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.

 

Fighting Hawks just outpace Michigan Tech 3-1 on Kawaguchi game winner: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

On Saturday night, in front of 10899 people at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks faced off against a stout defending, hard-charging, Michigan Tech Huskies team that has on its resume a win over WCHA foe Bowling Green among others. For most of the game, the all-world student section for Michigan Tech carried the energy of the building.

Mitch’s Misfits, the student section that made the journey to the Ralph, had something to cheer about early on as Justin Mislak took a feed from Alex Smith and went on the backhand through the five hole of UND goalie, Adam Scheel. The Huskies lead for a few minutes in the first, but after a Matt Kiersted point shot went off the center right post and in from the far point, they would never regain the lead.

Throughout the rest of the game, it resembled at times a territorial soccer match where teams would march down the pitch or rink in this case regularly and then not be able to finish. Huskies’ netminder Robbie Beydoun finished the night with 21 saves on 23 shots saved. One thing stood out about some of his saves, especially on the penalty kill. The Fighting Hawks, according to Head Coach Brad Berry were often too predictable with the man advantage, and it seemed like Beydoun was able to anticipate shots often before UND took them.

The game winner for UND came on four-on-four action. Jordan Kawaguchi took a feed from Colin Adams stationed along the half wall. In the middle of a Tech defense listing to the wall Kawaguchi found the back of the net for the game winner shooting against the momentum of the defense 12:29 into the third period. Gavin Hain added an insurance marker with 27 seconds left in the game on the empty net.

Hain played with Mark Senden and Cole Smith tonight. Coach Berry reincarnated the GMC (Gavin Hain, Mark Senden, Cole Smith) line. Like the brand of car this line was UND’s most dependable for large portions of the season last year, and this line was able to hold possession and earn chances at multiple points. Senden finished the night winning 9 of the 16 faceoffs he took, and his line was on the ice a lot at big points in the game, and could be back together again.

On defense, Gabe Bast and Colton Poolman were out and replaced by Ethan Frisch and Josh Rieger. The Captain of UND, Poolman, was pulled after an evaluation on gameday, and Berry hopes to know more about his long-term status before next week. His uncertainty was not reassuring to say the least, relating to the best all-around defender this team has coming back soon.

Now What?

This team had a lot of points where the Huskies, to be honest, made them play their game. The Huskies were also much more physical with the Fighting Hawks at eliminating the value of their net-front presence that they had worked for over the first few games. Getting to the net was not how UND won this game, as the Huskies eliminated rebounds and second looks. Berry’s point about being methodical could be applied to even strength play as well. When this team can not only create chances on rebounds but keep their opponents guessing, good things could happen. In addition, this team has to learn how to win games in different ways.

Net front presence is great, but this team has has now seen what better defending teams can do to limit the value of it. If they can both get one or two rebound goals off the net-front investment per game and one or two more off skill per game, it will ensure both options remain open. As this team plays the Red Hawks of Miami, watch how they play an always fast team looking to move up in the NCHC world. If UND can convert a chance or two on the rush each night, a sweep may be in order, if not, well ask again later.

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.