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.

UND Earns 4-1 Saturday Victory over Omaha: What’s Next?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Last night at another sold out Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks earned a 4-1 Saturday victory over the Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha. Collin Adams potted the game winner in the first period, and was joined in his scoring efforts by Casey Johnson, Mark Senden, and Shane Pinto. Taylor Ward added a goal for the Mavericks on the loss.

What happened? Well as Mavericks Head Coach Mike Gabinet noted on Friday night, his team needed to do better supporting the puck carrier in the offensive zone and build some cycle time into the game to slow down UND. The Mavericks were very unable to do that last night. Every time they found the zone, they would get an occasional look or two than have to back check against a UND team that often times likes to reside in its opponents’ defensive zone.

UND Assistant Coach Dane Jackson noted the improvement in his defense from Friday. The Fighting Hawks tracked Omaha better and made zone entry a lot more contested, leading to less offensive zone time for the Mavericks and UND’s eventual goals.

The Mavericks had plenty of chances to earn the sweep, but hit three posts on the evening. In addition, they had multiple odd-man looks that went wide of the net and required no action from Adam Scheel, who played well in net making 18 saves on 19 shots faced.

Finally, Shane Pinto did play well on this night for the most part, but did something very unnecessary that could have him on the wrong end of some supplementary discipline from the NCHC. He retaliated for a marginal hit from Joey Abate with arguably one of the least disciplined choices in his arsenal. Pinto came back over to Abate when the play was moving away from that area and violently cross checked him in the back, right between the numbers as well. He rightly earned a game misconduct and a five minute major which UND did survive unscathed; however that is not the point of this part of the recap. If the NCHC wants to showcase itself as the best league in Men’s College Hockey that cares about its players, it needs to strongly consider suspending Pinto for the opener of UND’s Miami of Ohio series next weekend if not more. Has UND had bad things happen to their players and not get called majors or result in suspensions, well yes, the knee on Jacob Bernard-Docker Friday night was pretty bad but was in the run of play and the Maverick who caused that did not do anything but skate through the area. Pinto went back and cross-checked Abate for some odd reason away from the play. Doing things to players away from the play that are injurious in nature deserves a harsh looking at and potential suspension. Pinto is one of the best players on this team and he has been and still is a joy to watch for the Fighting Hawks, this is an issue with the game itself. When players retaliate and its away from the play, there needs to be action taken to discourage it in the future. Ask yourself this, in the NHL if a player on the other team did that to one of your favorite players how would you feel?

Let’s move on to next week now for UND.

For Miami of Ohio what I would like to see from this team 

First off, Adam Scheel played great Saturday, but I will note this until Peter Thome this year gives me reason not to do so. Thome needs to play one night next weekend. He stabilized the team Friday night after Scheel was pulled, and looked calmer in his game on limited work than he did through a lot of last year. While Jackson noted that Scheel has been “money in the bank” for this team, in a sport where losing one game in its tournament ends your season, that statement alone should not justify sitting Thome all year. If Scheel is injured or has a bad game or two ahead, one would think seeing more from Thome would be reassuring to fans of this team. Ask St. Cloud State fans about how good “money in the bank” is from a goalie come Tournament time the past two seasons. Scheel looked better, but Omaha also did not capitalize on some odd man chances and did not event test him on a few of them. Having two goalies that can play and  limiting the workload of your number one (Scheel) occasionally should not be viewed as any sort of bad thing.

With that said, one more thing to watch as the team heads on the road to Oxford to take on Miami of Ohio. That team, much like the Mavericks, plays a transition game and likes to score laterally on the rush. The defense of the Fighting Hawks needs to be able to track the forwards through the neutral zone consistently to ensure smooth sailing on the road. The RedHawks scored most of their goals in their November series here in transition on lateral feeds to get Scheel moving the wrong way.

