 yards on five catches. Look for UND to utilize all of its running backs next week as they look to use them to be able to open up the passing game a bit more. How often UND throws will be largely contingent on what personnel they have. Should yesterday’s lineup play again, look for another classic run-heavy day to open up the passing game. Yesterday’s play calling combined with previous weeks has taken into account what UND has to work with.

All of these thoughts being taken into account, UND cannot focus on the national picture until they finish up next weekend. A loss to Northern Arizona will end the season of the Fighting Hawks. Winning next week keeps them in strong contention for a playoff spot. How this all shakes out will depend on what the front seven can do, how the offense can adapt, and what happens around the country next week. UND can control only the first two things, and not rely on the final fact to determine their playoff fate. Next week the Fighting Hawks’ season is on the line once again. Hopefully the regular season finale in Flagstaff can turnout fantastic for the Fighting Hawks.

Fighting Hawks Use Prodigious Patience to Sweep Wisconsin in Overtime

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons-FightingHawks.com)

In front of a packed and loud loud Ralph Engelstad Arena, the University of North Dakota looked to be on their way to a tie as they were 0-8 on their power play chances. The Fighting Hawks were doing a lot of cross-seam passes and making multiple attempts to set up perfect chances. Luckily, they were able to buck that trend. In overtime, with one second left on a five-on-three power play, Jacob Bernard-Docker scored his second goal of his college career and on the weekend. The Senators’ prospect took a feed from Colton Poolman 21 seconds into the overtime frame. He was able to head fake a Wisconsin defender and force him to commit to a shot block one split second to soon. Bernard-Docker used his patience and then went on to bury a perfect wrist shot by Daniel Lebedeff and secure the 3-2 win and series sweep. On the evening, Lebedeff saved 32 shots for the Badgers compared to 21 for UND netminder Adam Scheel. He picked up his second win of the weekend for the Fighting Hawks and did so all in a game that featured a combined 30 penalty minutes, 11 power plays, and multiple stoppages to review potential major penalties.

The first big point in the game came a few minutes into the first. 2:29 into the first period, Wyatt Kalynuk took a cross checking penalty that could have turned into a major penalty. After review, it did not. A few seconds after UND’s second power play chance in the first five minutes went for naught, Wisconsin made them pay. Will Johnson took a feed from Seamus Malone and fired a deflected shot past Adam Scheel and into the back of the net for the first Badgers goal of the series. That would remain the score after the first period as UND was unable to capitalize on any of its four power plays. In eight minutes of power play time, the Fighting Hawks generated six shots on net. In the rest of the first frame at even strength they generated three shots on Badgers netminder Daniel Lebedeff.

In the second period, things changed a bit as the penalty sheet did not fill up as fast with only four penalties called in the second period, halving the total of the first period. Grant Mismash turned over a Wisconsin skater and walked right in to tie things up all by himself. He had a nice evening finishing plus one with the goal. In addition, his vision and patience, like Bernard-Docker, are fun to watch. Both are prime candidates to play for their respective national teams in the World Junior Championship this winter.

In the third, things opened up for both teams early on. 3:19 into the third, Tarek Baker potted his third marker of the season for the Badgers as he redirected a K’Andre Miller shot past Scheel. Wisconsin looked to secure the split after this. Nick Jones and Gabe Bast had other ideas. 30 seconds after the Baker marker, Jones received a perfect seam pass from Bast at the opposing blue line. Nick Jones went on to go five-hole past Lebedeff on the mini-breakaway and tie things up once again.On that play, both Bast and Jones praised each other for their efforts. Jones noted that those two had connected multiple times in similar fashion in their year as junior hockey teammates playing for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League. That would be the margin until the overtime winner from Bernard-Docker. The Fighting Hawks head to Oxford, Ohio next weekend to open up their National Collegiate Hockey Conference Season against Miami of Ohio.Look for UND to vary their special teams approach to improve on their 1-9 power play showing.

While 1-9 on the power play is what no one wanted, they did learn something about themselves tonight. UND will play better, especially on special teams when they try to keep the puck on their stick a split second longer. By opening up lanes like Bernard-Docker did on both of his goals, they give themselves more time and space to get a better shot. This may mean lower total shot attempts, but the overall shooting percentage could go up. Despite all of their efforts tonight, Wisconsin did block 25 of UND’s 72 total shot attempts on the evening. Lowering that number as the year goes on will produce dividends quickly.After their road trip, the Fighting Hawks return home in two weeks to take on the Western Michigan Broncos.

Remarkable Rhett: Gardner’s Hat Trick Guides UND to 5-0 Friday Night Victory Against Wisconsin

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violent Turtle Photography)

In front of 11,266 loud fans at the Ralph Engelstad Arena we were treated to a few things. This series has representatives of 13 NHL teams on the combined rosters. If you wanted to see the  potential future of the National Hockey league you could do a lot worse than turning on UND taking on Wisconsin. We also saw UND legend Jim Archibald take one final shift before the game as he came out to the blue line with the rest of the Fighting Hawks and skated around a bit to a loud ovation from all of those in attendance.

