Sound stalemate

(Photo Credit: Russell Hons-UND Athletics)

Coming into today’s season opening soiree against the Grizzlies of the University of Montana, this University of North Dakota Soccer team has already developed its identity. A well composed team of fast forwards combined with some stout defense is what will propel this team to victory.

Today, against Montana, the Fighting Hawks got the sound defense, they even got some chances not reflected in the final box score, but they did not get the result they wanted. After 110 hard-fought minutes the Fighting Hawks played to a 0-0 tie with the Grizzlies. The score does not tell the entire tale of how things went. For example, once again forward Mimi Eiden had herself a wonderful day as did a talented forward and midfield corps.

Eiden was all over the forward part of the field speeding around the tall and physically imposing back line of the Grizzlies. She developed chemistry with multiple talented midfielders and blocked at least one shot today. She came inches away from scoring on a beautifully placed ball by freshman Bailey McNitt. Eiden was able to shake off Montana’s talented netminder, Claire Howard, and came within mere inches of giving UND a lead with 15 minutes left in the game. Despite that, she benefited from the strong midfield play of McNitt and others throughout the game.

If there was one thing the Fighting Hawks could build on, and this seems a minor idea, but Howard is quite deft at knowing when to jump off her line to stop attacks before they build. When coming up the field, Howard’s positioning helped stymie some UND chances before they could take a shot against her. As the year goes on, if UND can draw down chances for goalies to extinguish chances before they develop then that could add another tool to its powerful offensive arsenal.

As Head Coach Chris Logan said “We attack as a team and defend as a team.” Seeing everyone able to get back and help preserve the net-front to limit Montana’s chances provides some backdrop of hope going forward for this team. Since taking over, Chris Logan has morphed this program from one happy to be in games after parrying double digit shots aside to one able to take the offensive to the other team. Today’s game was fought against a big Montana side able to slow UND a little, but not enough to earn a goal against them.

Going forward, this team has shown the ability just today against a team that made the NCAA tournament last year to do literally everything but put the ball in the back of the net. If this team can keep this pace up the rest of the year more often than not their results will be on the positive side of the ledger.

That all being said they face a tough test against the Gaels of St. Mary’s College on Sunday at 11:30 AM. If this same intensity can be carried over to Sunday morning, look for Eiden, McNitt, and the rest of this side to challenge a very good Gaels program.

Electric exhibition ending for UND Soccer

(Photo Credit: Russell Hons-UND Athletics)

On a beautiful Friday afternoon in Grand Forks, on the lush Bronson Field, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks showcased their readiness to tangle with Big Sky Champion Montana in one week. Fighting Hawks’ Head Coach Chris Logan utilized a different system throughout this game than his first one, and his team responded quite well.

UND took the exhibition finale over the Viterbo V-Hawks 5-0. The V-Hawks only registered one shot on net on the day. That shot was a perfectly placed ball in the top right corner but denied by freshman netminder Madi Livingston in the second half.

On the day, Mimi Eiden lead UND with two goals. Mara Yapello, Emma Bangert, and Lauren Glas added to the total. This team spent the majority of the game on offense, sending chance after chance into the box thanks to the wonderful and consistent wing play that again lead the way for the Fighting Hawks.

Everyone played their role on this team today once again leading to a strong win. Lest anyone doubt what Viterbo can do, they held a strong North Dakota State University team off the scoreboard in the first half of a Wednesday night exhibition in Fargo.

Going forward, what stands out to me about this team so far is not its attackers. The offense is lead by players like Mimi Eiden has played with speed since she came to campus. What stands out to me about this team is something that Logan has mentioned in both post game press conferences. This is arguably the deepest group of players he has had to work with since taking over as Head Coach at UND.

Today for instance, Viterbo looked to key in on fast players like Eiden, and she still scored twice, as other players like Mara Yapello benefited from that. Every player on the pitch can contribute offensively for this team and has shown an ability to do so in preseason, goalkeepers included.

All three goalies, Catherine Klein, Madi Livingston, and Hallie Byzewski are strong distributors of the ball from their back line and do a wonderful job of starting positive possessions. The challenge for this team is learning what to adjust to better improve its chemistry, a natural part of beginning any season, to be able to convert more of the numerous chances it will generate as the regular season starts next week.

