Opinion: Expand the NCAA Tournament to 20 teams

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Fans of the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks Men’s Hockey team will remember the old WCHA, the fanbase waxes poetically about it often then moving on to needle the attendance and postseason problems that the members of the current Big 10 Hockey Conference have (these problems have some grounding in truth are sometimes exaggerated). One thing in that Final Five is the chance for a team to win three games in three days to make the NCAA Tournament. If you won your first round series, and had either of the worst two remaining regular season records, you had to play an extra game to advance. Teams that were able to win those three games then got the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, regardless of their regular season success, or lack thereof. No one questioned the win of the five seed on the few times it did happen.

This past, pairwise free (it existed, but was not used as we know it due to a lack of significant interconference play) hockey and subjective selection proceedings have left fans of many eastern hockey teams, and a few western powerhouses like Denver, feeling left out.

Now, none of the teams left out did enough to make the 16 team tournament.

With that argument noted, what we are proposing is this.

In future years, when the next cycle of regionals are awarded, standardize the starting dates, and expand the tournament by four teams.

On Friday, you have opening round games between the four and five seed in each regional with the winner earning the right to face one of the four best teams in the country.

On Saturday, you have the first round staggered across the country (for maximum TV ratings of course) play out and make an already great day even better. Instead of six games (two finals, four first round games) we would have eight games take place on one day, and then play the championships on Sunday.

Why?

Well we have a few reasons.

First, for this game to grow, and get more programs in it, expanding the tournament by four teams makes attaining it slightly more reasonable, without having to dilute the value of the regular season. If the tournament expands, more fans and schools can get involved in the greatest part of this game, its postseason.

Second, after hearing arguments about top seeds getting rested enough or not, we would like to note the value of the top seed playing a team that had played the previous day. The coaching staff gets to watch that team play in person, and that team could very well be tired, and in theory should give the top seed an easier path to the regional final.

Third, it adds value to the full season for everyone. Now, teams play to move up or down in the pairwise (all of this is being written for a normal non pandemic-marred season), but the reality is, the top 12 or 13 teams are usually safe every year, while the last two or three worry about conference tournament champions stealing their spot.

This eliminates some of that concern.

If teams 1-13 are locks, the proposal ensures that teams 14-16 all will make it. It would require five teams outside of the top 20 to win their conference championship to hurt the top 16, and ensure that the bottom eight teams would all have to play in the first game. This provides more meaning to what teams 10-12 are doing as the season ends, and ensures every game has more of an impact. If you are playing to get an opening round bye, that adds stakes to your late season play.

Use 2012-2013 as an example, when Niagara finished at the number 10 spot in the pairwise, and Canisius won their postseason tournament, that meant Atlantic Hockey would earn two bids to the tournament. What it also meant was that a 19 win Western Michigan team would miss the tournament. In this system, the only team that would have missed the tournament is number 20 ranked Brown. Atlantic Hockey would have had three teams representing it, and three more programs would have had the chance to compete for a national championship.

We understand that this change would have to wait until the next round of regionals are awarded, and there needs to be buy-ins from coaches, hosts, athletics departments and more all around the country.

Our argument comes down to this.

If this sport is to add more programs over time, something we all want to see, expanding the tournament by four teams now is a way to encourage more schools to potentially join. In addition, for all of those teams just wishing they could have made the tournament this year, this would have let them in. In the future, it will also allow Atlantic Hockey to get at least two deserving representatives into the tournament without harming another team’s chances. Finally, it ensures that the top seeds in each region get to play an opponent who could be tired. If the game is to grow, its tournament needs to do so as well.

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 like unique untold stories across college hockey. 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:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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Loveland Regional: Undrafted Free Agents to watch

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Out in beautiful Loveland, Colorado the West Regional of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament will take place tomorrow. Four superb teams are taking part. We will work to highlight one undrafted free agent (UDFA) from each team here, and what to watch for from them to help their team advance.

