Fighting Hawks limit grade a looks en route to 3-1 win over Western Michigan: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Coming into their final regular season series at home, this Fighting Hawks team had some questions to answer. Chief among those was how it would respond after only taking one point in a series for just the second time of the season.  As we saw tonight, St. Cloud State is roaring back into the top half of the league and is earning the respect they demanded after winning against the Fighting Hawks on Saturday.

Back to the Fighting Hawks, this Men’s Hockey team actually had to win a game while getting hemmed in their own end for a large portion of the deciding period in the third. To their credit, they bent but did not break. Adam Scheel made a triumphant return to the net saving 26 of the 27 shots he faced and earning third star in the process. Judd Caulfield potted his third marker against Western Michigan, and fourth of the season to open the UND scoring ledger 9:52 into the second. After that, Matt Kiersted wired home a scintillating seeing-eye point shot past Western Michigan goalie Brandon Bussi to provide the game winning goal.

For the Broncos, Dawson DiPietro slammed home a rebound to the far side of Scheel to provide the only blemish on his otherwise spotless night 4:35 into the third period. To close the evening, Westin Michaud tipped home a nice looking Gabe Bast point shot to provide the insurance marker against Ben Blacker, who replaced Bussi after he left due to injury caused by a disallowed UND goal. Collin Adams made just enough contact with Bussi in the crease to merit the goal being waved off on video review. It was, to put it nicely, a call not liked by the home fans. Later on in the game, Ronnie Attard walloped the head of Shane Pinto with 1:16 left in the affair and was sent to the dressing room a bit early. That was the lowlight of a fracas-filled third period, to say the least.

What does this mean for Saturday

North Dakota

This game had all of the hallmarks of a first round NCAA Tournament game. The playoff intensity vibe really turned up in the third period after DiPietro made it a one goal game. To UND’s credit, the Fighting Hawks hung tough playing without Cole Smith and having to juggle lines around again. When 66 percent of your defensive specialist line (Cole Smith and Gavin Hain) both are out, others have to step up, and Casey Johnson played one his most complete games of his UND career seeing some of the most ice he has since coming to UND. We could see Smith back in Saturday as he was recovering from a minor practice injury and informed the coaches he needed the night of rest to get back to his normal self. Credit to the coaches for not pushing Smith through his injury to play extra.

If Smith is still out tomorrow, one potential option for this team should be moving Jasper Weatherby to his own line to center things. Western Michigan played UND almost even in the faceoff dot, losing one more draw than they won (30-31). Weatherby with Pinto and Michaud down the stretch of a game when benches are shortened to fit the needs of the team is one thing and a good deployment of his skills. Weatherby only won two of the six draws he took, and one of them lead to the Kiersted tally.

In net, Adam Scheel played his best game of the year in terms of the quality of shots faced throughout the game and being able to hold a team in the game against a desperate opponent. His defense limited shot quality in the third, where Western Michigan got 15 shots on net to UND’s seven. There were a few points throughout this one where Scheel needed to be sharp to hang on for the win and he did. This team has two brilliant goalies who can win against any type of team they face, and will most likely use both Scheel and Peter Thome throughout the rest of the season and should UND win its first round matchup in the NCAA Tournament, we could see the other goalie play the next night. Since we have started covering this team, Scheel and Thome are the best tandem we have seen in net, and credit to this coaching staff for using both of them when needed.

Western Michigan 

Other than the third period, the Broncos did not do enough to make Scheel work much throughout the night. The Fighting Hawks kept the majority of the first 40 minutes’worth of shot attempts to the outside for the Broncos and it shows on the shot chart. If you are a fan of the Broncos, you want to bottle up the good effort from the third, remove the dirty hits that Attard brought on Pinto which ended any hope of a comeback, and try to get to the middle of the ice a bit more. This team has to play with a little more speed to have a chance against UND. The Fighting Hawks are so good at playing a compact zone defense that in order to earn goals, you almost have to not worry about zone time. Teams that play through the neutral zone and avoid the pinching UND defenders are the only ones that have beaten or come close to beating this team this year.

Whatever the result, the finale on Saturday night should be a fun one at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially 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 we write as a supporter of 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.