These Fighting Hawks take on the Grizzlies of the University of Montana one week from today at 3:00 PM at Bronson Field. This will not be an easy opener, as Grizzlies Head Coach Chris Citowicki was Logan’s assistant in his first year in Grand Forks before taking the Montana job.

Citowicki leads a talented Montana side who was lead his team to the NCAA Tournament last year, and knows how to build rosters. These Fighting Hawks have benefited from many of the recruiting connections of Citowicki getting top players to come to Grand Forks, like Eiden.

Come to Bronson Field to check out what promises to be a wonderful opener and test for the Fighting Hawks one week from today, attendance is free and this team is fun to watch.

UND Soccer is sprinting towards the season

On Sunday at a bright, beautiful, and crowded Bronson Field, the Fighting Hawks’ Women’s Soccer Team kicked off their 2019 Season with an exhibition opener against the Bisons of Manitoba. While UND won the game 4-1 featuring freshman Lexi Miller scoring the game winner mere moments after coming into the game and freshman goaltender Madi Livingston making a sterling debut playing a clean majority of the second half minutes, there is a lot to like from this game.

Not only are Mimi Eiden and Olivia Knox slated to both have a big season, but those around her look improved and capable of making it impossible to game plan for any one attacker this season. This is a luxury UND Soccer has not had, arguably to this extent, since it joined Division One.

First, as the headline says, this team is fast. One of the biggest challenges Head Coach Chris Logan faced in game planning for opponents was countering their strong backfield with one or two strikers, hoping the wingers would get a ball in past the towering defenders that this team faces on a regular basis in the Summit League. With the team he has assembled, it is possible to do that.

For example, Emma Bangert alone had multiple runs up the right-handed side of the pitch and got quality passes through towards Eiden or Knox in the center. A few times plays were called back for offsides, and a few times the Bisons got to balls, but its a percentage game. The more quality runs through attack this team gets, the better it will be. Logan called this group the most dynamic he has coached so far, and he could be right. Knox and Eiden both have the talent and speed to help each other score goals, while on the back end, this team has maintained its strength.

Oh, and on defense, this team not only has Catherine Kline back in net, but she has two talented understudies who learn from her on a daily basis. Livingston today looked good in her time playing, she was never out of position for shots and controlled distribution quite well. A few years down the road one would hope that people talk about her and fellow freshman netminder Hallie Byzewski the way they have about alumnae Olivia Swenson and Klein. How this team defends the bigger strikers they will see in the Summit League will go a long way to determining their fate.

Finally, take the result today for what it is, a first step. This team, based on its quality runs and scintillating speed could have potted ten or more goals today according to Logan. The challenge will be connecting the speedy wing play to its talented strikers while maintaining its defensive prowess. On Friday, the Fighting Hawks are going to try some different tactical adjustments for the exhibition finale against Viterbo.

Look not so much at who is where on Friday, but look at the chemistry this team can form. The exhibition finale is a final chance for this team to learn what is working well so far, and put on film some moments that need work or adjustment in the hope of sending it not only into the season strong, but helping them make their goal, getting to the Summit League Conference Tournament.

Things you may not know about Karl Goehring: The View from Syracuse

Alexandra Ackerman has had many years experience covering the Syracuse Crunch, and over the AHL affiliate’s lifespan one particular goaltender seems to have captured the hearts and minds of Crunch fans, and recently had the chance to return to Syracuse and coach with the Crunch in a paid role where he could . Fighting Hawks fans know this goalie and coach quite well, as he has now come back to Grand Forks as a paid assistant coach. His name of course, is Karl Goehring. I had a chance to get an insight into all that Karl is bringing back to Grand Forks with him from lead Syracuse Crunch writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning SB Nation site, and assitant editor, Ackerman herself. Check out my questions and her thoughts on all things Karl Goehring.

1.What is your favorite memory of Karl’s time in Syracuse?

“Although I’ve been following Karl since 2004, his return in 2007 was the catalyst for a lot of memorable moments that season. At the time, I was still relatively new to the heartbreak that the AHL creates, so the joy I felt with the news that he had been signed to a PTO was pretty strong. I knew the sport more at that point than I did in 2004, so I think I was able to better appreciate the talent he had and the work ethic he was bringing.