Click the highlighted text below to see some undrafted free agents to watch from the other regionals .We will post the Albany regional’s UDFA’s to watch for tomorrow’s games later tonight or tomorrow morning.

UDFA’s to watch: Fargo, Bridgeport

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Jaxon Nelson

On a team of many drafted players, he is one of their more physical forwards, who often plays with physicality and brings a strong defensive presence to Bob Motzko’s lineup. For him to provide scoring off the third line of the Golden Gophers and to bring some physical presence to give this team depth then an already great team has more options, which will be needed against a fast Omaha team. One thing about Nelson is worth noting, he is only a sophomore. He has three more years to develop in Motzko’s system, and given the fact that his point totals increased every year that he played in the USHL, it would not be shocking to see him take on a bigger role next season. In terms of how he plays the game, he reminds us a bit of Jasper Weatherby of the Fighting Hawks, an imposing physical two-way center that knows how to provide offense when needed.

Minnesota State

Dryden McKay

The Mavericks have the best goaltender in the country that plays for them. McKay is a 5’10” tall goaltender that is also arguably the most athletic in the country. In three seasons, he has not had a save percentage lower than .927 in his time as a Maverick, and has started the majority of games since coming to campus. Given how fast the Mavericks can score, sometimes McKay’s work can get overshadowed when they win games by big margins, as they have a few times this season. For any team to beat him this weekend, they have to earn rebound looks. The goaltenders in the WCHA are some of the hardest collectively to beat clean off the rush, and McKay is no exception. His athletic prowess, combined with his hockey sense will help him earn an NHL contract whenever he is ready to go to the next level.

Quinnipiac

Odeen Tufto

The national assists leader has some of the best hands in the game of college hockey, and is one of its better defenders from the forward position. Watching him play, one could think of how Nicklas Backstrom plays the game for the Washington Capitals, and Tufto has similar skills. His on-ice intelligence for setting up his team is near unrivaled at this level. His hands and ability to find space for plays in razor thin areas is impressive. For his Bobcats to advance, he needs to be the best skater on the ice, as well as he does, Quinnipiac will do. After the season is over, he will have his pick of NHL suitors to sign with, and deservedly so.

Omaha

Taylor Ward

From our NCHC preview back in September

“A 6-foot-2 forward with good size and versatility, Ward can play anywhere on the top line while serving as a key cog on Omaha’s offense. He finished with 27 points in each of his first two seasons, although his team-best 16 goals were nearly double from the nine he scored the season prior. Ward is a big-bodied goal scorer with soft hands and a nice touch around the net, where he likes to set up and cause havoc near the top of the crease.”

All of that has proven to be true, as the junior has 20 points in 25 games, and has again played a role around the net for Omaha. His ability to disrupt the eyes of goaltenders will be critical for Omaha as they look to take on Minnesota tomorrow. If Ward can play his role and add some points to that total then this team could show people how good they can be outside of the NCHC.

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 like unique untold stories across college hockey. 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:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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2021 NCAA Midwest Men’s Ice Hockey Regional: One thing to watch for each team

Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

This article is about what you think it is, we went through each team playing in this regional and will offer up one prediction about something that we think will happen, that is not necessarily indicative of the final score of any game. Each team playing tomorrow, North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota Duluth, and American International College (AIC), all has back stories, and a roster capable of each doing different unique things. Let’s get right into it with the hosts of the tournament, the Fighting Hawks of the University of North Dakota.

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Turnovers or lack thereof determines the winner

This team, as AIC Head Coach Eric Lang noted is deep and can win games in a lot of different fashions. One thing that they have done in the mere instances of playing less than the near perfect team they are is turning the puck over in their own end. When this happens, Adam Scheel has to respond fast, and makes a fair amount of saves to bail his team out. With that said, watching AIC all year, and watching UND, know that Lang will have his group ready. If the Fighting Hawks can avoid turnovers in their own end and consistently gain easy entry into AIC’s zone, they can then cycle and dictate the pace like they want to. If not, then you will see how opportunistic AIC is in their ability to capitalize on mistakes. The Fighting Hawks are the number one overall seed in the country for a reason, they have the best roster with the most top-level talent on it, and have proven their ability to stay together and fight back after their opponent gives them their best. How they limit turnovers in their end, combined with their ability to stick to their own script will go a long way to determining their success in this tournament.