Why Alabama Huntsville should be extended an NCHC invite: My thoughts

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

With the news official that seven of the ten WCHA Men’s Hockey teams will leave to revive the CCHA (announcing the name was the news) after next season, three men’s teams need a home. I have a solution for one of them. Extend an invite to the Chargers to join effective in the 2021-2022 season. I have a few reasons why, part of which extends from seeing how passionate Head Coach Mike Corbett is about his program and how he has brought them back from the brink of being shut down once.

Define “National”

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference, as it stands, and especially if it loses the Red Hawks of Miami of Ohio, the Broncos of Western Michigan, or both, will cease to have a consistent presence outside of the upper midwest and Mountain West. The conference is, as it stands, the thing that binds together disparate institutions across multiple divisions with one goal, making Men’s Hockey their flagship sport. The Chargers share that goal. They would be another Division Two school with one Division One team in this conference.

Currently,the Chargers play in a shared complex with the Southern Professional League’s Huntsville Havoc, and before their final weekend this season have averaged 1483 fans (in a mere 12 games) in a building that seats 6600. While that is not ideal, the team is currently building a recruiting class from all around the world with less support arguably then last year’s new entrant to the NCAA Tournament, AIC. This year, AIC fresh off their tournament success and in the middle of another Atlantic Hockey Regular Season Championship season, has only averaged 706 fans in a building they share with the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League. The arena capacity is 11294.

I say all of that to say this, do not use attendance as a reason to keep the Chargers out. Huntsville itself is a beautiful city within a short two hour drive of Nashville and even closer to other beautiful Tennessee cities like Chattanooga. If you want to grow college hockey as a sport, adding new men and women’s teams while helping the ones in it stay in it is a big deal. Also, when UND fans sell out Bridgestone Arena in October as the Fighting Hawks take on Penn State they will only be two hours north of Huntsville.

Chargers’ Head Coach Mike Corbett tried to schedule the Fighting Hawks around that time but had no luck. If accepted into the NCHC, in conference, a school with strong ties to NASA would play a school with a strong flight program at least twice a year.

Give him help

Immediately, Head Coach Mike Corbett would get a lot more donations to his program if he had to fund trips to NCHC schools, and would get a lot more eyeballs on his program. Right now Corbett holds what amounts to two full time jobs at most Division One Schools. He fundraises for his own program, a very rare thing for a Head Coach to do at this level, all while working on building a team and trying to get the Chargers to have a better future as a program. Having a national television deal’s money coming to the school, combined with a better streaming deal would be a big infusion into the coffers of the Chargers. The Chargers’ external media coverage (if you write for UAHHockey.com you are excluded from this) the past few years, other than when they were on the brink of losing their team, has been, to be frank, not good enough.

Our coverage of the Chargers in their efforts to upset UND this January has been the most extensive of any non local media/blog news source I have seen in the past few years. This program deserves a chance to show what it can do. If Corbett can keep a team afloat and produce an NHL goalie (Cam Talbot) while helping graduate several players onto pro hockey and pro careers in other wonderful endeavors. imagine what he could do for hockey in the south with even a bit of a fair playing field.

Who do we want this sport to be for?

If you truly support hockey being for all, as we do here, I would strongly ask that you consider supporting finding the Chargers a new home, in my mind ideally in the NCHC. Yes, there would be a talent gap immediately and for a few years the Chargers and teams on the lower end of the table would battle for positioning, that alone is not enough to disqualify them from being in the NCHC. Do I think the Chargers would be a better team than a lot of people would give them credit for and make teams sweat close games like they did to UND for a bit? Yes I do.

However, I truly believe that this sport is better when it brings in more people from around the world, supporting programs that grow the footprint of your game are something that the NCHC should strongly consider. In addition, as college sports do not have relegation we do not kick teams out of conferences for finishing last for a number of years and nor should we. If college sports are about the student athlete experience, having the NCHC play games in a building that has more seats than a few of its own barns do is something I would consider, along with giving student athletes more of a respite from the cold weather in the dead of winter.

I think Corbett and the Chargers have shown that through their fundraising efforts and willingness to go anywhere to play the game, that their fans would respond well to being a part of the most title-laden conference in Men’s College Hockey.They are outdrawing a team that was one win away from a Frozen Four last year as well. If a man doing two jobs with little external support bar his own donor base can keep a program afloat in a conference that does not provide anywhere near the exposure of the NCHC, imagine what his program could do with a level playing field.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially 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 we write as a supporter of 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 earn sweep with 3-1 win over Denver: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Tonight, the Fighting Hawks cemented a series sweep over Denver with a 3-1 hard-earned victory. Matt Kiersted, Collin Adams, and Jasper Weatherby (empty net) all notched markers to help the Fighting Hawks get closer to the next goal, winning the NCHC Penrose Cup.

