UND Soccer 2019 Review: On the Ascent

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons-UND Athletics)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

“Young Skokes” helps UND Football earn a 36-18 victory over Southern Utah to stay in 2019 FCS Playoff discussion

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

After the game he had, freshman running back for the Fighting Hawks, Luke Skokna stepped up to the podium as the first player to talk to the press. He illuminated a lot of key things throughout the week leading up to him getting his red shirt pulled playing in his fifth game as a freshman. For example, he noted that his position coach Malcom Agnew was critical in his development throughout the year and helped him get ready for this moment. In addition, he mentioned how positive his injured teammate Cam McKinney always is and how the two have bonded throughout the year.

McKinney and Skokna are both, as UND Head Coach Bubba Schweigert says “home-run hitters” capable of quick scores and capable of changing the course of a game with a simple juke or two. Skokna produced a lot of those as, filling in for an injured McKinney, he finished the day with 16 yards on a mere 11 caries with two end zone visits among them to spur UND forward to a 36-18 win to move to 7-4. Finally, senior wideout Travis Toivonen, who was waiting to chat with the media loudly praised his teammate yelling joyously “Young Skokes!” supporting his teammate when Skokna finished his time with the press. On his redshirt being pulled so he could play today, Skokna “everything happens for a reason.”

The game opened up for the Fighting Hawks who weathered a tough storm in the first half full of turnovers and gifting Southern Utah chances to score on short fields, which they converted on two out of the three turnovers. Thunderbirds quarterback Chris Helbig quietly had a nice day against a stout UND defense, utilizing a lot of crossing routes and underneath looks to go 24-42 for 258 yards (one touchdown) with only one interception on the day.

His ability to extend plays and convert on key third downs helped Southern Utah hang around through into the third quarter. UND had to adjust their coverage a bit to disrupt some of the crossing looks presented by the Thunderbirds and as the game went on, thanks to the help of Defensive Coordinator Eric Schmidt’s staff, UND’s defense reasserted themselves in the second half.

One standout was Mason Bennett, although he did not get a sack, he finishd with five tackles and a quarterback hurry. He sometimes had to work through double teams and still set the edge for the Fighting Hawks quite well along with standout Jaxson Turner who finished with six total tackles on the game. As those two work back to full health, if UND gets to play again next weekend, good things could happen.

Now What 

Tomorrow is Selection Sunday for UND. They will know around 11:30 or so what the fate of this 2019 group is. They will have a first round game next weekend, or their season will be over with the 30 point loss at Idaho State, and the Weber State potential upset slipping through their fingers being the the two biggest marks on their record one could concede to the committee for letting in a similar team with a similar resume who won one of those games that UND did not. At the end of the day, projections are great, but the committee’s is the only one that matters, let’s see what happens.

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

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

Just Win: UND Football

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Remember the 2018’s UND Football  Team’s final result on the field? They lost a winnable game to Northern Arizona on the road. Had they secured that victory they most likely would have been in the 2018 iteration of the FCS Playoffs.

Well, this year’s team featuring both multiple program-defining wins over ranked teams, and head scratching losses like a drubbing on the road at the hands of the Bengals of Idaho State, has a chance to make the playoffs. Their ill fated loss to the Wildcats of Weber State, the number three ranked team in the country, one could argue, did not change what needs to happen the next two weeks, nor the impact of this team’s perception in the big picture.

This team plays its final two games at home at the Alerus Center against two sub .500 Big Sky teams in Northern Colorado and Southern Utah. If there was ever a cases of a team looking to play spoiler these next two weeks will provide two teams looking to do just that. They could put Fighting Hawks fans on the other side of the equation from Head Coach Bubba Schweigert’s first year where his side spoiled the playoff hopes of Northern Arizona to end his first season as head coach of UND Football.

This article is simply to point out a few things I have seen this week on social media. First off, could UND be ranked higher? Well yes, and given its resume one could argue for that as several Fighting Hawks fans and media members have done. If I had a vote in the FCS Stats Poll which is compiled by media members around the country, well I could see ranking the team anywhere from 20-30 (if you include those receiving votes). To me 26 in the media poll is not as big of a slight as some have argued as this team, for all of its success this year, has not won more than two games in a row once this season. That streak included winning on the road barely against a Cal Poly team that for all of the good they have done this year, will not be in the FCS playoffs and currently is 2-7.