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Get more offensive on defense

This team’s biggest consistent source of strength is in its systems. Head Coach Scott Sandelin always has a room full of gritty players that execute the game plans he puts up for them to utilize. The Bulldogs are playing a fast Michigan team that can force their opponents to speed up their own game to keep them out of sorts. To counter that, the defense corps of this team has to generate some more help in goal production, and players like Matt Cairns and Louie Roehl have to pitch in offensively. They will not ever claim to be a Dylan Samberg or Scott Perunovich, but the if the physical defense corps can generate some help on offense, then all things are possible for these Bulldogs.

Michigan Wolverines

Use your speed

How do you defeat two teams with strong systems? Well, not allow them to use them of course. The Wolverines, lead by Owen Power on defense, and two probable top five picks up front in Matthew Beniers, and Kent Johnson, are the team to watch for every NHL fan of a struggling team. If your team is in the draft lottery, you could end up with any of these players and not be disappointed. For this team in the here and now, they have to figure out how to tap into their high end talent to defeat systems-heavy teams in this regional. All of them, and this team has some of the best skating ability in the tournament, and that speed is its own differentiator.

AIC Yellow Jackets

The depth needs to elevate

This AIC team is deep, they have six lines of forwards, 8-10 defenders that can play on any night, and three goalies with a win.. By saying this, we are talking about scoring. Someone who may have been on the bench last weekend could have a big impact on the game Friday night. For this group to have success against the best team in the country, they have to play a perfect game of hockey, and get help from everyone. If this group can get some assistance from its depth (Eric Otto and Aaron Grounds are two of the depth players that have stood out this year), options for them open up.

Regardless of the results this weekend, as of now, all teams are cleared to compete. Given the unfortune that has befell St. Lawrence and Notre Dame, it is more incumbent upon us to enjoy all of these moments. Life dealing with Covid-19 for everyone has been tough, and this year has been different, but this weekend, we have four regionals ongoing, and a chance for men’s college hockey to hold the spotlight. Best wishes for the health and safety of all.

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 like unique untold stories across college hockey. 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:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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AIC is thankful for Julius Janhonen: Read why

Photo credit: Kelly Shea-AIC Athletics

Julius Janhonen was not on track to play hockey for Head Coach Eric Lang’s American International College Yellow Jackets Ice Hockey team this year until late in the recruiting process. He did not reach out to Lang or his staff, but rather his advisor reached out to Lang. His advisor, according to Lang, said to offer him a scholarship, and that Lang should, “just take him and thank me later.” In his first season, through 13 games played, he has eight points (three goals and five assists) and is plus six. Janhonen has earned his ice as a player who exudes confidence, has a high vision, and shown an immediate ability to speed up his game on North American ice.

Of his transition from the Finnish game (Janhonen is an Espoo, Finland native) to the North American game, Lang said ” it took him about a week to adjust, his adjustment and acclamation to the u is as good as I’ve ever seen, and after seven days we knew we had a special player.” Lang said of Janhonen’s advisor, given the year that Julius has had and what he brings to the group “I’ve been thanking him ever sense.” Janhonen heard about the pedigree of the program when the staff reached out to him, and committed pretty fast, without a single on campus visit. As Julius put it, “I said yes right away.”

Janhonen also has a pretty unique experience from his time in Finland. He played with potential 2022 number one overall pick in the NHL, Brad Lambert, and learned a lot from him, and his father Ross. Spending time with both of them helped Julius to refine his stick handling skills and skating speed. Julius and Brad are friends, and Julius is appreciative of what he learned playing with Lambert in Finland. Julius wants to develop into an Alexander Barkov-like player capable of providing a large amount of offense for the group, while being responsible in his own end.