How did it happen? Well Peter Thome was arguably the best player on defense fo the Fighting Hawks. He managed to make 25 saves on 26 shots tonight. To add to that, UND Head Coach Brad Berry said that he did it ” in style”. The Pioneers through streches of the second and third period played peskier hockey and turned UND over. Multiple times they had multiple looks in close on Thome, but to his credit he handled the challenge well. His counterpart, Magnus Chrona played really well making his first start at the Ralph. He finished the night with 21 saves on 23 shots in a game fans may see again in St. Paul at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, or perhaps at the Frozen Four in Detroit this April. This game not only had the feel of playoff hockey, but a top-end, herculean battle worthy of the national spotlight,

Now What?

For Denver, well, if you are Head Coach David Carle, you show your team the video of the weekend in two parts. First, you show them all the good things they did to get looks. Last night Denver had more shot attempts and different types of looks for Thome to see. Tonight, were more close-in rebounds, but tough shots never the less. In part two of the film, you question what you need to do better as a team in the rest of the regular season and postseason to bury more of those looks. Denver had plenty of chances to earn a win tonight, even while missing one of the best rookies in the country, Bobby Brink, on a play last night where Cole Smith clipped him and avoided any sort of penalty somehow. Denver being able to put together arguably a better game without Brink in the lineup bodes well for the Pioneers,

Why?

Well Denver is a younger team this year akin to the last two UND has fielded. The difference here is overall team speed. The Pioneers are much faster than the last two UND iterations. The difference between the groups is the ability of speed to make up for a wide array of mistakes. Turning play over quickly on defense and transitioning is a hallmark of Denver Hockey, and this team is no different in that sense. Doing it with more depth players involved bodes well for the national tournament as speed and transition often sets the tone for goaltending and everything else. Ask AIC how much speed mattered to them earning the win over St. Cloud last spring, they will probably spend hours discussing it.

For UND, this weekend showed a lot of things good and bad. A lot more good was shown, but we will talk about both here in some measure. First, to the good, again Jasper Weatherby and Shane Pinto were solid up the middle for the Fighting Hawks. each won a large majority of their draws (11-5, 10-2) and set the tone for the forwards all night. Weatherby’s ability to play defense and utilize his frame has grown in his time at UND, and tonight he rewarded himself for his work with the empty net goal to seal things.

Peter Thome played well, again. His ability to track pucks through traffic, and pick up that complete skill in one offseason has been a sight to behold. He does not overreact to goals any more, and the one allowed tonight came on a shot off the boards going right to Brett Edwards who fired a goal to the middle part of the right side of the net before Thome could react. In close Thome seemed to get better with each multi-save sequence, and as we have been saying here all year, has been worthy of more looks and he has run with them. We would like to see some more of Adam Scheel as the year winds down but when the postseason starts, until proven otherwise it is Thome’s net to defend, every night his watch begins anew now (for those who do not know, Thome has the Night King on his mask and is a huge Game of Thrones fan).

What should UND work on off this weekend before facing a resurgent St. Cloud on the road next weekend? Well i do not think many crews will let as many things grow as the one run by Voss and Wieler did this past weekend. On both sides, a lot of uncalled penalties were left to slide, and other officials we be tougher on the physical game UND plays, seeing the team adapt to different officiating styles will be something to watch, especially in the NCAA Tournament as you never have an official from the NCHC officiating a UND or any other NCHC game.

All in all UND had a good weekend, Denver had some good moments to build on and has some things to fix, like finding the net more, and a great weekend of college hockey took place. Now for the Fighting Hawks, St. Cloud State awaits, take them lightly at your own peril fans.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially 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 we write as a supporter of 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 Soar to 4-1 win over Denver: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

On Friday night at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks’ Men’s Hockey Team earned a 4-1 win over Denver playing one of their best games of the season to date. Shane Pinto got the scoring underway on a deflection from a point shot in the first period. In the second, Bobby Brink got Denver on the board capitalizing on a rare passive penalty kill from UND. Denver ping-ponged the puck through the lane to Brink and he found the back of the net. Later in the second Brink would leave with an injury after getting his legs taken out on an interesting play where Cole Smith dove through Brink’s legs to get the puck, no penalty came from this action.