Are all the wins over ranked teams impressive?

You bet they are.

Are those wins alone enough to get this team into the playoffs?

No they are not.

If this team does not win its last two games, they will not make the playoffs and by that point the media poll will not matter.

If this team wins one game, and finishes 6-5 they will not make the playoffs again despite finishing with two winnable games and having a win against the number three ranked team in the country just elude their grasp. Then the questions about why this team did not schedule 12 games in a year where that was possible will consume part of another long winter of regret in Grand Forks.

All of this is to say the following. Should this team as built assuming it gets back its defensive line stars in Mason Bennett and Jaxson Turner and gets healthy for these last two games make the playoffs, well yes. Will the media under ranking UND for a few weeks matter? No it will not. Attacking media members who watch a lot of FCS ball weekly for not having UND ranked higher, after a loss, in a poll meant to be a snapshot of the moment to see who the best 25 teams in the country are is at best myopic.

I do think that you could argue the team be a bit higher and that’s fair. This piece of my opinion is designed to remind Fighting Hawks fans of the reality of the day. If UND does not win its last two games we will have the following things to be upset about at the end of the day.

Again, a great mostly injury free Fighting Hawks side with great wins came up just short of the playoffs despite having a chance to play an extra non conference game in a 12 game season and finishing its season against two teams whom they should win against.

That is it, that is the list right there. Head Coach Bubba Schweigert and his players are focusing on winning two more games at home. If they do, Sam Herder of Hero Sports thinks they will be in the FCS playoffs based on how things stand at the moment. Regardless of where they get in the big dance if they do make it, then that will be the time for this team to prove people wrong. They need to punch two more sections of their ticket to earn entrance to the 24 team FCS playoffs.

From there, everything is possible for this team, and then they can then work to prove those in the media who have undervalued their wins due to not winning more than two games in a row all year. They have to make the tournament first, all else to this team is secondary.

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

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

Fighting Hawks hang on in 5-4 thriller to earn sweep: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Coming into this weekend, Jasper Weatherby had a lot to show for his efforts this season. Routinely, the sophomore Sharks’ prospect is the first choice to take faceoffs in key moments and he has continuted to get better with his net front presence to the point where his screens have helped contribute to multiple goals this season. He had not tallied a goal to match his efforts. This weekend,with one on each night his goals total has started to get a little closer to matching the hard work he has put in for a Fighting Hawks side that has found its replacement for Rhett Gardner in big moments to take faceoffs.

The Fighting Hawks earned a sweep of the Miami Red Hawks with a 5-4 thrilling win on Saturday night at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, in large part thanks to Weatherby’s efforts, combined with the consistent play of Colin Adams who put up two goals on four shots.

His game has continued to grow as well as he finished the night 11-3 on faceoffs, complimented by Weatherby’s 9-5 mark. Again, the faceoff dot is a recurring strength for this team, as the Fighting Hawks finished 40-23 on the evening.

That consistency setup a strong first two periods which featured all of UND’s scoring as Adams, Weatherby, Westin Michaud, and Jordan Kawaguchi would all find the twine for UND on this wacky night replete with offense from both sides.

All of UND’s goals to some degree involved getting Miami goalie Ryan Larkin to have to move off his spot laterally, he typically was not fast enough for the skilled shooting of the Fighting Hawks combined with their superb playmaking showcased throughout the evening. The goal that best personified that was on the power play for the Fighting Hawks, as Westin Michaud made a wonderful backhand pass to Weatherby in space. In mere milliseconds the puck was off his stick and in the top opposite corner of the net, far away from Larkin. Weatherby burying a few more like that, combined with Adams’ ability to help out in the faceoff dot and develop his scoring touch gives UND even more options going forward, which they will need to take on Denver next weekend.

The defense, and now what?

