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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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.

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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.

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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 the St

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 dontate 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.

 

UND Soccer 2019 Review: On the Ascent

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons-UND Athletics)

This season, the Fighting Hawks Soccer Team came in looking to do something that had alluded Head Coach Chris Logan, and this program at large since they became eligible to go to the postseason in their Division One history, make the conference tournament.

That was the zenith for this program as they fell short 3-0 in the semifinals against a Denver team felled by penalty kicks in the tournament’s finale against South Dakota State.

Looking back, this 2019 team was the culmination of the first three years of Head Coach Chris Logan’s reign here in Grand Forks. For a look at how he has helped develop players and coaches while here let’s look at Mimi Eiden and Chris Citowicki. In the first year of his time here, Logan made a statement by having his team defend on the road in the season opener against an always formidable Bison side. That team won thanks to an Emma Contino free kick goal and stellar goalkeeping. That team played good defense and worked hard to put goals home. The 2018 team built on that success and came just short of postseason play.

That year, we saw a glimpse of the future of this program with Eiden coming to campus to compliment Katie Moller, the all world striker who finished her career with the Fighting Hawks in the 2018 campaign doing everything but getting the team to the Summit League Tournament. Oh yeah, since taking over the Montana Grizzlies after his year here, Citowicki has gone on to win a Big Sky Regular Season Championship, and one conference tournament. He has a really good side in Missoula and is one of the reasons the Fighting Hawks are were they are.

As for Eiden, one would sincerely hope the Summit League gives her some preseason hardware next season as she comes into the 2020 campaign as arguably the fastest player in the league, and one of their most capable goal scorers. Up front, her with Bailey McNitt on the wing in her second season should be quite fun to watch, as McNitt’s technical skills on the ball and her speed along with Eiden’s finishing ability is a great combo.

Back to the 2019 side, coming into the year we knew Catherine Klein would start in net, and she had another superb season. For me, the highlight of her season was her penalty kick save in a defensive struggle against Grand Canyon on the road. Doing that off a questionable call against the Fighting Hawks before they would go on to win on the road in a packed stadium was impressive, and a save that UND Soccer fans will talk about for years on end.

Backing her up were two freshmen, Madi Livingston and Hallie Byzewski. They both played well in relief and in exhibitions, but Livingston’s play late in the season stood out. While her save percentage may not reflect her skills, she showcased what Assistant Coach Amanda Raso had worked on with her all year through some key games. She saved a penalty kick against the NDSU Bison, again on the road and showed a lot of potential for years to come. Her poise grew with each game she played, and she will have a chance to earn the net next year for the Fighting Hawks.

On to the back line for this team, they stood out quite well and in hockey terms, limited grade a chances for other teams, making their netminder’s life a bit easier. Hannah Olson stood out for me the most throughout the year. As Coach Logan is a Liverpool fan, Olson reminds me a bit of one Virgil Van Dijk. She is a physical defender who can play the ball up in space and is not afraid to jump ahead to put defenses on their heals. She still has three years to grow and get even better. Suffice it to say, the back line of UND lead by Olson will only improve.

Finally, just a note to follow along with us in the offseason for more on UND Soccer. We will have something up about the full soccer recruiting class soon and what to look for going into the next season once soccer’s schedule is revealed. This 2019 team left their mark on UND and is the benchmark for future squads to try and exceed. Credit to Chris Logan and his staff for the quick turnaround, and if he can completely rebuild a program in three years, imagine what he and his staff can do next season.

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.

 

 

Fighting Hawks end season with 24-6 playoff loss: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Today, the Fighting Hawks looked to win against the Colonels of Nicholls State on the road to extend their season to the second round of the FCS Playoffs.

That did not come to pass, as Nicholls State, lead by sophomore running back Julien Gums found holes up the middle all day en route to a 24-6 victory. He ran for 172 yards on a mere 16 carries to put the Fighting Hawks on their heels all game. Senior signal-caller Chase Fourcade was able to capitalize on UND needing to stack the box at times to find wideouts.

His biggest play o the day and one that arguably broke things open for the Colonels was a 45 yard perfectly lofted touchdown pass to Dai’Jean Dixon to get the lead for the Colonels into double digits.