At the end of that season, the Crunch went on a run of 15 games in a row, and it all started with a shootout loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at the beginning of March. It might be weird to remember Karl for a loss he took, but the point the team earned that night was largely in part to Karl’s shootout prowess, and it is still remembered as the magical start to that run that took the team to the second round of the playoffs. The Crunch had struggled that season, and no one had any real expectations of winning that game. Getting just that point out of that contest seemed to create a turning point for the Crunch, and I think it was also the night that reminded the fans of Karl’s talent, and showed everyone what he was still very much capable of.Karl went on to win Goaltender of the Month for March 2008.”

2. What is his lasting impact from his coaching role with the Crunch?

“Karl truly showed how important the role of a goalie coach is in the minor leagues (and, I’d argue, on most hockey teams). During his two years with the Crunch under the Lightning, he saw the team through quite a bit of goalie drama. He worked with whatever the organization handed him, and helped keep the Crunch’s crease shored up the entire time.

In 2017-18, Karl worked with seven goalies, all in various stages of their careers. Veterans Michael Leighton, Louis Domingue, Eddie Pasquale, and Peter Budaj all passed through Syracuse, sharing the net with youngsters Connor Ingram (a Lightning prospect [since traded to Nashville after this interview]), Olivier Mantha, and Nick Riopel. Whether Karl was helping to keep the vets sharp or assisting the young guys with the pro transition, he was the steadying hand the organization needed him to be.

This past season, Syracuse had a fair bit of goaltending drama. Ingram had an apparent falling out with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, and the rift set off a small goaltending carousel. Veteran Eddie Pasquale was looked to for the bulk of the work, while backups Martin Ouellette and Atte Tolvanen were expected to be sharp whenever Pasquale needed a break. Balancing everything that was going on, while keeping his goalies focused on the game and not on the drama, had to be challenging. Having a dedicated coach helping them was essential.  ”

3.To fans worried that a goalie coach may not be a good fit for the assistant coach role what would you say to them?

“Karl has always been an extremely hard worker. Most are probably aware of the doubts he had to fight during his playing career because of his height. He’s faced adversity almost his entire career, and he’s used those experiences to learn and become a well-rounded person and coach.

Although he’s mainly been a goaltending coach due his playing position, I know UND wouldn’t have been able to find anyone who will work harder at making sure he’s accessible to all players he needs to work with. It also isn’t such a bad thing to have an assistant coach know so much about goaltending, especially at the college level, where money for an actual goaltending coach can be tough to come by (as you all know).

Finally, Karl has gathered so many various experiences during his own playing and coaching career, and he’s worked with athletes at nearly every stage of their hockey careers. He knows how to speak to them, and knows what they need to hear. Assistant coaches have to be good at interpersonal relationships, and from everything I’ve heard, Karl excels in that area. He knows how to take his own experiences and translate them for young athletes.”

4.Karl’s role is not completely defined here, that said what are some things organizationally that the Crunch improved on since he came there that would reassure any nervous UND fans?

“Although I am not really privy to the inner workings of the team, Karl’s time with the Crunch has been sprinkled with quotes from players and from Syracuse head coach Ben Groulx about how much Karl’s video work has improved the team. Players credited Karl’s scouting with knowing how to score on other goalies and knowing the weaknesses in the defense of opposing teams. Karl worked with all of the guys on the Crunch to make sure they understood their positives and their areas of concern. Karl has studied this game for so long, and has clearly worked to understand more than just goalten/ding.”

5.With Karl returning to UND do you see Tampa perhaps looking at more UND players in the future?

“I’d hope so. The Lightning don’t seem afraid to look far and wide for talent, and I don’t foresee that ending anytime soon!”

6.If UND fans would like a player in the Bolts’ system to track as a pupil of Karl’s whom would you recommend and why?

“Connor Ingram is probably the closest to a pupil we can get, although given the rift I previously stated, I am not actually sure how much longer Ingram will be in the organization.” [These words have proven true as previously stated Ingram has been traded to Nashville since this interview was conducted]

 

7.Could you see Karl as a head coach at some level soon?