Here are some thoughts from Jasper Weatherby on the weekend and UND’s next opponent

 

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Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

6-3: How Nebraska Omaha Upset UND and what to watch for Saturday Night

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Throughout this Friday night fracas at the Ralph Engelstad Arena between UND and the Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha, one thing was clear really early. The bad start this team had against Alabama Huntsville before finding its game was not a one-off. The Mavericks, while not getting enough consistent pressure in the offensive zone to sustain long zone time, scored their goals on quick transition plays and made Adam Scheel’s life tough.Getting scored on first and letting teams hang around, for the first time in conference play, has finally grounded hopes of going undefeated in conference play. In addition,  Scheel was pulled after allowing four goals on the evening. His replacement, Peter Thome played well on limited shots faced.

Towards the end of the game, UND had a chance to tie things up with under three minutes left to play and an offensive zone faceoff. Teemu Pulkineen took the draw for Omaha and won it against Shane Pinto. Then Martin Sundburg found the puck and put it into the empty cage to secure the victory for Omaha. For UND, they lost only their second game of the season with a few things to fix going into the finale on Saturday night. Omaha on the other hand had a lot of things go right, but were able to use their speed to put UND on their heels all night. Their ability to play a speed game finally translated into a win for UND’s opponent on the road this year.

What to watch from Omaha 

Head Coach Mike Gabinet had his team well prepared for the opener. He was generally happy with the effort and consistency of the team along with the strong work of Saville in net (26 saves on 29 shots). He kept Omaha in the game when the team faltered on clearing looks and were hemmed in their own end.  Saville played a very sound game and his ability to stay level and not over pursue a lot of looks made his life easier in a game where he was tested.

What to look for from the Mavericks comes down to how much zone time they can get. Omaha played fast through every zone but offense. The way to beat this North Dakota team is using your speed to take them out of their element. Through scoring first, boxing out in front of their net, and working  to get quality shots on net they can make UND’s life even more tough if they can carry their transition speed and the mentality needed to get the quick looks to hold the puck a bit and make Saville’s life a little easier.

What to look for from UND 

Peter Thome needs to start a  regular game this season, perhaps even the series finale against Omaha. I am not saying Adam Scheel is unfit to start, he is a great goalie most nights with tonight being a rare exception. If this staff wants to feel better about its two goalies, then the only way to help them is to play them both regularly. I am interested to see how Adam Scheel responds in net the next time out.

In addition, for UND fans , this game had to feel like a flashback Friday to the last two seasons for a night. The team is arguably the best or one of the best in the nation at puck possession. That has translated into a lot of rebounds in front of the net and tougher chances for the goalie to stop. Omaha did a wonderful job of clearing the net and keeping UND’s chances far enough away that they were lower percentage looks.

Tonight, look at Scheel and how he responds on defense along with how well this team can establish a net front presence. Those two things will arguably play the biggest role in determining the outcome of the series finale Saturday at the Ralph.

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.

 

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Bring the Chargers to the Winter Classic: A few reasons why

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Next year, the Minnesota Wild will host the 2021 Winter Classic at Target Field as part of a celebration of the game in Minnesota. As part of this celebration one would have to think given the history of Minnesota College Hockey, a Minnesota team would also get to play outdoors as part of this wonderful event. This event, to any program that could participate, would be the largest exposure in terms of viewers and reach that their school would get all year. Hopefully both Men and Women’s schools get a chance to play.

Now, as you see in the title, I would strongly ask the decision makers at large to consider an opponent for a Minnesota team to play for this outdoor game. The University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers should be part of this experience. Head Coach Mike Corbett has built a program at the Division One Level largely on his own fundraising efforts. He not only coaches a team in a market that is a newer one for the game we all love, but he fundraisers for them. He runs so much of the Chargers program and they get so little exposure even among legacy media outlets that the Chargers have a story the national audience would love. A team on the brink of being cut being saved by Corbett and his fundraising, and one fighting daily to bring college hockey to the southeastern most locale in the country is a story made for a Netflix series, and the Winter Classic as well.