When the puck dropped we were treated to another chapter in the storied UND-Wisconsin rivalry. This one belonged exclusively to the Fighting Hawks. UND won this game 5-0 on a Rhett Gardner hat trick, Adam Scheel shutout, and all-around team effort.

With 16:31 left in the first period, Rhett Gardner opened up the scoring ledger for the Fighting Hawks on the weekend. With their first shot on goal he made no mistake. The Dallas Stars prospect took a perfect feed from Islanders prospect Colin Adams in the slot and wired one past Berry. Wisconsin almost came back on the next shift and scored, but the puck rolled along the goal line and out. This was the first major turning point of the game, and dramatically altered both teams’ fates.

With 6:43 left in the first period, Nick Jones looked to have the second goal of the evening for the Fighting Hawks as he appeared to have put one past Berry. However, the call on the ice was overturned after video review as the Badgers’ netminder did enough to cover the puck combined with incidental contact preventing him from playing his position. That did not deter the Fighting Hawks, They used the review time to stay together as a team and focus on their next goal. A few minutes later with 2:54 left in the first Nick Jones found Jacob Bernard-Docker. He then did the rest as he juked a Badgers defender, walked into the slot and wired a sensational wrist shot past Jack Berry to finally make it a 2-0 Fighting Hawks lead. That would be the margin after the first frame. That goal was reminiscent of UND program alum Christian Wolanin, who like Bernard-Docker was also drafted by the Ottawa Senators.

That margin would not remain the same for long as 29 seconds into the second, Gardner buried his second salvo of the night on a nice wrist shot from Berry’s blocker side.  A little over ten minutes later Colton Poolman found the back of the net as his shot from just inside the left point went in off a Wisconsin skate just in front of the goal line.

In the third period, Gardner completed the hat trick as he sent home a superb shot from the top of the slot to make it a 5-0 game. Scheel and the UND defense did the rest, holding Wisconsin off the board to preserve the shutout. In this game, Berry played the first 32:49 in net for the Badgers giving up four goals on 15 shots. Daniel Lebedeff played the final 27:11 and gave up Gardner’s third goal as his only blemish on his record. Lebedeff faced eight UND shots in his relief role. For UND, Scheel saved all 24 shots faced over a full 60 minutes of work.

UND will need to maintain this level of excellence if they want to come anywhere close to replicating this result again the rest of the year. This team’s motto is zero. Every day they start over and look to build up the best game they can. Saturday night is now no different. The Badgers are still quite capable of making Saturday a much more close game than the opener. Look for another epic chapter in this long historic rivalry to take place Saturday night at the Ralph.

Astounding Ahrens and Fantastic Flores Pace Four Set UND Win

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons-FightingHawks.com)

Coming into their second to last home game, UND needed to find some consistency. They were unable to do so in the first set as a 1-23 Western Illinois side was able to come in and take the first set 25-21. They did so with with 15 kills and capitalizing on six attack and two service errors.That said, the rest of the match played out quite a bit differently as UND went on to win this key conference match in four sets (21-25, 25-21, 25-17, 25-23).

After the 25-21 first set loss, UND needed to adjust. The Fighting Hawks were able to dramatically improve their team hitting in the second set to even things up in the second as they flipped the score to a 25-21 set two win. Through two sets, the teams evened things out a bit as they both finished set two with ten attack errors apiece. Throughout the first few sets both teams had stars emerge. Shia Sanders for the Leathernecks paced them with 15 kills on the evening , and Lexi Ahrens paced UND. Both of them were the most efficient players for their teams with multiple kills, and both were able to limit their errors. On the night Ahrens finished with 13 kills on 21 swings including a mere two attack errors for the Fighting Hawks.

Set three looked identical from a hitting perspective for UND. The Fighting Hawks were able to rack up 16 kills on 33 swings again combined with only four attack errors to take the third set 25-17. Finally, in the fourth set the Leathernecks fought back but UND was able to hang on despite 11 attack errors and wrap up the match with a 25-23 fourth set win. In addition to Ahrens, credit Taliyah Flores tonight. The normal back-row player for UND played a more offensive role tonight and played a superb game. She finished with 11 kills on 25 swings with a mere three attack errors and 7 digs. She was able to fill gaps in UND’s lineup created by injury and, along with Ahrens showed how much their games have developed in their first season for UND.

On senior night, where UND’s three seniors were honored, two freshman stole the show. The Fighting Hawks will look to make large steps to a Summit League Tournament appearance this Saturday in their home finale against Purdue Fort Wayne. If this team can play a consistent match and lower their errors a bit, they can as they have in the past, compete with anyone in this conference. Saturday morning will go a long way to determining UND’s postseason fate.