This year has been immeasurably helpful to Julius. He called Eric Lang, for many reasons ” the best coach I’ve ever had.” Of the group he plays with, he relishes the daily competition. For instance, he notes that all four goalies have a healthy competition with the skaters in practice every day. He said, “they’re so smart and competitive and they want to get better every day.” Of the group he plays with, he enjoys the competition for ice time, and how deep the team he plays for is. He said that on any given night, “any line could be in our lineup.”

Finally, Julius singled out senior Chris Dodero for his mentorship and for helping him improve defensively. Team defense, especially amongst its forwards is a hallmark of AIC Hockey under Eric Lang’s leadership and Dodero has mentored Janohnen in that way. Of all of the leadership amongst the Yellow Jackets Janhonen, simply said” when I’m a senior I want to be like them.”

For now, with his team set to play an opportunistic, and battle-tested Niagara team this Friday, AIC as a team has a lot of reasons to be thankful, one of them is for the strong start of a player that, before practice started, Eric Lang did not have a chance to see in person.

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UND Hockey: What comes next?

Phtoto Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Tonight, the Fighting Hawks earned a victory over the Pioneers of Denver a mere 24 hours after losing to them 4-1. What does this mean for the team’s fortunes the rest of the year? Well these are three things we came away from the series noticing.

Penalties, so many penalties

These two games have shown us one thing despite the results. The Fighting Hawks are incredibly overaggressive as a team most times, and are subject to tougher officiating more than most. The team took multiple unneeded penalties throughout this weekend, and was able to squeak out a victory over the Pioneers because of how it killed the penalties it took. With that said, do keep in mind that the postseason will feature 15 other capable teams on the power play, and all will have a chance to potentially end UND’s season in some form or fashion.

Goalie concerns

Adam Scheel played superb in the series finale, and should every game he plays in resemble it, than UND will win a lot of games this year. With that said, you cannot throw out the season opener, or multiple other close ones that Scheel has had this year. The NCAA Tournament has teams that live for one thing, depositing rebounds in their opponent’s net. On Saturday, multiple reboundds off the equipment of Scheel ended up in the back of Scheel’s on looks Scheel should have swatted away better. Rebound control has been a consistent concern for him, and it is the thing that, in our eyes, limits his celling at the next level. Scheel will not win the Mike Richter Award, but in order to win the National Championship with UND, he needs to lmit second chances a bit better than the first game in this series showed he could do. Part of this can be acheived through UND simply playing Peter Thome a few more nights the rest of the way. Resting Scheel will help him in the postseason, and let him get more time to study video and be ready to lead this group in the postseason.

Turnovers are still too high

UND seems to have a consistent proclivity to make home-run passes and pay for them, or get dispossesed at their own blue line on nights that goaltending does not stand on its head. The Fighting Hawks are a team built to wear others out, and turned the puck over far too much against Denver for anyone’s liking. When they give the puck up, fast teams like Denver take advantage of this fact and score transition goals in bunches to provide a lot of the scoring against UND.

All of this is to say, UND is a really good team, but one with flaws that need to be looked at to prevent the NCHC’s number one representative from losing in the first round in the last three years that the tournament has been held.

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The WCHA will get at least three teams into the NCAA Tournament: Here’s why

The WCHA, in its final season in its current form, and most likely its final season on the men’s side of things, is having themselves a superb year. Alabama Huntsville is playing the underdog role with 13 freshmen and dramatically improved results from returning players. Ferris State has a World Juniors Champion . Bowling Green is one of the most complete teams in the country with multiple stars on it. Lake Superior State has one of of the top goalies in the country in Mareks Mitens leading a veteran team. Also, Michigan Tech has one of the best goalies in the country, a really tough system to scheme against, and is in a good spot as well. Minnesota State still is in pole position for the McNaughton Cup with its sterling start to its WCHA season despite losing a lot of scoring up front.