While the goal scoring was quite nice for UND, they did show some vulnerabilities on defense. Goaltender Adam Scheel made some key saves as he does, but at points looked positively human. Miami at times took the game to the Fighting Hawks and made Scheel move laterally, and like Larkin, it seemed as if Scheel had some trouble doing so with any frequency, as the Red Hawks often had sucess burying turnovers, especially on the rush, and through the five hole. While Scheel does not often have nights like this, how this team responds to the issues laid bare at home tonight will go a long way to determining its fate. Keep an eye on the Denver series and look how the Pioneers attack Scheel. They play a speed game and like to score goals off the rush with goalies being forced to move around.

Like the Mankato series, and to some degree tonight, UND could find themselves chasing games if they stay a little too loose in their own end defensively as teams will be more willing to open up their systems a bit more against a Fighting Hawks team that defensively seems more vulnerable on the rush compared to being beaten on a long shift. What happens against Denver remains to be seen, but this team showed that it can score sometimes at will, a welcome upgrade from the morass of great effort but little results this team found itself in last season for vast swaths of it.

In the postseason, being able to win games in multiple ways can often extend your season, we now see that UND can win high-flying games. They have until Friday night at Magness Arena to sure up some things to limit the need to play in more of them, but know that they can play this style if needed.

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

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

An idea for UND Athletics road trips to bring the community together

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

One of the first things I learned about Grand Forks when I came to UND is how passionate this fanbase is about its athletics at-large. One of the other things I learned pretty fast is how expensive it is to be a college hockey fan, and a fan of a lot of teams when they travel on the road, single game streams for some sports alone can range from 7-10 dollars, and more and more the only option available is to purchase a month long stream that can cost around 30 dollars to follow college hockey.  For that, you also have to make sure you remember to cancel the auto renew to see your team play on the road or hope Midco Sports picks up your game on the road as they have done when UND played Duluth and Omaha in hockey last season.

What’s a busy fan of UND Athletics who doesn’t want to pay for athletics streams to do?

Well this is where the Athletic Department and Learfield Sports could step in and save the day. One thing that could sell as a sponsored right fairly fast is designating an official watch spot for all UND Athletics road matches. Not only for men’s hockey, but for football, volleyball, soccer, men and women’s basketball, softball, and any other sport that is being live streamed in any fashion. While the games for some of these sports are free, i think that there is an element of revenue out there to be had for the athletics department and Learfield who helps them sell sponsorships for their media entities.

Imagine for a minute, for the big road match up UND Football has today against Weber State, a bevy of fans gathered at a local place, perhaps Buffalo Wild Wings. While they may stream the game already I believe an element of community is not being as engaged as they could be. Imagine having I Heart Media (the official radio rights holders to UND Athletics)  on hand with one of their wonderful radio personalities on site with giveaways and specials on food and drinks during the game. During pregame for football today, you could have I Heart on site and have one of their hosts getting messages of encouragement for UND Football and all sports. If a fan’s message is selected for the pregame or use in further ads, they could win a gift card from the sponsor, say Buffalo Wild Wings or whomever gets the deal.

Then, the UND Home of Economy Radio Network could spice up their ads promoting further UND Athletics broadcasts with organic content from fans most passionate about the team. You could even work with alums for Men’s Hockey and other sports in town to provide another reason to attend. If a program graduate (say Ryan Duncan for Men’s Hockey) wants to guest host you could have them help amp up fans,and maybe sign autographs.

Does this require more work to figure out? Of course it does. Is it an opportunity for UND and Learfield to improve fan engagement and sell a big rights deal to a local restaurant to further engage passionate Fighting Hawks fans and provide an outlet for those looking for that sense of community that only things like sport can bring even on an away game? Yes it does. I am sure outlets around town already stream games to some extent, and some surely will even without “sponsoring” official watch parties.

What they cannot bring to the party that Learfield and I Heart Media can is further incentive driving fans to one spot, the engagement possibilities leveraging media rights holder I Heart Radio, and potential to increase revenue and engagement for UND Athletics, Learfield Sports, and local businesses looking to provide giveaway items to the most engaged fans in town. Bringing together fans all around Grand Forks is something UND Athletics does on a weekly basis, why not leverage that community on away games for any sport to help the Athletics Department bring in more revenue to hit its goals.

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

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

UND Athletics Unsung Heroes:Men’s Hockey and Soccer

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons-UND Athletics)

Here at Seamore Sports, we take pride in looking beyond the box score and covering unsung heroes for their contributions on the field, rink, or anywhere else Fighting Hawks and collegiate student athletes play.