“I absolutely think he has the drive and the hockey IQ. I am not sure if he has the temperament (and that isn’t a bad thing at all, or a knock on the “traditional” hockey head coach). Karl is just definitely not your traditional grumpy head coach, that’s for sure.”

8.What traits does Goehring have that make you think he will excel in this new role?

“His tenacity is incredible. Karl does not give up when he wants something, and he has the work ethic to back it all up. He loves the sport, and he understands how important fans are to teams.

Also, I feel the need to add that the Lightning organization does not mess around when it comes to prospect development. Yes, Karl was 100% in the right place at the right time to be able to impress Steve Yzerman enough to get himself considered for the job in Syracuse, but if the Lightning had any inkling at all that Karl was not a good fit for that job, he would not have gotten it. Having the confidence of that kind of an organization in you is a very big deal.

I also don’t think that the Lightning would have let Karl go had he not gotten an opportunity like this. Clearly the organization respected his wishes enough to let him go and interview for something like this, knowing that they would lose him if he secured the position. I think that level of respect says a lot.”

9. Add anything else to this about Karl you’d like.

“I’ve been lucky enough to see Karl come back to Syracuse three times since he first left in 2005 – once as a player and twice as an assistant coach. That’s rare in this league (rare in any league, really). Every time he returned, he came back better than ever, something else that’s pretty rare in this world. I know he’ll be happy back with UND, and I wish him nothing but the best. He’s truly one of a kind!”

Why Not You? Thoughts from Day Two of MJHL Player ID Camp at the Ralph

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-MJHL)

Today, Kelsey and I were on hand to cover the second day of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League Player Identification camp at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. She was able to provide photos for this event for the league today and we were both able to see some superb hockey take place.

Most if not all teams from the league were represented. Commissioner Kim Davis and Kevin Saurette, director of Hockey Operations, were on hand for the second annual event at the Ralph. Below are some quick thoughts on the day and the MJHL in general.

  • First, if able, go watch these teams play in season and their postseasons. The dedication players in this league show is second to none, and year after year more college and NHL players are being developed in the MJHL. Cole Smith, and Jackson Keane, two UND forwards, were on hand to share their experiences in junior hockey to the perspective players at this invite-only camp. These teams are run and supported by small towns all across Manitoba and all have passionate followings of these players as they progress with the team, and beyond as they go to the next level of their hockey and academic pursuits.
  • For those who do not know, Tucker Poolman has another brother besides Colton. Mason Poolman is quite good and showcased his speed today. He is still a few years away from college hockey and was out skating players today multiple years his senior. He plays a quick game and can generate a lot of good looks in the offensive zone. He centered a line with Mitchell Idalski, son of former UND Women’s Hockey Head Coach, Brian Idalski. Their line was the best forward line in either game we were able to cover today (the first two). Idalski put home a nice rebound on a shift where Poolman served as the catalyst. As for Poolman, before he moves on to junior hockey and beyond, if able, go watch him play for the East Grand Forks Green Wave next season.
  • This camp was very organized and well put together. To the credit of the Ralph, they do a superb job maximizing efficiency of their building year-round for all things sport and entertainment related. This camp is a superb example of that. As it is in only its second iteration this season, it will continue to grow under the leadership of General Manager Jody Hodgson.
  • On ice in game one, Logan Johnson stood out the most and was arguably one of the top defenders in the first two games. He consistently was activating into the play and was able to use that offensive ability to create time and space. With that space, Johnson wired home one of the truest shots of the day for one of the cleanest goals of the day. He played this past season for the North Star Christian Academy Knights, helping his team capture a NAPHL championship and leading them to a 41-10-6 record on the season.
  • Finally, this camp has shown another example of the MJHL utilizing its growing footprint to reach out to more talented players. Plenty of players today had superb showings for the legion of scouts and team personnel in attendance. The Ralph provided a superb backdrop for some quality hockey and information dissemination relating to all things Junior-A hockey and beyond. Kudos to the MJHL, the Ralph, and all involved in providing these players a sensational setting to showcase their skills this weekend. The camp wraps tomorrow with two more games.

