Well, that happened. Last night at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the University of North Dakota played arguably its worst game of the season as they lost a 6-2 NCHC conference matchup to the Western Michigan Broncos. The Fighting Hawks did get two more goals on this night than in the series opener Friday, however, Western Michigan scored six goals in between them to provide the final margin. After the game, the mood was obviously somber among the Fighting Hawks. Thankfully, UND has a home thanksgiving weekend non-conference series to prepare for this weekend against Alaska Anchorage. The Fighting Hawks will no doubt review every error from Saturday, and every close bounce from Friday as they look to change their fortunes against the Seawolves. Here are some thoughts on the weekend and what’s next for UND.
With Wade Allison Western Michigan Can Surprise Some People
Western Michigan got its star winger back for the Saturday night affair, Wade Allison, and he made an impact right away. The Flyers’ prospect contributed a goal and an assist in the effort. He did skate limited minutes as the game went on and the margin was widened. However, on the power play, his shot for a goal was pitch perfect, and showed that with more time he can be even better. If the Broncos are able to keep him healthy and rested, they will sneak up on more teams like what they did to North Dakota on Saturday.
Platoon Possibilities in Net
Both of UND’s main goalies, Adam Scheel and Peter Thome, have had ups and downs this season. Scheel was the man in net for the five game win streak that accounted for all of UND’s wins so far this season. Thome had a good game Friday and a nice freshman season earning playing time as the main backup. If not for a fluky double deflection on Friday, Thome could have had a much better result. That said, I mentioned the Lakers solution to goaltending as an idea, at least for a little bit. Fighting Hawks’ Head Coach Brad Berry typically likes to find a starter and stick with them which normally makes sense. This year, to start, things have been a bit different. Both goalies have had highs and lows to their game, and both play a similar style. It could be a change of pace if each goalie knew that they had one game to prepare for each week, as UND has not utilized a pure platoon system in at least the past few years. This system can help the coaches play to the strengths of each goalie, and help both further develop their games faster. Goalies need ice time to develop. Seeing what each could do with an equal share of starts through the holiday break would be a change of pace that UND could use.
Improve the Power Play
The Fighting Hawks look their best on the power play when they get pucks and bodies to the net as fast and simply as Jasper Weatherby’s goal on Saturday illustrated. He banged home a rebound on a Gabe Bast point shot to score the lone tally until the last minute of the third period in the finale. This power play stood out to me as a model for the rest of the season. If UND can simplify its game, and get more people to the front of the net, good things can and will happen. Weatherby’s size and ability to redirect pucks are superb, and despite his role as a center, it may be worth having him on the wing on a power play unit and clogging the goalie’s vision on future chances.
Once Nick Jones returns from his injury, having Weatherby play a wing position and playing on Rhett Gardner or Jones’ wing would immediately provide deeper depth to a power play that generates chances, but could stand to generate a few more high quality chances.