Why do I say this? Well Corbett talked to us after the Saturday finale where his team held tough against the Fighting Hawks in a second 5-2 loss, and mentioned exposure. His program barely makes television at all despite representing a school that churns out engineers for NASA, and other quality companies in the area. The amount of free media coverage the school and town would get could not be adequately measured.

Imagine for a minute, the amount of Huntsville fans that could be created from tuning in for a few minutes to watch this game. Now you may be saying why them? This program has to find out what to do in the 2021-2022 season and beyond as they are one of the programs not looked on with favor from the departing members of the WCHA. This team needs a chance to showcase its school, its town and its market on a national stage. Playing a Minnesota school on the national stage is one easy way to show the commitment of the NHL and all its partners to growing hockey nationwide.

Corbett tried to schedule one-off games against Penn State and UND in Nashville at the home of the Predators around the Hockey Hall of Fame Game next year, and was unable to find success in doing so.This matters here, because it shows his dedication towards finding his program more exposure, and the Winter Classic is a great place to meet that goal.

Therefore if the Chargers want to play a destination game, the Winter Classic could be an option if those in power would allow them to participate. To me, the Winter Classic should be a platform to grow the game for all, having a Women’s Hockey Tournament and having the Chargers play perhaps a WCHA game against say the Mavericks of Minnesota State-Mankato, or Bemidji State would be a good way to promote all who want to play the game.

If the Winter Classic folks wanted to, they could schedule multiple outdoor games at Target Field over two days or even on the first, given the right time for the ice to improve. This event would be a great way to promote college hockey to new fans across the country, and Americans love a story of underdogs working to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. To me, the Chargers are that team for this moment.

These are some thoughts after seeing the Chargers play, seeing how dedicated Corbett is to making his team better, and growing the game at large is arguably the best way to expand the amount of schools offering the game. His team would relish the opportunity, Huntsville would get national television coverage, and the game of hockey would reach people it likely never has before.

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.

 

UND sets the standard with second 5-2 win over Alabama Huntsville: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee Violet Turtle Photography)

Coming in, we knew some things about the Chargers of Alabama-Huntsville that proved true. Like always, they have goalies with high compete levels that often times stand on their heads to keep their teams in games. Like Carmine Gurriero and Jordan Uhelski along with others before him, Mark Sinclair did just that, saving multiple grade a looks en route to giving up four goals on 37 shots faced. One of those goals was a highlight reel-between the legs maneuver from Sinclair’s junior hockey teammate at Chilliwack, Jordan Kawaguchi. When asked if he had seen that move from him before, he said “probably”.

What we did not expect from this team, especially one that had not the best faceoff statistics coming in was how it played in the dot tonight and chopped down one of UND’s biggest strengths to size. The Chargers finished plus four and plus six in the dot in eaach of the first two periods before finishing the night ahead of one of the best faceoff teams in the country 30-29.

As Chargers Coach Mike Corbett encouraged “read the box score the way its supposed to be read.” The man who not only is the reason for Huntsville having Division One Hockey, but also its chief fundraiser for its continued existence, noted how hard his team competed and how close they fought the number one team in the nation. For the Chargers they took away a lot from a weekend where they got swept 5-2 each night (one empty net goal per night). Josh Latta stepped up on the weekend with three points, as his line was arguably the best the Chargers had this weekend. Corbett was quite pleased to see Latta’s line find the scoresheet again.

Sinclair played outstanding continuing a streak of good play since Thanksgiving, and this team gained confidence it will need to make the WCHA Postseason as they jump right back into conference play this Thursday against Bemidji State at their rink, the Von Braun Center. Regardless of whichever team you may support, if you are able to, I would strongly urge you to email Coach Corbett at michael.corbett@uah.edu and ask how you can donate or help spread awareness of the program. Make no mistake, Huntsville is not the only program that needs help, but given the precarious position they and their counterparts in Alaska find themselves in, raising money is tough.