Larsson’s 24 Save Shutout Leads Denver to the Frozen Four With 3-0 Victory over AIC

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Denver Athletics)

Coming into this one we had an idea of what we might see today. Filip Larsson stole the show in net for the Pioneers of Denver yesterday afternoon and he added to his lore with another shutout in the West Region Final in Fargo for Denver. The team played superb defense around him, and like so many games before this one, helped him withstand  a furious American International College (AIC) comeback in the third to get a 3-0 win and their 16th trip to the Frozen Four in Buffalo in a few weeks.

This one, like so many before, did not come easy for the Pioneers. However, they almost seem to play better this season when getting out shot and counter-punching. Their goals against goalies have all come on counter attacks and have all started with the Pioneers displaying a team-focused effort on defense. Once again, despite getting out shot 26-24 on the evening including only mustering two shots on net in the third, Denver found a way to win.

One injury for Pioneers fans to keep an eye on is the hand, or arm of forward Emilio Pettersen. According to Head Coach, David Carle, the Pioneers will re-evaluate his condition in the coming days. Pettersen left the game in the first period and did not return to the bench.

The Pioneers have a confidence in Larsson that he can take them all the way to the top. As Head Coach David Carle said “(We have) confidence in our goaltender to make big saves in key moments.

As to the scoring side of things, the first period was scoreless despite Denver playing arguably their best period of the weekend. They out shot AIC 10-4 and spent the majority of the period on the attack. The second period featured an opening of the scoring ledger for the Pioneers. 15:45 into the second, the Pioneers capitalized on a bounce behind the AIC net. Ryan Barrow threw a puck in space to Colin Staub on the glove side of AIC netminder Zackarias Skog. Staub wired a shot to the net as quick as he could and was able to beat Skog high to the blocker side to provide the game winning tally. Skog finished the night with 22 saves on 24 shots.

To AIC’s credit, even after the Staub goal, they never gave up. They arguably were the better team at the end of the second and throughout the third period. The only reason why AIC was shutout for the first time all season was Larsson. He was named Most Outstanding Player of the region. The Red Wings’ prospect made 10 saves in the third period and had to fight off multiple grade-a chances. The Pioneers only mustered two shots on net in the third, doubling their output from the semifinal against Ohio State in the third.

Fortunately for Denver, both of those shots found the back of the net. Liam Finlay provided an insurance marker for the Pioneers 16:30 into the third before Jarid Lukosevicius sealed it with an empty net marker 18:37 into the final frame in Fargo. Denver moves on to take on a Massachusetts-Amherst team lead by super prospect and future Colorado Avalanche defender Cale Makar.

As to AIC, this team played a superb game and represented Atlantic Hockey well all weekend. Head Coach Eric Lang noted that in building this team that he and his staff had to ” turn over a lot of rocks.” Well his staff found some pure gold for this team. Of the Yellow Jackets’ side, they graduate two seniors that played a game this season in Captain Shawn McBride and Ryan Polin, along with Ryan Papa who played an advisory role for the Yellow Jackets this season due to a concussion issue.  Skog and center Hugo Reinhardt were the first two European recruits Lang’s staff convinced to play at AIC and their success arguably is a marker for the future. This team was built from all around the world and after turning over many rocks, Lang and his staff, with this weekend in their back pocket, opened many fans, and recruits’ eyes to why the value of AIC should not ever be dismissed in college hockey circles again.

For the Yellow Jackets, this team will return and this weekend was the most important one in their program’s history. They capitalized on their win yesterday and spent a lot of time calling recruits in the period between their win and the game last night. The final thing for Yellow Jackets to look forward to this season is the publication of the final rankings. To a lot of fans of a lot of other teams, these rankings can seem insignificant. To the Yellow Jackets and Coach Lang, these rankings mean the world.He said, ” we’d love to sit inside the top 20 and sit on that for an entire summer. It would make the summer go better so if I can make the pitch and tell those people on some of these polls…I do think if you’re one of the last eight teams standing, you should be top 20 in the country.”

 

 

 

 

“You Earn Your Luck”: How AIC Defeated St. Cloud State 2-1 for First NCAA Tournament Win in Program History

Coming in to the second game of the West Regional Semis in Scheels Arena, American International College (AIC) Head Coach Eric Lang noted that he could only watch St. Cloud State , the number one team in the nation, in small doses in his pre-scout. If he tried to watch them any longer Lang said he would “get sick to my stomach.”

