(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.
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