If we want NCAA Division One Men’s College Hockey, to grow beyond 60 Division One teams, and encourage more Women’s programs to play along with this expansion we need to expand the reach of the sport, that means supporting those programs that are in newer markets and urge schools around them to join through supporting them. Helping the Chargers and Coach Corbett fund raise is a huge part of that.

To put this in perspective for Fighting Hawks fans, this school has the Champions Club, the Alumni Foundation, and many other private donors who donate to this team yearly. They play in a 100 million dollar rink given by the Engelstads that quite frankly has more amenities than some professional rinks do and is more full on a percentage basis than more than a few NHL rinks.  The Chargers have an arena that seats about one-fifth of the Ralph, share it with an SPHL team and have one man, Corbett, lead a smaller staff and spend time fundraising. Email the man and see if you can help, not because this writer told you to, but because supporting the growth of college hockey should be a goal we all aspire to. We all want as many people to enjoy this sport as possible, and donating to the Chargers and other similar programs goes a long way towards that goal. 

For the Fighting Hawks, this weekend, one could argue, serves as a Rorschach test for what you think about where this team will be. An optimist could say that the team showed its depth and resiliency in its ability win games in different ways. Someone a bit more concerned could rightly point to how the lowest ranked team in the country got multiple odd-man rushes and good chances against a team that routinely dominates possession stats. The team looked a little better with Shane Pinto back from World Juniors, but not having Jacob Bernard-Docker on the back end yet hurt this team immensely.

Also, no matter your thoughts on the team, I think we can put Jordan Kawaguchi in the top end of the Hobey Baker Award conversation. That third goal of the night off a rebound was a sight to behold. To go between the legs from that close of an angle against his former teammate had to be a tough move to do in front of one, let alone over 11,000 people watching.

Also, Adam Scheel, UND’s netminder, played ok all weekend, however of the goals he has given up, he has shown a propensity to give up cross ice feed plays off the rush. In addition he seemed to be fighting the puck at times both nights. UND’s defense is so good at boxing out that long shifts leading to goals are hard to find for teams. Perhaps Nebraska Omaha may look for those quick outlets through the neutral zone to find cross-ice looks. The Mavericks are sure fast enough to do things like that, and the NCHC season is far from over.

Scheel did not have to make as many grade-a saves as Sinclair did, but one wonders what a team that can hang with the Fighting Hawks a bit better from a shots on net percentage wise will be able to put up against them. Also, next week keep an eye on the faceoff dot for the Fighting Hawks. They should win that battle easily but if the Mavericks can utilize their aggressive wingers to help on more 50-50 battles, those numbers could turn out similar to tonight’s final tally (30-29 Alabama Huntsville).

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, and 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 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.

UND Uses Strong Second to hang on against Alabama Huntsville: Now What?

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Last night at a nearly sold out Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks’ Men’s Hockey team hung on through a close checking first period against the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville and were able to get their second half of the season started right with a 5-2 win.

Do not let the score fool you, this game was a lot closer than the final totals indicated. While the Fighting Hawks out shot the Chargers 36-15, they also were not able to solve the Chargers’ netminder, Mark Sinclair, early enough to put the game in a more comfortable position. The Fighting Hawks also had to play from behind early as Christian Rajic fired home a shot 18 seconds in to put UND in a position it has not been in a lot, trailing early.

The Fighting Hawks responded with two goals from Grant Mismash and Jordan Kawaguchi, and an empty net tally from Cole Smith for the final margin. Read on for some thoughts for each team on how to be a bit better tonight.

If you want UND to do better, read this section

The second period should be the benchmark for this team. The Fighting Hawks were a lot better at moving pucks around and not  letting the Chargers plug shooting lanes as much. For a comparison, in the first period, the visitors blocked eight shot attempts, in the second they only blocked two. That alone forced Sinclair to see more shots and in part because of how Huntsville defends, opened up more chances.