Last night, Lang’s team made the Huskies of St. Cloud State feel their worst all season. AIC won 2-1 thanks to 32 saves on 33 shots from under-recruited junior Swedish netminder Zackarias Skog. His counterpart in net, SCSU netminder David Hrenak finished with a mere 11 saves on 13 shots. The Huskies had plenty of chances towards the end but could not find the equalizer. Did AIC get a little puck luck? Well, yes, but as Lang said on the win “I would say it’s puck luck, but in this sport in you earn your luck.”

At the beginning of the game AIC came out and hung with the speed of SCSU through the first few minutes. Joel Kocur was able to put a puck past the pad of Hrenak as he came off the post for a split second 6:01 into the opening frame. It was enough to give AIC the lead and stun the 4220 fans at Scheels Arena. After the opening goal, AIC began to play a similar style to what Air Force was able to do last spring against the Huskies. As coach Lang noted, the team played to TV timeouts and was able to maximize its defensive output despite having to defend SCSU for the majority of the game. Skog made multiple grade-a saves throughout the game and kept AIC ahead.

In the second period, Brennan Kapcheck benefited from a soft pick play that AIC ran in the Huskies’ defensive zone. He was able to walk down the wall and wire a strong wrist shot just through the five hole of Hrenak that had just enough power to slink over the goal line 7:32 into the second period.

That goal would prove to be the game winning tally. Despite a heart-pounding third period where the Huskies threw everything at AIC, the Yellow Jackets held on. The only Huskies goal came 9:27 into the final frame on the power play. Easton Brodzinski fired a puck that went off the head of a Yellow Jacket and by Skog. The Yellow Jackets still persisted. They played the entire game in five minute segments getting to the television timeouts. These timeouts to them are a luxury that they are not afforded playing in Atlantic Hockey.

At the end of the game after Skog saved a Robby Jackson shot, time ran out and most of the fans at Scheels Arena walked away stunned as their team and[ presumptive favorite to win the National Championship lost again in the first round to a team from Atlantic Hockey. No one not associated with the Yellow Jackets picked AIC to win this, no one but the team from all around the world thought they could hang on to pull off this victory. Eric Lang gave his team that belief through three years of building up a program from the ground floor and through celebrating small victories along the way. Last night those small victories, compounded, resulted in the biggest win in AIC history.

Now AIC is preparing to take on a very strong Denver side that plays a speed game and is backstopped by one of the best goalies in the nation in Filip Larsson. Saturday night at Scheels Arena, a West Regional Champion will move on to the Frozen Four.

Grand Theft Larssony: How Denver Earned a 2-0 Regional Semis Victory over Ohio State

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee- Denver Athletics)

Coming into this game, we knew both Denver and Ohio State played a similar type of game. Both teams are structured and do not break ranks in their own end very often. The winner of this one was going to need not to out shoot their opponent as Ohio State did 24-13, but to capitalize on the rare occurrences of bad play in their opponent’s defensive zone. In addition, that team would need perfection in net. Denver got all of that tonight as Filip Larsson,once again, stole a game from a team that did nearly everything better than Denver but put pucks behind him.

On the evening Larsson finished with 24 saves with half of those coming in a frantic first period. In that period and for the majority of the second, the Buckeyes controlled the pace of play and looked to slow down the Pioneers. He utilized his calm demeanor and style to keep the Pioneers tied with the Buckeyes, the moment was never too big for him and he was composed all game.

The game remained tied until the 19:20 mark of the second period. Senior graduate transfer defender Les Lancaster found a rare opening and walked into the void. He took a feed from Emilio Pettersen and lasered a perfect shot through the five-hole of otherwise perfect Ohio State netminder Tommy Nappier. That was arguably the best chance Denver had all day and they capitalized on it.

Throughout the third period, Ohio State threw everything it had at Larsson, not much got through as he only had to make five saves. Denver’s only shot on net came with Nappier pulled for an extra attacker Colin Staub found the back of the net to provide the 2-0 margin of victory with 58 seconds left.

