UND in the NCHC Pod: Quick Thoughts on the Last Two Games

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

The Fighting Hawks Men’s Hockey Team played two completely different games in their last two matchups in the NCHC pod. They lost a 5-3 affair against the St. Cloud State Huskies on Saturday afternoon, before coming back to earn a 6-3 victory over the Broncos of Western Michigan the next day. Both of these games were more lopsided than the score would indicate.

There were some things we noticed in these two games. We shall break them into the good, and the things to improve upon and watch going forward.

The Good

This team has scoring from all over the ice. Any forward on this team, and nearly every defender is capable of key contributions at any time. That makes line matching hard against a team with four lines that all have a place. In addition to this depth scoring, the development of this forward group is something quite fun to watch. Senior Jasper Weatherby has moved from a healthy scratch as a freshman to leader of one of the shutdown lines of this team, and one capable of playing in the top six on any night. In addition, Weatherby plays a game very similar to the last Fighting Hawk to wear number 14, Austin Poganski. He is physical, tough to play against, and plays an effective center on this team’s power play.

If we had one idea to switch things up on special teams from time to time, throwing Jasper on the first line of the power play to provide a better screen than Shane Pinto would be it. It goes back to line matching, and spreading the wealth around a bit. Pinto’s prowess against a second penalty kill unit is a very intriguing proposition, and forces teams to rely on their depth to take on , effectively the second first power play unit.

We cannot lead the good pass us by without touching on Riese Gaber. How this sensational goal scorer was not drafted stupefies us. He is a smaller player, but plays just as tough as Weatherby, and has a tough to detect release, capable of scoring really quickly. The competition for top rookie in the NCHC could be between him, and Carter Savoie of Denver, who possesses similar traits. When all is said and done, it is quite possible that Gaber as a Fighting Hawk for multiple seasons gets him a better pro trajectory than the one a former number 17 is on, Tyson Jost.

The things to watch for/things that have to get better

This team is one of the best in the country, with that said there are some trends that fast playing teams like the Huskies can take advantage of if they can force the issue. First off, the Fighting Hawks, for as good as they are, are not getting enough put back looks on net relative to their shot attempts. Teams have gotten better at boxing them out, and when you see a high shot block number, that confirms two things. First, the Hawks have possession a lot, which they often do, and that teams are minimizing the effect of that possession on score relative to shot attempts. This is how teams UND would likely face in the NCAA Tournament, especially early on, will play. For proof of how well this works, as the 2018-2019 Huskies for a reference on what happens when opportunistic teams gum up the neutral zone, and suppress grade a chances while letting you feast on grade b chances.

In addition, this team has two goaltenders that should get NHL contracts, in Adam Scheel and Peter Thome. With that being said, this team in front of them on a lot of goals given up has made their lives a lot tougher than needed to be. Other teams are making a lot of cross ice looks in the offensive zone, especially the Huskies. To beat the Fighting Hawks, teams are not focusing on holding the zone as much as they are finding quality looks. If teams find the back door play, they have taken that so far over trying to hold the zone against a team that is very tough to maintain pressure against for too long.

Going forward

Saying all of this, UND is missing two of its better defenders in Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven who are preparing for the World Juniors Tournament, and have been skating with two less forwards than normal. Some of the issues we have seen hopefully will abate when the two freshmen come back into the lineup, and the team can heal. Other things, like changing special teams up on occasion, and limiting the cross ice feeds in the zone are two minor details to keep an eye on as this Fighting Hawks team finishes in the Pod and beyond.

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