As Grant Mismash noted, since the Chargers were playing a man-to-man coverage when he shook loose from his defender and had open space. Therefore, he had a decently easy net front drive for one of his markers. If this team can work on getting more isolation-like looks, they should be able to drive the net more and make Sinclair’s life harder than it was last night.

In addition, Head Coach Brad Berry noted a rare needed improvement for the Fighting Hawks, they need to win more faceoffs. A team that routinely wins the large majority of its draws only won 33 of 60 total on the night. Players were getting kicked out and the Chargers’ ability to have their wingers come and help made a big difference.

UND should have enough to win on Saturday, but keep reading to see what the Chargers can do to make things more interesting than on Friday.

If you want the Chargers to do better, or know what UND needs to watch for, read this section. 

Well, when the Chargers get chances they have to convert more of them. They had a few breakaways that did not even result in a shot on net. In addition, when UND holds them in for a long period of time, they have to make the simple play and get the puck to the neutral zone. Their inability to do this directly lead to a goal on a long shift where Sinclair had his head down for a minute after. A Charger had a chance to clear it but did not put enough zip on the pass and it stayed in the zone. UND being the good team it is was able to bury the puck .

I will say this for the Chargers, this is a team not afraid of anyone, and they hung with the number one team in the country pretty much all night. They have some things to clean up, but woe unto teams taking them lightly because they have won one game, If the Chargers clean up their defensive zone a bit and tighten their box to force some more blocks who knows what we could see. Easier said than done of course, but this team played with no fear in front of the biggest crowd it will see all season. If Sinclair stands on his head as he did multiple times last night, UND will have to earn their win.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, and 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 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.

Pro Fighting Hawk’s Next Steps: Mason Bennett

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Mason Bennett has done darn near everything playing for the Fighting Hawks on the defensive side of the ball. He is a tall defensive end with enough speed to rush off the edge and cover the flat on a routine basis. At 2019 media day, he was asked who he modeled his game after, and  he noted Kansas City Chief, Frank Clark. Both are lanky edge rushers versatile to go where their defense needs them to.

Mason’s agent, Dr. Ray  Haija said of Mason that he, “is a top-flight edge rusher, his game is reminiscent of Bradley Chubb, he possesses great leverage to win the outside battles to the QB.” He has plenty of film from this year alone to consider to the good in that regard. In addition, when Bennett was injured this year, the defense suffered and getting an edge rush was much harder to get consistently. 

One could make the case that he is similar to another Chief, Terrell Suggs. Bennett and Suggs are both crafty enough to not only blow through you, but they are both able to set the edge and keep the run game between the tackles in the box. When UND had the limited modicum of success on defense against NDSU that it did, Mason setting the edge was a part of that. 

As for what’s next for Mason, Haja said that, “beginning the first week of January, Mason will begin training and enter into an intensive 9 to 10 week training program that will work to address his agility, quickness, speed, and strength. Scouts are interested in seeing how the on the field quickness and strength (that has drawn their interest in Mason) will translate into quantitative testing numbers at his pro day.”

Haja’s firm also represents Canadian Football League players, a league that if the NFL does not come calling, Mason will find himself in as a top-10 prospect. On either side of the border Mason Bennett will have a chance to be a pro Fighting Hawk on the football field. 

As to what lead Haja to work to signing Bennett, Haja said ” Mason is a bona fide the NFL prospect, there is significant interest among scouts, and what has drew us to Mason beyond his on-the-field talents is that he is a high character individual who possesses tremendous maturity and takes a professional approach to his football career. We have no doubt he will take that same professionalism into his pro day preparations and his NFL pursuits.” Every interaction we have had with Mason has backed up Haja’s thoughts of his character. Combined with his on the field acumen and calm respectful demeanor off it, one would think one of 32 NFL teams would like to see how Mason could improve their edge rush game.