To prepare for tomorrow, Denver needs to improve in its faceoffs. Tonight the Pioneers played defense a lot as they won only 14 puck drops on the evening. The Buckeyes won the other 37. Liam Finlay noted that Denver’s wingers need to help out their centers to win a few more draws tomorrow. If the Pioneers can do that, they will not have to chase as much of the game, and Larsson will not need to make as many grade-a saves as he did today.

Similar Sides Setup Superb West Regional: Four Previews

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violent Turtle Photography)

Four teams take the ice tomorrow for the West Region in Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND in round one of the 2019 Division One NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. We have so many storylines to look at, but one thing that stood out to me is the two first round matchups feature two teams playing each other with similar identities making for a study in execution over system selection determining who makes the Saturday night showdown in the Final to determine the regional champion. Read on for previews of all four teams and read all the way to the bottom of this article for some predictions sure to be at least somewhat wrong as this tournament is 15 best-of-one elimination games to determine a champion.

Denver 

The Pioneers play an extremely fast brand of hockey and throughout multiple looks this season have been quite fun to watch. Filip Larsson in net is a superb freshman netminder. In addition, one thing that stood out to me from their press conference and Ohio State’s press conference is how similar the teams described themselves. The Pioneers have been at their best not based on winning the shots on net battle, as they spectacularly lost that matchup against UND in the NCHC first round, yet because of how they guard the danger zone around their net, they can mitigate a lot of those issues. Between the two teams, Denver and Ohio State, Denver maybe is a smidgen speedier , but the Buckeyes seem to play a tad more structured in their own end.

Ohio State 

Head Coach Steve Rohlik described his thoughts on Denver which I would guess are similar in nature if not verbiage to what Denver Head Coach David Carle thinks of the Buckeyes. “I’ve got a long list that I could tell you which concerns me.” The Buckeyes are the more experienced of the two teams playing in the first matchup. They also have not played since March 17, coming up on the wrong side of a 5-1 result against Penn State. Like Denver, this team plays fast and structred, like Denver they have a superb netminder in Sean Romeo. Unlike Denver they also have Sean Nappier, a freshman goalie in the running for the Mike Richter Award(best goalie in the country, he is in the Top 10). Point being, they have platooned these two this season leading them to a superb finish for the second straight season. Denver may have to adjust its style depending on which goalie they face. Nappier has played 1102:19 this year and Romeo has played 975:49. That is as close to a perfect platoon of goalies as you will find in college hockey.

Matchup Two 

Saint Cloud State 

The Huskies come into this one on top of the college hockey world for the second straight season. For the second big dance in a row, they play the 16th seed from Atlantic Hockey. For the second tourney in a row they are expected to win. Last year, thanks to great goaltending from Air Force and some breakdowns in their own end, they lost to a Falcons side that nearly made the Frozen Four.

What are some differences? Personnel wise on the player side, not much, nearly everyone returned a year older, and the few freshman flocking to St. Cloud like Tampa Bay Lightning prospect defenseman Nick Perbix have fit right in to their system and are already playing some key minutes. Behind the bench, Bob Motzko flew southwest to take the Gophers job with the University of Minnesota leaving the Huskies job open for former Minnesota Duluth Assistant Brett Larson to take over. He has not changed a lot of the systems the Huskies have played, but instead has focused more on small tweaks to improve the minor details, especially on the back end, to tighten up this side’s defense. The details have all played a role big or small in getting the Huskies back here. How they play against an American International side (AIC) will determine if they earn a spot in the finals against either a Denver team they have played many times, or a battle-tested Ohio State squad. This team has played well and been consistent, but one thing to look out for when watching this one is the start. St. Cloud State has had to come back against Colorado College twice to earn a tie and win in its superb second half. That is the team that they compared AIC to at the press conference today. Just something to keep in mind if you root for the Huskies.

American International College (AIC)

House money describes what this team comes in with. Head Coach Eric Lang has recruited a team from all around the world and all levels of hockey to play for AIC. He runs a group very happy to be in the tournament for the first time, but also confident that they can play with any team in the country. While they have not won a non-conference game against any team they have played, they have all been against tournament teams and all setup the Yellow Jackets to play tomorrow against the Huskies. Look for them to play a similar style to the Huskies and try and keep rebound opportunities against their Swedish netminder Zackarias Skog to a minimum. The Huskies have been at their best on clean slot shots, or rebounds from the heavy net-front they generate when they run the neutral zone. If the Yellow Jackets lead by players like Brennan Kapcheck and Blake Christensen can capitalize on the few chances they will get, the nightcap in Fargo can get a lot closer than the Huskies would like.