It is in that spirit that we look to start a weekly feature on unsung heroes for the Fighting Hawks. Every week we will talk about one unsung hero for a men’s and women’s team so you will read about two student athletes’ on-field exploits not readily apparent by a mere viewing of the box score or recaps published after the game.

First, let’s discuss UND Soccer. The Fighting Hawks have won ten games for the first time since moving to Division One, and finish out their regular season this week against the Bison of North Dakota State on the road under the lights in Fargo at 6 PM on Thursday. The female unsung hero of the past week is redshirt freshman defender Hannah Olson. If you want to see why this team has been able to play forward so much and put more pressure on opposing teams’ back lines, looking to UND’s defense as a major strength is one reason this team is doing so well. So many times this season, and against Omaha this past week, UND Head Coach Chris Logan when asked has noted her play as superb on the back line. So many teams in the Summit League have superb goal scorers, and baring the game against Denver where Logan noted that he was moving players forward for the last 45 minutes, this team has given up no more than two goals at home. That is a hard feat in the Summit League, and tough to complete against an Omaha side playing for its postseason life on Sunday.

Olson has been at the forefront of UND’s defense all year. She consistently make superb reads on attacking players and is quite skilled, as she showed Sunday, in angling attacks out to the side to allow her back line to reset and push things forward.She has often been the answer to the “who had the best game in the field not based on the box score” question and their variations this year. Olson is a major key to this Fighting Hawks’ defense and does not get talked about as much as their superb attacking group. Without Olson’s superb play on the back line against Omaha, one has to think that the Mavericks could have gone up 2-0 in the first half with more chances. That one goal difference made a world of difference in the second half as it allowed the Fighting Hawks to keep playing their game.

Olson’s superb ability to read the angles and get the ball forward when asked has gone without a lot of if any mention from those not playing for the team. She is the Female Unsung Hero for UND Athletics this past week and one of the key reasons why this is the best team in the Division One Era the Fighting Hawks have had based on record. Hannah Olson is the Female Unsung Hero of the Week for the Fighting Haw

weatherby 2

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

As to Men’s Hockey, let’s talk some more about Jasper Weatherby and what he did for his team in the past weekend. The Sharks’ prospect did not put up a goal, but he did run the faceoff dot for this team both nights. In addition, he is continuing to own the net front for the Fighting Hawks and is a consistent presence for this team. Head Coach Brad Berry compared his prowess in the dot to recently to recently departed Rhett Gardner. Weatherby adding this element to his game has been a massive part of why UND has started so well.

When the Fighting Hawks play well in all of their zones, it comes to how they start, winning the faceoff and Weatherby’s development in the dot, combined with his net front presence were important parts of the sweep over Bemidji State. Even when he has a zero point night, his presence screening the goalie and strong work in the dot are essential to the continued success of this team. Weatherby is the Male Unsung Hero of the Week for the Fighting Hawks.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics 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.

 

UND Sweeps Bemidji State- What to look for next

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Tonight at a sold out Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks needed to get off to a good start in their series finale against an always tight-checking Bemidji State Beavers side eager for a split. They did just that as 36 seconds in, Jordan Kawaguchi made Beavers’ netminder Henry Johnson pay for playing the puck behind his own net. He created a turnover and fired the puck to Grant Mismash who buried it in the wide open net. This goal set the tone for the period and evening at large. 16:56 into the first period, Cole Smith used a wrap around to end up bouncing a puck to Mark Senden who found the back of the net in tight shooting to an empty net as Johnson over played the first shot.

That would remain the margin through the first period and most of the second as the Fighting Hawks controlled the pace of things through the game. Jonny Tychonick added an insurance marker in the second as Mismash would add a primary assist to his ledger. He found Tychonick activating into the rush and wired across a superb pass. Jonny potted his first career goal on that rush and slammed into the boards in celebration. As UND Head Coach Brad Berry noted, it was good to see him finally get rewarded for the offensive prowess he brings to the UND blue line. Colton Poolman added an empty net marker late in the third period to restore a three goal lead after Aaron Miller found the back of the net for the Beavers 18 seconds earlier.