For UND, this game was not the way anyone wanted the season to end. All day the Fighting Hawks were able to find some sucess, especially early on through the air, but never enough for a touchdown. The first couple of drives resulted in punts in Nicholls’ territory or a missed field goal. Senior UND quarterback, Nate Ketteringham never made more than one or two reads on the majority of his throws and while the offense found some sucess through the air, they did not find enough to get a touchdown.

It seemed that the Colonels looked at what UND brought to the game, a talented group of wideouts that are big and physical yet an offense still arguably in transition with players not recruited to play in the offense they now find themselves in, and forced UND to have to run the ball occassionally. Once they were one dimensional,  the Colonels keyed in on Ketteringham’s reads and forced him to be perfect. Unfortunately, despite a valiant effort he was not.

On defense, the Fighting Hawks played a lot and did a lot to keep the team in the game throughout. They bent for most of the game, keeping the game within a touchdown for the majority of the time. In his final game as a Fighting Hawk, Mason Bennett finished strong and notched two sacks as part of an eight tackle game. He will get some pro looks from the NFL, and the CFL, and one would think a team in need of a rangy, hybrid defensive end who can play outside linebacker and has a high football IQ would want to venture to Grand Forks to chat with him over the coming months.

Now What 

Well, the long winter of the offseason has now returned for this UND Football program. They did just enough to squeak into the 2019 FCS Playoff field with a perfect home record and a mere one road win. Nicholls State, to their credit, seemed to mimic what NDSU did to the Fighting Hawks back in September. They utilized big offensive lineman and speed up the middle to take UND out of their own rythm on defense, where they have thrived on stopping the run. On defense, Nicholls State took away the first read for the majority of the night, and made UND run the ball to win, a task it could not do.

What does this all mean going forward? Well first off thanks to all seniors who played their final game today. The legacies left by folks like Mason Bennett and Travis Toivonen are hard to top. This senior class has grown and seen nearly all of the Bubba Schweigert era first hand. Arguably, this senior class has helped spring UND from the abyss its football program was in to one that is competing for playoff berths every season. That is a step we should not look at likely, as there are plenty of college football programs at all levels looking for leaders to do just that.

Now, UND needs to take the next step as they fly to the Missouri Valley Football Conference starting next year. To me, it is the SEC of the FCS. The goal for this team next year of course will be to make the playoffs, but to continue the ascent this program has been on since Bubba took over as Head Coach needs to win at least one playoff game. This team is now in the same conference as NDSU, and however unfairly, will have every move compared to the Bison even more so, now that they share the same conference.

What do the Bison do yearly? Win Championships, and what does that take? Winning multiple playoff games. What does winning multiple playoff games every year mean? Along with adding to records, it adds time to the season for practice and skill development and builds the program. UND getting a bye next year or even just winning a game would be massive. Bubba has built this program in steps since he came here, first he helped establish a winning culture, next he helped this team leave no doubt and earn its first ever seed and home playoff game. Next, he showed that this program can fight through adversity, and after a year of multiple injuries at key positions had this team within one game of the playoffs .This year they made it back to the playoffs.

Now, the returners and this staff have to work with the big recruiting class it has coming in to get this program over the next hump. Changes could be on the way amongst the coaching staff as people move on to their next job or calling in life. I think this staff, especially the offensive staff lead by Danny Freund as the new coordinator, have breathed life into a once stagnant offense and should be given an immense amount of credit for utilizing players recruited for a different system and making them fit the new power spread look UND ran this year. Now, beginning to see players recruited for this system of offense will be the next marker for this team. How they can all work together to advance the offense will determine the fate of this team. Even the best defenses need some points to win games.

We will have more thoughts on UND Football in the offseason but wanted to talk about the game tonight, and my first thoughts on what’s next for this Fighting Hawks program. It is one on the rise, but still with a long way to soar to catch up with its new conference mates.

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.

