UND-Denver: Three things to watch

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Tonight, the Fighting Hawks take on the Pioneers in a battle of two teams going in different directions.

UND is fighting for the Penrose Cup to stay in Grand Forks against the Huskies of St. Cloud State, while Denver is fighting to get into consideration for an at large selection. In the NCHC Pod, when these teams played, skill was on top display as Carter Savoie and Riese Gaber seemed to do battle to provide the best highlights in the Pod.

For Denver, the Pioneers have all of the skill they have had in years past. The fact that Carter Savoie took as long as he did to get drafted (fourth round by Edmonton) is somewhat shocking given how he has played for this team. Players that played in the USHL with worse statistics for his same player profile were taken ahead of him. He is a rookie of the year candidate and has 13 points in 12 games so far. The forward group of this team has what they need to go far, the back end is reeling from the departure of Ian Mitchell. Magnus Chrona is still the main player in net, and for the Pioneers to turn things around, he has to be their best defender on some nights and take a few games they did not deserve.

With that intro out of the way, here are three things to watch in the series.

Where the penalties happen

With UND playing Denver, we expect plenty of penalties to happen. The Fighting Hawks have a proclivity for taking offensive zone penalties due to their over aggressive tendencies on the forecheck. For a team that controls possession as much as UND does, they should not have to do too much to maintain it, and offensive zone penalties, with the team they are facing tonight and tomorrow are an invitation for more goals scored by the Pioneers. Carter Savoie, Bobby Brink, and the rest of Denver does not need any more time and space, and the penalty kill numbers of UND, while great, will suffer if this trend continues. For the Pioneers, if you see a lot of penalties taken in their own end that is indicative of how well UND is holding the puck. The longer teams cycle on offense, the more defensive penalties are taken. The Fighting Hawks have turned drawing penalties on those long shifts into an art form, and deserve accolades for that.

Who Scores First

If the Fighting Hawks score first, good luck coming back. This statement applies to any team they will face this season. Brad Berry’s team is uniquely capable of holding possession against most teams in this game for stretches’ of time that go for perceived eternities. The teams with the best success against UND in the past few seasons are ones that eschew possession metrics when they play the Fighting Hawks. That is, they get into the zone fast, and score off the rush. They take what the defense gives them and capitalize on mistakes. If the Fighting Hawks have one potential weakness its the offensive nature of the defense corps. This team has offensive defenders on every pair capable of joining the rush. They also have a tendancy to go for stretch passes in a way that often comes back to harm them. If Denver scores first, they can force UND to make more of those mistakes via necessity. If not, their task becomes tougher.

Who wins the turnover battle

This fact will determine who wins the game more than shots on net. That is, how many turnovers each team gives up, and what is done with each of them ultimately impacts the final score more than saves made. By this, i reference the previous two categories. If Denver can catch the defenders of UND a bit off guard, and steal a pass or two through the neutral zone more than UND can, they will get a few more grade-a looks on Adam Scheel and likely bury a couple of them. If , on the other hand, Denver tries something remotely similar and gets away from being cohesive, than the veteran Fighting Hawks will take control of this one, and pretty early.

All of these facts, beyond the top line statistics will play a key role in determining how this series goes. If UND can get some points, they will remind the nation of their status in the NCHC. If Denver surprises some folks this weekend, they can show that the Pioneers belong back in the national conversation.

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Fighting Hawks earn sweep with 3-1 win over Denver: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Tonight, the Fighting Hawks cemented a series sweep over Denver with a 3-1 hard-earned victory. Matt Kiersted, Collin Adams, and Jasper Weatherby (empty net) all notched markers to help the Fighting Hawks get closer to the next goal, winning the NCHC Penrose Cup.

How did it happen? Well Peter Thome was arguably the best player on defense fo the Fighting Hawks. He managed to make 25 saves on 26 shots tonight. To add to that, UND Head Coach Brad Berry said that he did it ” in style”. The Pioneers through streches of the second and third period played peskier hockey and turned UND over. Multiple times they had multiple looks in close on Thome, but to his credit he handled the challenge well. His counterpart, Magnus Chrona played really well making his first start at the Ralph. He finished the night with 21 saves on 23 shots in a game fans may see again in St. Paul at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, or perhaps at the Frozen Four in Detroit this April. This game not only had the feel of playoff hockey, but a top-end, herculean battle worthy of the national spotlight,

Now What?