Now, the Fighting Hawks have one week to get ready for a one game date with the Huskies of Michagan Tech at the Ralph. How they continue the last five periods of play from this weekend will determine the result.

Beyond the scoring, UND goalie Adam Scheel played well tonight, especially as the game progressed and made more tough saves throughout the waves Bemidji State was trying to throw at the Fighting Hawks. He finished with 19 saves on the night and had a big role in keeping things calm as UND grew its lead.

In addition, Brad Berry praised Jasper Weatherby for the consistency in his game. He has begun to fill the very important role vacated by Rhett Gardner. Weatherby is now the center the staff looks to when they need a big draw won in the defensive zone to stymie a potential chance. Adding his skill at the dot is a big addition to the team this year. While he did not score for the Fighting Hawks he again spent a lot of the night parked in front of the Bemidji State net and tipped some pucks wide and just missed a few others.

In addition,  the staff mixed up the lines a little bit tonight. They rewarded Josh Rieger with time as the seventh defenseman and slotted in Casey Johnson up front. Both players played their roles, and we could see them more this year. The lineup changes were made in part due to how last night’s game finished and the coaches wanting to get different players some game action.

Next week will provide another test against the Huskies of Michigan Tech. Tonight, against a decent Bemidji State team that makes life tough for their opponents when able to defend we saw the blueprint to win for this team executed to perfection. Score early, and make responsible plays throughout to add insurance as needed. When this team can make other teams open up their game to try and score just to catch up, good things will happen.

This team has too much skill to try and play grind heavy games as a first resort if not needed, if they can get one quick and defend that allows them to roll all of their skaters and not need to worry about shortening the bench. It may not seem like much now, but spreading out minutes for as long as possible will help later on in the year. Developing depth to add with skill is not a bad idea, and hopefully this team can do so as we progress in this still early on season.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories you will not see elsewhere about UND Hockey and other college hockey teams, please click this link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story we right as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

UND Football: Regarding playoffs, ask again later

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

The Fighting Hawks dispatched their third ranked side this afternoon as they vanquished the number nine ranked Bobcats of Montana State 16-12 thanks to a recovered blocked punt for a touchdown and a defense that held them in the game, limiting the Bobcats big plays and keeping the team in the game.

Now UND heads into a bye week for the second time this season with a chance to rest up, especially on defense where injuries have forced underclassmen to step into bigger roles a bit faster than initially thought.

What does all of this mean for where UND should be ranked? Well one could argue for ranking the Fighting Hawks in the low 20’s based on their win this weekend and without looking at the rest of the FCS I could certainly see that. It is a subject that will be debated fiercely by pundits and fans, especially those who interact with Brian McLaughlin and Sam Herder of Hero Sports who have two of the votes in the FCS Stats Poll publish their ballot and in at least Brian’s case why he votes the way he does as well.

Sam discusses his picks and votes extensively with Brian on their weekly podcast hosted through Hero Sports, give it a listen sometimes, these are two of the most plugged in folks in the FCS you will meet. They follow every team in the country at this level to the best of their ability and this sport is better because of them.

To re-purpose a phrase from Brian he likes to use when describing things in the FCS landscape, on this UND team we need to see more data. That is yes, the win today is great and this Fighting Hawks side has shown resiliency throughout the year when dealing with adversity. Can we overlook the Idaho State loss and potentially the Eastern Washington losses on the road?  Maybe we can if UND plays well enough to allow it.

If this team goes 7-4 in total and loses one of its last two home games that look winnable against Northern Colorado or Southern Utah, do they make the playoffs over say a 7-5 win team with an FBS win and a better strength of schedule. I do not know. I honestly don’t know what to make of this team other than they merit perhaps a low rank in the applicable polls and a spot on the good side of the bubble, for now. The polls, especially the FCS Stats Poll are merely a snapshot of a wide open landscape of football full of wonderful people who cover the game to the best of their ability.

If a MEAC team like the Aggies of North Carolina A&T finishes second and does not make the Celebration Bowl, and finishes with a 9-2 or 8-3 record and UND loses a must win game at home should they be in over the Aggies at that record with a 7-4 finish? I do not know. Southern Illinois could finish 7-5 and have a case to be in over the Fighitng Hawks as they have an FBS win to their credit.

