(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.
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.
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