For Denver, well, if you are Head Coach David Carle, you show your team the video of the weekend in two parts. First, you show them all the good things they did to get looks. Last night Denver had more shot attempts and different types of looks for Thome to see. Tonight, were more close-in rebounds, but tough shots never the less. In part two of the film, you question what you need to do better as a team in the rest of the regular season and postseason to bury more of those looks. Denver had plenty of chances to earn a win tonight, even while missing one of the best rookies in the country, Bobby Brink, on a play last night where Cole Smith clipped him and avoided any sort of penalty somehow. Denver being able to put together arguably a better game without Brink in the lineup bodes well for the Pioneers,

Why?

Well Denver is a younger team this year akin to the last two UND has fielded. The difference here is overall team speed. The Pioneers are much faster than the last two UND iterations. The difference between the groups is the ability of speed to make up for a wide array of mistakes. Turning play over quickly on defense and transitioning is a hallmark of Denver Hockey, and this team is no different in that sense. Doing it with more depth players involved bodes well for the national tournament as speed and transition often sets the tone for goaltending and everything else. Ask AIC how much speed mattered to them earning the win over St. Cloud last spring, they will probably spend hours discussing it.

For UND, this weekend showed a lot of things good and bad. A lot more good was shown, but we will talk about both here in some measure. First, to the good, again Jasper Weatherby and Shane Pinto were solid up the middle for the Fighting Hawks. each won a large majority of their draws (11-5, 10-2) and set the tone for the forwards all night. Weatherby’s ability to play defense and utilize his frame has grown in his time at UND, and tonight he rewarded himself for his work with the empty net goal to seal things.

Peter Thome played well, again. His ability to track pucks through traffic, and pick up that complete skill in one offseason has been a sight to behold. He does not overreact to goals any more, and the one allowed tonight came on a shot off the boards going right to Brett Edwards who fired a goal to the middle part of the right side of the net before Thome could react. In close Thome seemed to get better with each multi-save sequence, and as we have been saying here all year, has been worthy of more looks and he has run with them. We would like to see some more of Adam Scheel as the year winds down but when the postseason starts, until proven otherwise it is Thome’s net to defend, every night his watch begins anew now (for those who do not know, Thome has the Night King on his mask and is a huge Game of Thrones fan).

What should UND work on off this weekend before facing a resurgent St. Cloud on the road next weekend? Well i do not think many crews will let as many things grow as the one run by Voss and Wieler did this past weekend. On both sides, a lot of uncalled penalties were left to slide, and other officials we be tougher on the physical game UND plays, seeing the team adapt to different officiating styles will be something to watch, especially in the NCAA Tournament as you never have an official from the NCHC officiating a UND or any other NCHC game.

All in all UND had a good weekend, Denver had some good moments to build on and has some things to fix, like finding the net more, and a great weekend of college hockey took place. Now for the Fighting Hawks, St. Cloud State awaits, take them lightly at your own peril fans.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

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

Fighting Hawks Soar to 4-1 win over Denver: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

On Friday night at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks’ Men’s Hockey Team earned a 4-1 win over Denver playing one of their best games of the season to date. Shane Pinto got the scoring underway on a deflection from a point shot in the first period. In the second, Bobby Brink got Denver on the board capitalizing on a rare passive penalty kill from UND. Denver ping-ponged the puck through the lane to Brink and he found the back of the net. Later in the second Brink would leave with an injury after getting his legs taken out on an interesting play where Cole Smith dove through Brink’s legs to get the puck, no penalty came from this action.

Following the Brink marker, Matt Kiersted wired home a superb wrist shot on the power play from the slot to provide the game winning goal. Collin Adams and Jacob Bernard Docker would add insurance markers to provide the final score for the evening.

In net, Peter Thome again had another quality night for the Fighting Hawks. He allowed no goals at even strength, and on the night stopped 26 of the 27 shots on net that he faced. His counterpart, Devin Cooley, did not have the best evening as he only saved 19 of the 23 shots on net he faced.

Now what? 