As to the Fighting Hawks, their decision to play 11 games will either be a stroke of genius or seen as myopic if they finish on the wrong side of the bubble if they finish 7-4 and are eclipsed by a 7-5 team with an FBS win or a 9 or 8 win MEAC team like the Aggies? That is the reality of a 12 game maximum schedule season. Schools make their choice and live with the results and consequences, good and bad either way.

What I know for sure is this team needs to have a strong finish and go 8-3 to remove more questioning articles like this being written. If this team wins out it will 100 percent make the playoffs barring some odd circumstances around the FCS. In that case we will be focused on UND’s first or second round opponent depending on their position in the field.

In a few weeks if UND finishes out of the playoffs due to losing any of its must win games at home or being on the bad side of the bubble beating Weber State and losing the other two games then the questions raised by those not voting for or voting for UND lower will be valid.

All of this is to say, do not read too much into the polls this week or next week. UND needs to win three more games to remove as much doubt as possible and cement a playoff spot and potential national seed. This team will not (hopefully) focus on the polls and keep their eyes on Weber State. They face a potential top 10 opponent on the road in their last chance to add a quality win to their resume before playing two must win games to end the season.

To those following this team, focus on the on field results. They guide the polls and what writers will say about UND’s playoff chances. More data is required to determine the fate of the 2019 UND Football team, two weeks from now is the next chance to acquire some based on their result against Weber State.

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Eight Unanswered: How UND Earned a Series Sweep over Canisius and Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

In front of a nearly sold out Ralph Engelstad Arena crowd, the Fighting Hawks played Canisius similarly to start the match like they did last night, and in their ignominious series sweep at the hands of the Golden Griffins last January. Griffins Head Coach Trevor Large noted that his team needed to be better at shortening their passes and simplifying their game.

Ausin Alger got that message for the visitors as he took a feed from David Melaragani and walked in a mere 4:05 into the first period and stunned the crowd. He went bar down on UND netminder Adam Scheel to give the Griffins their first lead of the weekend.

That lead would last into the second period. Once again the Fighting Hawks were presented with a chance to score a bushel of goals before their opening salvo as Canisisus again spent most of the evening down a skater. J.D Pogue earned the honor with a kneeing major penalty and a game misconduct 12 minutes into the first period. While no goals were scored, the penalty kill tired out the Griffins and it would bear dividends later on in the evening. UND was able to build off of the major penalty and used the extra skater it had with Canisius being down a man to their advantage later on in this one.

In the second, 1:03 after a Shane Pinto penalty shot was stopped by Jacob Barczewski, 7:24 in to the frame, Mark Senden took a feed from Jordan Kawaguchi and wired it home on the weak side to start the scoring bonanza that followed. Colin Adams and Gabe Bast would pitch in markers to end the second period and put the lead at two.

The third period is where the deluge of goals came as Cole Smith twice added to the tally along with, Harison Blaisdell, Andrew Peski, and Westin Michaud all pitched in markers to secure the 8-1 win. Jordan Kawaguchi lead the assists on the evening with three and earned second star honors on the evening. Again, Jasper Weatherby had another good night in the faceoff circle (11-4) along with Shane Pinto (11-7).

With key players like Rhett Gardner moving on, we have begun to see the staff rely on Weatherby and Pinto so far to win faceoffs in key moments. For instance, Head Coach Brad Berry singled out Pinto for winning a faceoff on his off side in UND’s end at a key point in the game. UND’s faceoff numbers are good for those two, but Berry noted a need for it to be by committee and those two were the only skaters to win double digit draws.

While Scheel finished with 11 saves on the evening, his biggest challenge was staying engaged during the countless times UND seemed to take up residence in the Canisius defensive zone. He looked pretty good but does not have enough of a body of work to judge yet, like the rest of this team.

Now What? 

Their next test against Minnesota State Mankato, one of the best teams in the nation, will tell us a lot more about the potential for this team the rest of the year. If this team can put together a complete game, like it did tonight, and force the Mavericks to play perfect hockey to beat them, things could go well on the road. If UND gets away from rebound goals, cross crease goals, and tries too much to score off the rush, then we will be in a repeat of the last season.