Following the Brink marker, Matt Kiersted wired home a superb wrist shot on the power play from the slot to provide the game winning goal. Collin Adams and Jacob Bernard Docker would add insurance markers to provide the final score for the evening.

In net, Peter Thome again had another quality night for the Fighting Hawks. He allowed no goals at even strength, and on the night stopped 26 of the 27 shots on net that he faced. His counterpart, Devin Cooley, did not have the best evening as he only saved 19 of the 23 shots on net he faced.

Now what? 

First off, the officiating on Friday was at best inconsistent. Multiple penalties on both sides were not called. One of the most odd non calls was not issuing even a minor penalty to Cole Smith for diving into the legs of Bobby Brink and injuring him. I understand it was a heat of the moment play and things get missed, but Smith dives into Brink’s legs while going for the puck and gets no call. Did UND have a few calls go against them? Sure they did, but to me, the non call on Brink shaped the course of the game as UND kept one of its most important defensive players in Smith for the whole game while Denver lost one of its best offensive threats in Brink .

Secondly, credit to UND for focusing on efficient shot distribution, something we have harped on all year. Of UND’s 32 shot attempts, 23 found their way on net, and Denver blocked seven of them. While the Fighting Hawks always want more offensive zone chances, their ability to be efficient with what they were given is a promising sign for the postseason, where teams play with speed and pace all game, and who wins the shots on net battle does not always equate to who wins the game. Of Denver’s 54 shot attempts, UND blocked 13 of them which means that Denver missed the net 14 times. Part of that is attributed to Thome of course, but another part arguably is the fast start of the Fighting Hawks.

As they took control of puck possession, it looked liked Denver gripped their sticks a bit tighter. The Pioneers are more than fast enough to do well against the Fighting Hawks. They had several breakaways as they almost punished UND’s defense for pinching with goals the other way, but Thome and missing the best looks stopped them.

For the finale, watch how many breakaways Denver actually puts on net. Thome has played plenty well this season on breakaways but has faced a more limited number per game than Adam Scheel, his net minding colleague. How Denver makes Thome change direction could change the direction of the series for the Pioneers.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially 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 we write as a supporter of 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.

8-1: What this win means for the Fighting Hawks and What Now?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Well that was quite a different game from last night’s 1-0 defensive showcase. The Fighting Hawks took the sweep and the win with an 8-1 drubbing of the Colorado College Tigers. The action started fast and furious for UND as Cole Smith managed to put home a power play marker early on racing in and scoring the pictured goal against Matt Vernon who had a night he would like to forget. He allowed six goals on the evening and his backup, John Flakne allowed the other two. After the Smith marker, Collin Adams raced in less than two minutes late and fired home the game winner.

On the night, Andrew Peski (three assists), Jordan Kawaguchi (Two goals and one assist), Jasper Weatherby (One goal and one assist, Grant Mismash (One goal and one assist) and Collin Adams (One goal and one assist), all chipped in multi point nights to key a diverse scoring attack from the Fighting Hawks. On defense, Thome played well in net despite going long periods without seeing a single shot. Goalies have to manage their game to stay involved even when the puck is not finding them. Peter Thome did that quite well, only allowing a goal on a deflection from his own teammate, Harrison Blaisdell, who played fast all weekend and had, quietly a pretty good series in a depth role.

Now what?

Well, this was arguably the best performance we have seen from UND all year. Given their ability to bounce back and put away a team that hung with them for the entire game last night, that was a strong sign going forward. It showed that if this team faces a challenging opponent in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, that it has the ability to make adjustments and make the next night go a bit smoother. In addition, the start of the Fighting Hawks tonight was their best in the second half, and the benchmark for what they need to do going forward. This team finished a game well without Gavin Hain and Gabe Bast, both players who left with injuries. Both are being evaluated to determine the extent of their injuries further. Up front, this weekend is the benchmark for Fighting Hawks Men’s Hockey going forward.