The puck drops on a fun regional tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 PM central with a young Denver team looking to vanquish an older clone of themselves in the Buckeyes of Ohio State. The finale starts at 6:30 PM central as, again, two teams that use similar systems as the Yellow Jackets of AIC faceoff against a team stocked with NHL-ready talent in the Huskies of St. Cloud State.

West Regional Prediction sure to be wrong: St. Cloud State will face Denver in the finale with the Huskies avenging their past defeats to howl on to Buffalo for the Frozen Four in a few weeks.

Who Joins SCSU in Buffalo? 

They will faceoff against the Huskies of Northeastern, lead by another superb goalie in Cayden Primeau who will defeat the Minnesota State Mavericks in the finale. On the other side of the bracket, Minnesota Duluth will defeat a fast Quinnipiac team to earn a slot in Buffalo and defend their championship. They will face a Massachusetts (Amherst) side lead by arguably one of the best defenders in at least the past 20 years to play college hockey in Cale Makar. To get to Buffalo, the Minutemen of Amherst will defeat Notre Dame in the finals. Check back around Frozen Four time for a prediction of who will win the whole thing.

5-4 OT Winner From Kawaguchi Saves Senior Night for UND: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violent Turtle Photography)

Last night in front of a strong crowd braving the elements at Ralph Engelstad Arena we saw a microcosm of the University of North Dakota’s season in one game. When this team starts fast, they typically do well. Nick Jones, senior forward playing on senior night, took a cross-ice feed from Rhett Gardner and wired home the opening salvo of the night 37 seconds into the game. Later in the period, Omaha forward Tyler Weiss banged home a loose puck in the crease with the majority of skaters sharing time and space with Peter Thome to tie it up.

In the second, Jordan Kawaguchi made his first contribution to the box score taking a cross-checking penalty. Zach Jordan made UND pay for that mistake with a sensational release on a wrist shot to stake the Mavericks to their only lead of the evening. That lead would last 5:51 as Kawaguchi would return to the box score, this time to the good converting a power play marker on a Nick Jones feed.

The third is where everything happened.Cole Smith converted the only really “soft” goal of the evening against Omaha netminder Evan Weninger who played an otherwise stellar evening. He finished with 41 saves on 46 shots. After a Gavin Hain tally gave UND a two goal lead, the Mavericks rallied back to tie things up with tallies from Nate Knopke and Tristan Keck. The Keck marker came off a Kawaguchi turnover with an extra attacker.

Kawaguchi made up for it with a clean shot past Weninger 16 seconds into overtime. He is UND’s leading goal scorer after the regular season with only ten goals.

Now What

For Nebraska Omaha, if they can some how find a way to hold Duluth down a bit defensively than the expected result may be a little harder for the Bulldogs to achieve in the first round. The Mavericks showed this weekend that they do not need much time or space to have a chance with their quick transition game and Weninger’s ability in net.

As for UND, this weekend did result in two wins pushing the Fighting Hawks closer to the NCAA Tournament. That said, this team still has things to clean up. Every week this team seems to take some undisciplined penalties that skew their rhythm and force them to alter what Head Coach Brad Berry likes to do, getting everyone involved in the game. This team has also dealt with a lot of injuries over the course of the season and is closer to being healthy with the return of Grant Mismash on Friday in limited minutes, and the return of Nick Jones. The most consistent line for this team this year is the GMC line of Gavin Hain, Mark Senden, and Cole Smith. Brad Berry did not have the option to deploy this line to shutdown the game at the end of regulation because Cole Smith was given a ten minute misconduct for involvement in a fracas with UNO 13:30 into the third period.

Puck possession is this team’s strength, and even when healthy, as this weekend showed, they cannot take undisciplined penalties and need to find ways to stay ahead in games. Credit the seniors for playing well on senior night. Now UND has to take on a fast Denver team and take the series on the road to stay in the NCAA Tournament hunt.