All of the top six teams in this league are playing good enough hockey, that the “eye test” should actually benefit this league this year without normal factors of consideration being used. In its final year, the WCHA may have more influence over the final field than realized.

Why write about this?

Well, the WCHA is being looked on by some as an after thought. Every year, like Atlantic Hockey, it seems like the leagues is talked about as an afterthought. Given that the ECAC only has four teams participating this year, and both independents do not look to be candidates for an at large bids, the other five conferences will get to compete for some extra at-large spots.

In addition, defensively, the WCHA is a league built on being able to play close games, like those which are commonplace in postseason hockey. Six teams are within the top 22 of fewest goals allowed, and all of those teams, arguably are fighting for a postseason spot in the league. Given the non-use of the pairwise, all of these teams still have some claim to being under consideration, as long as they finish at .500 or better of course. That style plays better in the postseason when games are typically tight checking, low scoring affairs throughout.

Not many leagues play consistently defensive hockey as well as the WCHA has. Given its top goaltenders, and opportunistic offense, they, like Atlantic Hockey, will have more teams representing them in the NCAA Tournament this year, and deservedly so.

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NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament: Past Should Not Be Prologue

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Recently, National Collegiate Hockey Conference Commissioner (NCHC) Josh Fenton gave Grand Forks Herald sportswriter Brad Schlossman some thoughts on how to select a 16 team field in this pandemic-truncated season we are playing through.

In that interview Fenton lays out reasoning for why historical data going back to the formation of the Big 10 and NCHC should be used to provide an allocation of at large teams for each conference this year. Even after limiting the number of teams the ECAC teams gets to one , that at most would give two other conferences one extra bid.

As Fenton says

“We’ve got historical data going back seven years now, if you want to go back to when the NCHC and Big Ten first started, where we have an understanding, on average, how many institutions from each conference have been in the NCAA tournament, That’s data that could be used. I fully understand and respect that this year is not the same as last year, a team this year is not the same as a team last year. But when you’re presented with a circumstance of potentially just using an eye test of a committee that I think is watching hockey, but I don’t know is watching hockey across the country to the level to be able to say this team is better than that team.”

We disagree with this reasoning strongly

The eye test as a metric is used in some measure by every other Division One Committee in some way, outside of Hockey and it seems to work. It worked in selecting a four team College Football Playoff Field this year when most of the teams involved played no non conference games at all. Every conference in this game is a little different, but the ability to play good defense and get timely scoring enough to be at or near the top of your league are easy to spot traits. Every team has a record and stats by the end of the year that show who they are in a comparable way. We compare quantitative data on teams all the time even when they have no common opponents, finding enough quantitative data to prime the eye test should not be a hard task to do at all.

While Fenton makes some good points throughout this interview and provides some reasoning for historical data, Fenton does not explicitly state that past postseason performance should be used. If it did, then one would wonder how many more bids Atlantic Hockey could justify given Air Force and AIC’s wins over St. Cloud State in two consecutive tournaments. In addition, allotments raise another concern. Let’s say that given the lack of a meaningful pairwise due to limited non-conference games we have a situation where Lake Superior State finishes third in the WCHA. Using the allotment formula, they could be left out, even if, like previous years, a gulf opens between the upper echelon of the WCHA and everyone else. Fenton does acknowledge this reality but seems set on using historical data. Given that he runs the conference who has won every national Championship since 2016, it makes sense, yet harms the broader audience of college hockey.

No Magic Formula

No one is going to be completely happy with how the at-large spots are given out this year, given the lack of non conference play. With that being said, there are other things to do that would be more fair to all teams still playing this year. The very eye test Fenton dismisses is how teams are compared all the time in selection for other sports, even when there is no non conference play to look at. You could use tournament performance as a seeding guide to break ties, or to justify a team’s inclusion in the field, but not conference-wide prior season’s data. It is fundamentally not fair or balance to this sport to punish AIC for the fact that Atlantic Hockey plays non equitable non conference games in normal years, where Atlantic Hockey has a lower win rate in a year where you do not have enough data for it to matter. Also, this sport has a first year program this year in Long Island that has no historical data and competes as an independent. Where do the Sharks fit in this picture? We do not know, and suspect no one on the committee does.

