(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)
The University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks Men’s Hockey team has played to a 3-1 record in the NCHC Pod in Omaha, designed to replicate the secure environment of the NHL bubbles while allowing student-athletes to work on academics as needed and able. So far, once entering the bubble, no team has had games canceled, although the schedule was adjusted to allow Colorado College more time to get to Omaha after their progam dealt with some positive COVID-19 cases recently.
Today, the Fighting Hawks battled the Denver Pioneers for the second time in the bubble and came up short. Carter Savoie put home his fifth marker of the season in just four games as he took a feed from Cole Guttman and beat UND netminder Adam Scheel clean on the glove side. The Fighting Hawks came back from a two goal deficit thanks to goals from Jordan Kawaguchi on the power play, and a rebound banged home by Collin Adams.
This game was similar in intensity to UND’s overtime winner against the Pioneers a few nights ago. In that game Kawaguchi found the back of the net in close during the extra frame. The Fighting Hawks also beat an upstart Miami of Ohio squad to open things up, and toyed with a depeleted Western Michigan side on Sunday without one of the best goalies in the conference, Brandon Bussi.
The game today against the Pioneers combined with the other three shows us a reccuring theme of this team, they are annoying to play against and incredibly persistent. The Fiighting Hawks under Head Coach Brad Berry have been best when banging in rebounds and agitating for space in front of the net. Some goals will be of the more skilled variety, like freshman wunderkind defender Jake Sanderson’s snipe on the power play against the Pioneers in the UND win. On that play though, look at the front of the net. Jasper Weatherby screened Magnus Chrona and made that snipe easier to pull off. This team relies on net front presence and rebounds to win games. Also, on its back end, Sanderson and Tyler Kleven, both high end Senators prospects, look to have all the tools needed to suceed as Fighting Hawks before making their ways north with fellow Senators’ prospect Shane Pinto and Jacob Bernard-Docker to play with program alum Christian Wolanin. Both have shown speed, skill, and physicality in their three games in the pod. Unfortunayely for the Fighting Hawks, they are without them for the duration of the pod as both are trying to make the World Juniors Squad for Team USA.
In addition, this team has two goaltenders ready to play in the AHL now and earn NHL time soon after in Peter Thome and Adam Scheel. Both have their strengths and areas to improve. Scheel’s stick work and ability to not over expose himself on plays are key traits for anyone to have, and we think he will earn a pro deal when he leaves campus. Thome, a Blue Jackets’ prospect, has sterling rebound control and has improved at limiting exposure, he also gets side to side a bit faster than Scheel, but again both can play pro hockey now, and any difference between goalies with a small sample size would be not wise to over analyze.
Do not forget the returners to this team either. Jasper Weatherby is a first-line center at this level playing on the third line with second line power play time. On any other program’s roster outside of the top five schools in the country, Weatherby is one of the most talked about players. Here, the Sharks’ prospect swims under the radar as he continues his quiet physical game disrupting goalies’ vision and playing key minutes.
This team has had so many good things in its first four games, that we went with things that stood out to us. Leave some thoughts if you want to in the comments here, or on our twitter page. Follow us at SeamoreSports.
Things to keep an eye on
Again, we are four games into this season, and the Fighting Hawks have three wins to their name. Anything said herein are simply some things we have noticed that we will watch going forward that could merit concern if they become trends.
First off, in the loss today, two of Denver’s three goals came off power plays, and not even power plays resulting from denying goals, but from an after the whistle slash by Gabe Bast, and a five minute major for checking from behind from Brendan Budy. The Fighting Hawks project as one of the best teams in the country at full and even strength, giving players like Carter Savoie time and space on the power play can mitigate this team’s biggest strength without much effort.
Second, without Sanderson and Kleven, Josh Rieger and Cooper More will have to step into some big moments early. Rieger has experience at this level, but will eat up a lot more ice time, and More is a freshman still learning the next level. Both have looked good, and both will need to help fill the gap left by Sanderson and Kleven. With that said, the Fighting Hawks are one of the deepest teams in the country at every position and Rieger and Moore, like Weatherby would probably have bigger roles elsewhere right now, so we expect them to be more than capable of holding up their end.
This team next takes the ice Thursday evening against the last team to win a National Championship, the always tough to play Bulldogs of Minnesota Duluth. We will learn a lot about how this team deals with adversity coming off its first loss of the season, and what to expect going forward in the next few games of the Pod. This team has a lot of talent and potential, and yet still has a lot to prove moving forward.
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