The Fighting Hawks Win the Pod: What’s Next?

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Over the past three weeks, the Fighting Hawks of the University of North Dakota have done quite well for themselves in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Pod, valuting into first place as we head into the second of half of an always competitive conference. These past few weeks have shown a lot about this team, with the good far outweighing the things that need working on to ensure a long postseason run, should one be played. Let’s look at the good and areas to improve on in the second half here.

The Good

This team has two capable goaltenders that can stymie the opposition. While Adam Scheel stole the show in the Pod, getting the majority of the reps, Fighting Hawks fans saw what happened last year. Peter Thome took Scheel’s job down the stretch, and given the weeks of having three games in three days this year, we think that Thome’s time in net is only just beginning. His “worst” game in the Pod was the loss to the Huskies of St. Cloud State, where the team in front of him did not do much. Both can start at any time, and for now Scheel is the number one. With that said, Thome has played well enough over his time at UND to get some reps in the second half, and should see it.

The depth of this team is even better than a year ago. Missing two defenders to the World Juniors Tournament, in Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven, we have seen Ethan Frisch elevate his game into a Tucker Poolman-esque two way star that can contribute offensively. If Frisch can maintain this level of play this season, the NHL may be on his radar for some development camp invites soon, and perhaps a contract. He is smooth-skating, and seems less out of position than some of UND’s more offensively gifted defenders.

With that said, this team has a lot of good to it this year, and we will close with the most intriguing forward on this team. Riese Gaber has been the most electric player for the Fighting Hawks in this pod. He is in a three way tie for first in goals scored nationally, and yet, 31 teams passed on drafting him over 400 times when you include the drafts he has been eligible for selection in. Gaber is wearing Tyson Jost’s number that he wore as a Fighting Hawk, and has a better release than Jost ever had or will have. For a team built around puck possession and grinding a team down, Gaber off the rush is an extra arrow in their quiver that last year’s NCHC Champions did not possess. His shot alters how teams can attack the Fighting Hawks, and how conservative they have to be in defending the top line of UND. Last year, this group lost games where it turned pucks over and gave up a lot of fast break looks. That has happened this year, and will happen in the future, but Gaber on this roster has kept the team in more of those games and helped them win some more in the second half.

What to watch for

With all that good said, these improvements need to happen. This team seems to be turning the puck over a bit more in its own end, which have given teams a lot of grade-a looks. Those turnovers have a cascading effect as they lead into another area of improvement for this team, taking less penalties. The Fighting Hawks average 11.96 penalty minutes per game played, second behind St. Cloud State for most penalty minutes per game. That is another number that needs to come down a bit. While five minute majors and misconducts do affect that, this team can afford to take neither of those in this conference. Eventually, something of this team will regress a little bit as film and scouting over a more series-driven second half, and if the team keeps giving up six power plays per game or so, the penalty kill seems a logical pick.

With all of this said, if not for Boston College’s pedigree and Minnesota’s results, this team would be ranked number one in the nation after a grueling three week stretch of games. There is still work to do for this group, but this team does so from a good vantage point.

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