In net, arguably was just as important. Peter Thome has progressed so much as a goalie in three years here it is a bit impressive to look back and think how he was viewed by folks here when Cam Johnson was the number one, then when Adam Scheel came in after that. An encouraging thing for the Fighting Hawks is that because of Thome’s play, Head Coach Brad Berry may give some consideration to a kind of rotation system for Scheel and Thome, he mentioned after the game that he sees that both goalies are capable. While Berry knows that to be true, it is rare to see him discuss both goalies after one let in one goal on 40 shots this weekend, and the other had gotten pulled two times in the past two Friday games before this weekend. Thome and Scheel now have a body of work that posits for playing each of them down the stretch. Both deserve some starts down the stretch and both bring different strengths to the game. They are complimentary netminders who work to get better daily. The biggest area Thome has improved is arguably the mental part of his game. Assistant Coach Karl Goehring has worked with him on and off the ice and kept him ready to play during a trying first half for him. Now Thome has shown he is ready. UND has two starting goalies on its most complete team it has had since the National Championship side, and arguably both goalies (Thome and Scheel) will have chances to earn a spot in the NHL one day. Goehring won a national championship as part of a platoon system, and maybe Thome and Scheel would benefit from being a part of the same down the stretch.

Thome Post Game 

Check out Thome’s thoughts on a lot of things relating to the weekend and more in the video below.

 

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially 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 we write as a supporter of 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.

Peter Thome wins goaltending duel for UND 1-0: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Coming into Friday night’s skirmish with the Tigers of Colorado College, the Fighting Hawks’ Men’s Hockey team had some things to adress. For the past few weekends, its starts especially on Fridays, have been squalor based affairs that have had them chasing games. Luckily the team has usually found ways out of the holes it dug itself in, and it did not have to do so tonight.

On this wonderful night at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks got just enough good bounces to earn a 1-0 victory. In the third period, Shane Pinto fired home a puck that pin balled to him into the yawning cage to provide the final margin for the evening  10:23 into the third period. What stood out most about that power play was the fact that UND finally got a good bounce to go their way. They had to fight against freshman netminder Matt Vernon all night. He made several great saves and made things tough for the Fighting Hawks. In addition, credit the Tigers for defending the blue paint relatively well. UND did not get many easy looks on yawning nets off second chances. That is where a lot of their goals have come from in this resurgent season for the Fighting Hawks.

In net for UND was Peter Thome. The junior netminder’s play from the start of the second half has arguably kept UND at the top of the country. His ability to play angles without over pursuing anything and make several key saves against the Tigers gave UND more time to find the go ahead goal. The biggest improvement Thome has made to his game is his further utilization of his size (six feet, four inches) to not need to over pursue angles as he did on occasion in his first two seasons as a Fighting Hawk. He made a few lateral saves on this night that his counterpart, Adam Scheel, has had to work on getting better at as well.

What to watch for in the series finale 

For the Fighting Hawks, I would strongly consider using Jasper Weatherby to take every draw for all lines he is not on when he has any energy of any sort. He lead the way in the faceoff dot for UND last night winning 14 of the 15 draws he took. The San Jose Sharks prospect has developed his game and utilized his faceoff prowess and ability to get to the net front to help his team this year. If the season ended today I would strongly consider him in the running for any sort of most improved award the team would hand out.

Also, Peter Thome should get the start tonight. If turning in a 25 save shutout in a 1-0 game is not enough to earn another look in net, I do not know what is. While we still support a platoon of Peter Thome and Adam Scheel in net down the stretch, giving Thome the net the game before UND heads to its bye week would allow Scheel to get a little more rest and then give coaches two weeks to figure a rotation for the two superb netminders UND has down the stretch.

Finally, if you want Colorado College to have a better fate than their loss last night, look at transition opportunities as a way to solve those problems. It seemed as if on the few they had in the series opener, they did not do enough to get Thome moving and open up any angles. UND is a team with an offensive-minded defense group that likes to get up in the play and take shots on net. When those shots go high and wide, the Tigers have to bury a couple of those looks to have a chance in the finale. Most teams will not win the battle of offensive zone time against the Fighting Hawks;however, multiple teams in the second half, from Alabama Huntsville to Minnesota Duluth, have shown their ability to score multiple goals in transition against this team. The Fighting Hawks do not have many ways they can be beaten or even competed tough against, but scoring on transition looks is probably at the top of that list.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially 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 we write as a supporter of 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.