To fix the problems of lacking common opponents and other common data, we would suggest changing some of the metrics or find common data to use that equates to success. If an average of all national polls is the best replicate for the pairwise this year, then they should matter and weeks spent in them should be a positive. Using that data seems a more quantifiable and justifiable way of ranking than helping or harming teams, especially teams in Atlantic Hockey or the WCHA for the loses of teams before them.

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 like unique untold stories across college hockey 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

Vent about a tent: UND Football Opinion

This Saturday, the Fighting Hawks Football program heads south to Louisiana to take on the Colonels of Nicholls State. You will read plenty about on field happenings from other outlets and this one as well before, during, and after the game on Saturday.

The primary focus of this article is simply to implore the NCAA to, frankly, do better when it comes to awarding bids. In any other sport, at any other time, this situation of a visiting team playing for its season to continue would not be in any way acceptable.

I understand that Nicholls State is in the middle of renovating their facility and upgrading their facilities for visitors in the long run. That is great and should continue. I also get that during the season, some times accommodations need to be made and that no one will be happy with them fully.

What, to me, makes zero sense is how the Colonels, as a part of their facility profile they had to submit for this bid had this issue over looked by the Selection Committee. Those deciding who gets to host these first round games knew the locker room situation and thought this was fine. Assuming that the Colonels bid more than UND,  I understand why they were awarded the game, but again, any explanation for why seniors should have to play their potentially last game getting dressed in a portable tent while showering in what look like rent-a-showers, to me is not good enough.

Heck, I do not even think UND should be hosting as some fans do because of this facility issue. I just do not think the committee acted fairly towards its student-athletes that play this game. One of the goals of the NCAA, that I have heard constantly in everything it does is to make the student athlete experience better.

What part of making a team get dressed in a tent in a parking lot for a postseason game does that? Why is the money from the host institution seeming to be your only consideration? Assuming Nicholls State bid more than the Fighting Hawks for this game, I understand why it was awarded to them to some degree. Heck the tents may even be fantastic, but this creates the appearance of impropriety.

If you are a Bison fan reading this article, ask yourself this, when the Bison have to travel on the road in the FCS, or if they keep playing at the level they are, in the FBS one day, for the playoffs (assuming some level of expansion) would you be ok with this? I think we all know the answer.

Teams playing through renovations is quite fine and a part of sport at any level. What matters here is the fact that this is the postseason. On a humid day in Louisiana, one team will have a home field advantage not because of their fans being there, but because it appears that the NCAA decided that the money it gets from a team is worth more than a fair playing field.

This reeks of disrespect on the NCAA’s part. I do not think it was intentional but it comes off that way. Nicholls State should not be allowed to host this game, because before a single fan walks into the stadium, and before ESPN starts their broadcast, the deck, to some degree is stacked against UND. The last plus 80 degree day in Grand Forks happened on August 24, right as UND was wrapping up fall camp. I will surely bet it is not as humid here as it is in Thibodaux year round.

Nicholls State, congratulations for making the tournament, this article is not about your team or your bid. This is a simple request to the NCAA for future tournaments to simply do better. Having to dress in tents for what could be some of these seniors’ last ever football game is not in any way an advancement of the student-athlete experience.

As stated, UND does not need to host this game, I would have preferred Nicholls State being sent on the road to somewhere with better facilities for them to practice. The Fighting Hawks could have traveled as well.

With all of this being said, Saturday’s game will be electric and pit one of the best senior signal callers in the nation in Chase Fourcade against a pro style defense with novels worth of schemes it can run on a weekly basis. This article is simply a simple request to the NCAA for future FCS playoff matches, when selecting a host, value student athlete experience a little bit more than the guarantee you receive.

In short, NCAA, please, for the sake of everyone, do better.

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.

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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.