Time to grow: The FCS Playoffs

What if i told you every year, that three conferences in the FCS do not participate in the playoffs. Well unfortunately that under the current 24 team setup is true. The Ivy League does not send its champion, and the MEAC and SWAC champions participate in the Celebration Bowl. Some years, like in 2016, a runner up MEAC school can make the playoffs but that is a rarity I wish we would see happen more frequently. This year I was moved by the plight of South Carolina State University. The Bulldogs won seven games that mattered in the FCS considerations (the Selection Committee does not count wins over division two, division three, or NAIA schools, but losses to them hurt your standing, FBS wins count as a plus but losses to them do not hurt).

The best win of this team quality wise was beating Wofford, a good Southern Conference team in the field of 24. The current format and setup of the two Division One HBCU conferences puts them at an unfair disadvantage. The best two teams from each of these conferences (in the MEAC’s case, second best as Florida A&M was ineligible for the postseason) is bound to play in the Celebration Bowl, a game which routinely out draws pretty much all of the FCS playoffs on a yearly basis.

I understand why the MEAC and SWAC send their champions to this showcase in Atlanta every year. The games are always great, and the bands (and all HBCU Bands) are always sensational. One of the most underrated parts of HBCU games for someone who did not grow up watching them, and has began following them a bit more since seeing multiple stars like Tarik Cohen head to the NFL, is that the bands consistently play throughout the game. It gives the game more pace and adds a unique element to every game.

Anyway, back to the main point, three conferences do not send their champions to the FCS Playoffs and it boggles my mind as to why. For the MEAC and SWAC, I would humbly propose that the SWAC eliminate their championship and play all games in one division. Schools could still have natural travel partners they play every year, but having a conference full of teams that you do not always play in one division is not unique to the SWAC at this level, it is a part of the Missouri Valley Conference for instance. In addition, I would work to ensure all SWAC games are done the same weekend the MEAC schedule finishes, before the selection of the field.

Regarding the Celebration Bowl, perhaps a post post season game could be played if the game is to go on, or if ended, I would propose that all MEAC and SWAC schools be awarded the fees from ESPN to broadcast the game, and in return each school gets a set amount more of exposure on the ESPN family of networks not harming the amount of money each school gets, and over time that the two conferences work towards a better deal.

As to the Bulldogs, one could argue that they did something a team in this field did not do, beat a playoff team . The team I am speaking of is Kennesaw State. While the Owls did a lot of great things this season, they did not beat a single team in the 24 team field.

As to the Ivy League, well that is its own issue. The Ivy League, which allows schools in nearly every other sport it sponsors teams in, including the time and travel intensive Men’s Basketball Tournament, for some reason bars its champion from participating in the tournament. While yes, the playoffs happen for a lot of schools around final exams, I find it upsetting that schools say to their student-athletes essentially, if you play football here you cannot play in the postseason, yet if you play basketball and find yourself in the Sweet 16 or make a wonderful run to the Final Four (rare but it can happen) you can miss multiple weeks of school no problem. It is not consistent to me, that needs to change.

How we change 

My idea is simple, expand the field to 32 teams, give auto bids to the MEAC and the SWAC Champions which gets us to 26 schools in the field. Next work with the Ivy League to find a solution to their concerns about compromising academics for sport and give their champ an auto bid as well, that gets us to 27 schools. For even numbers, and for parity sake with more schools jumping to the FCS level, giving out the remaining five spots as at large bids is truly the way to go. This would give us the same amount of weekends dedicated to the sport, and the committee could truly seed the field 1-32 and assign opponents accordingly.

So for example, the Bison would always play the lowest remaining school before Frisco and their yearly trek to the National Championship, and the lower seeded teams would be in and have a chance to shock the world yearly. If it is good enough for the true money maker of college athletics, the Division One Men’s Basketball Tournament, I think the FCS could learn from that.

The highest remaining seed has first right to host each round, paying the NCAA a guarantee similar to the current system through the semi finals. However, if their are facility issues, and a neutral site in the town is not qualified to host, then the lower seed could see the game at their place.

Eventually, the FCS playoffs will expand as more teams come in to this wonderful level of college football. Why not do it now and embrace the growing national awareness of FCS Football. It is a great game, let’s get more schools involved in the pinnacle of it, the FCS Playoffs.

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.