First off, the officiating on Friday was at best inconsistent. Multiple penalties on both sides were not called. One of the most odd non calls was not issuing even a minor penalty to Cole Smith for diving into the legs of Bobby Brink and injuring him. I understand it was a heat of the moment play and things get missed, but Smith dives into Brink’s legs while going for the puck and gets no call. Did UND have a few calls go against them? Sure they did, but to me, the non call on Brink shaped the course of the game as UND kept one of its most important defensive players in Smith for the whole game while Denver lost one of its best offensive threats in Brink .

Secondly, credit to UND for focusing on efficient shot distribution, something we have harped on all year. Of UND’s 32 shot attempts, 23 found their way on net, and Denver blocked seven of them. While the Fighting Hawks always want more offensive zone chances, their ability to be efficient with what they were given is a promising sign for the postseason, where teams play with speed and pace all game, and who wins the shots on net battle does not always equate to who wins the game. Of Denver’s 54 shot attempts, UND blocked 13 of them which means that Denver missed the net 14 times. Part of that is attributed to Thome of course, but another part arguably is the fast start of the Fighting Hawks.

As they took control of puck possession, it looked liked Denver gripped their sticks a bit tighter. The Pioneers are more than fast enough to do well against the Fighting Hawks. They had several breakaways as they almost punished UND’s defense for pinching with goals the other way, but Thome and missing the best looks stopped them.

For the finale, watch how many breakaways Denver actually puts on net. Thome has played plenty well this season on breakaways but has faced a more limited number per game than Adam Scheel, his net minding colleague. How Denver makes Thome change direction could change the direction of the series for the Pioneers.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

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

Better Game, Same Result: UND Settles For Second Three-on-Three OT Loss in Two Nights

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee for Violent Turtle Photography)

In front of 12,002 loud fans at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, Denver Pioneer Logan O’Connor created a turnover, and started a break away in the second three-on-three overtime session at the Ralph in two evenings. Just like last night, the result was the same. Denver defender Ian Mitchell took a feed from O’Connor on the ensuing two-on-one breakaway and found the back of the net 01:19 into the extra overtime to give the Pioneers four points on two ties for the weekend.  While UND ended the weekend with  two ties, it finished tied for eleventh in the pairwise with Minnesota.

In the first period, Kohen Olischefski took a feed from Ryan Barrow, went to the goal line and fired one into the opening short side against Cam Johnson. The puck just went through the small opening to give the Pioneers another lead. In the first, Denver controlled possession through large swaths of play. The Fighting Hawks did not get a shot on net for the first 13:52 of the game. They ended the first frame with only 13 shot attempts to Denver’s 21. The Pioneers had eight high percentage scoring  from the low slot area. UND only generated one.

In the second period, UND picked up the pace. They got more pucks on net and forced Denver to defend more in the first half of the period then they did in the entire first period.

A few minutes into the second, Liam Finlay interfered with Cam Johnson in the blue paint. This gave the Fighting Hawks their first chance on special teams all night.

They did not waste their opportunity.

About halfway through the power play 09:26 into the second stanza, Christian Wolanin took a feed from  Shane Gersich and fired a perfect shot past a completely screened Denver netminder Tanner Jaillet. The Ottawa Senators’ prospect’s eight tally of the year equalized things. The score would remain the same through the end of the second and third period. While UND out shot Denver 16-11 in the last two regulation periods, they could not solve Tanner Jaillet the rest of the way.

 

Thoughts Heading into the Bye 

  • The NCHC is capable of getting six or seven teams into the tournament. This conference has every team but Colorado College and Miami in the top 13 of the pairwise heading into February.  Accounting for the Atlantic Hockey Tournament winner, and Hockey East Tournament winner, the top 14 teams would make the tournament in the pairwise right now.
  • UND looked much better on special  teams this weekend, they only allowed one power play goal on the weekend. Their penalty kill was much more aggressive and forced Denver to make quicker decisions with the puck while limiting time and space for their skilled forwards to generate high percentage shots.
  • If UND can use this weekend where it was missing its top two centers, Rhett Gardner and Nick Jones, along with top four defender Gabe Bast, to help develop players like Josh Rieger and Matt Kiersted, both of whom played well in their replacements then this weekend could help UND down the road. In addition, defenseman Casey Johnson slotted in at forward and helped UND in spots in the game. The Fighting Hawks’ ability to develop their depth players during this long season of injuries will prove crucial in the long run.