In a league that seems to be heading to dual threat quarterbacks, having a rusher who can set the edge and take away the outside lane is more valuable than any stat line could indicate. Suffice it to say, Mason Bennett is an absolute NFL Draft pick in the late rounds, that, depending on how the preseason shakes out could prove a lot of teams wrong for passing on him multiple times.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, and 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 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.

 

UND Men’s Hockey: Nobody Cares Work Harder

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee- Violet Turtle Photography)

The first half of the men’s college hockey season is in the books. At the break we see the Fighting Hawks perched atop of all national polls, and the Pairwise. UND has faced many tests this season, and while it is scoring goals in bunches and playing its same sound defense, this team has not done anything yet in the bigger picture.

Ok, since you read the headline, let me explain where it comes from. Nobody cares work harder is the unofficial saying of the best team in the National Football League to this point, the Baltimore Ravens. Like UND, the Ravens lost a few winnable games early in their season before going on a run. After a tough game against the Chiefs, the Ravens ended up not winning against Cleveland and have so far proceeded to not lose a single game since then, running through a gauntlet of top-tier NFL sides so far. After a two game series in Mankato, the Fighting Hawks did not win two winnable games in situations they had a chance to do so in. Since those outcomes, both teams have not loss.

Why am I writing about the Ravens in a UND Men’s Hockey article? Well, other than being a Baltimore native, I strongly believe that Nobody Cares Work Harder should be the mantra of this Fighting Hawks team the rest of the year, as it is for the Ravens.

This is a team lead by upperclassmen who have experienced not success, like their forerunners in Rhett Gardner and Christian Wolanin among others, but failure. Sure the past two teams have played good defense, but neither could find the back of the net with enough consistency to make the tournament. In Grand Forks, when you do not even participate in the postseason, your in season accomplishments get overlooked, and people lose faith in the program, right or wrong.

No one on the current roster was there when this team won its last tournament game, National Championship Number Eight in April of 2016.

Why does that matter?

Well, for all of the great work put in by this team in the first half to get where it is, keep in mind that they still have a long way to go just to get to the win or go home scenario the NCAA Tournament presents lead by players who have not won a game in the National Tournament.

Like the Ravens, if this team loses in the national playoffs in any part given how good this first half was and the amount of time it expects to spend at home, it will be only remembered for what could have been.

This team is impressive, seeing players like Jasper Weatherby become one of the best centers in the country in only his second year of college puck is impressive. On the back end, seeing a player like Andrew Peski earn ice time in key situations and play well has been encouraging. Adam Scheel, barring some moments against Miami of Ohio and St. Cloud State, has played, for the most part, well behind a defense that is limiting the quality chances he has to face.

This only scratches the surface of what this team has done, and what it can still do is limitless.

Think UND making the second round of the NCAA’s is a guarantee? Well, as Atlantic Hockey has shown (UND’s likely opponent will probably come from Atlantic Hockey) the NCHC in the past two years (St. Cloud State) there are no guarantees in a one and done, and if they get the first goal, well anything is possible.

Again, this is not an article designed to upset anyone, UND is a great team, but we need to see them put together a full body of work and follow it up in the NCAA Tournament for this season to have resonance. I do not think UND now by being given a number one ranking in the polls has any special target on them, they are not the back-to-back champions, Minnesota Duluth is. Any team with Hunter Shepard in net is tough to beat at any time, let alone in the postseason.

Even though UND should be heavily favored to beat the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville, one has to think that the Chargers will look to wrest away some points from the Fighting Hawks on the road. That program has a history of producing goalies that can steal games despite less than ideal scoring in front of them (Cam Talbot and Carmine Guerrero come to my mind first).

The Fighting Hawks have a lot more hard work to do in order to accomplish the only goal that will bring them the validation that anyone in Grand Forks wants above all else, National Championship number nine. The players in the room know that, and through public comments the sense that this team is beliving in the No

Can they get their ninth title in program history?

Sure they can.

Will they?

Ask me again in April, because predicting long-run college hockey outcomes given the postseason is at best a coin flip especially before the new year comes.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, and 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 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.