A test against a top ten team in the nation next weekend on the road is a good measuring stick for this team, and will provide them plenty of film before they return home in two weeks to take on the always defensively sound Bemidji State Beavers.

Fighting Hawks Earn 5-0 Season Opening win Over Canisius: Two Thoughts

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Tonight, in front of over 11,000 brave souls who braved the terrible conditions of a fall blizzard, the Fighting Hawks of the University of North Dakota Men’s Hockey team earned a season opening win over the Golden Griffins of Canisius 5-0.

Shane Pinto opened up the scoring for UND in the first period, he was joined later on by Dixon Bowen who potted two markers on the evening along with Gabe Bast and Grant Mismash. This deluge of scoring included three third period goals to ice the game and that provided the final 5-0 margin

Bowen benefited from the strong play of Jasper Weatherby who keyed his line. Again Weatherby’s faceoff performance (13-4) proved important on the evening. He and Pinto drove the success up front by combining to win 27 of UND’s 37 faceoff wins.

Over time look for Weatherby’s line to see more ice time as the coaches see his ability to continue sucess in the faceoff dot, a welcome supplement to the strong physical game that he plays.

Adam Scheel finished the evening in net for the Fighting Hawks with an 11 save shutout, and outside of a nice barrage from Canisius in the first few minutes of the third period, did not face a lot of chances on the evening.

Beyond the Box Score 

For UND: Don’t Overreact 

This team played a solid third period that saw their three goals put the game out of reach for Canisius. The Fighting Hawks tonight were the better team and all of the normal metrics from shot attempts, to goals and possession time bore that fact out. With that being said, we saw something similar to the formula other teams used to beat this Fighting Hawks side last year.

When Canisius was at their best, they were almost allowing low percentage shots and cleaning up in front of the net as needed. They got some key saves from Matt Ladd and his replacement, Jacob Barczewski who both used their lateral quickness to stymie a lot of backdoor looks where it seemed that UND was telegraphing where they would shoot.

Canisius Head Coach Trevor Large did not commit to which goalie we would see in net tomorrow, but the Griffins goalies, despite the top line score showed that when the defense cleaned up the loose change in front of the net, that for the most part they could hang with this stacked Fighting Hawks side.

Why am I not screaming praises of this Fighting Hawks team? Well simply put, I believe seeing more from this team is needed. I am not sure what to expect out of this team. When you earn a five minute major and get the other team’s captain ejected you need to convert on that power play throughout the season.

Despite nearly four minutes of zone time UND did not do so.  In addition, while I was impressed with the consistent all out pressure of this team, regardless of the result Saturday, their next opponent in the Mavericks of Minnesota State Mankato will present an entirely different test.

This win for UND is cathartic after the sweep they endured last January where a lot of those following this team saw as the low point for the 2018-2019 side. It was like that because UND could not convert rebounds. The Fighting Hawks did that tonight against a high effort Canisius side and took the drama out of the game early in the third period. What happens tomorrow, and further on in the season will prove much more to the long-term success or failure than 60 minutes against a team that had not even played an exhibition against another team before this one. Now that Large and his staff have game tape to dissect, what changes will they make and how will UND Head Coach Brad Berry react?

For Canisius: Short and Sweet 

If you are reading this and a Canisius fan, thank you for reading this far first off. I was impressed with the ability of this team deprived of one of the best offensive players in the country last year and called “instant offense” to hang around against a superb UND side. The Griffins showed that they can hang in for two periods and execute a game plan to keep the game at least close against a team replete with NHL-caliber talent.

Large noted after the game that the one reason why Canisius had some success later on in this one in finding better chances was the passing game. When the Golden Griffins kept their passes a little shorter, they did not give UND as much of a chance to limit their ability to get to higher percentage areas. The Griffins effort on defense reminded me a bit of the effort shown by AIC against St. Cloud State last March in Fargo. The difference between the two was offense. Last March, AIC did what Large wants his team to do tomorrow which include keeping the passes short and focusing on quality over going for stretch passes like Canisius did tonight. Doing that while limiting penalties and focusing on your effort and ability to block shots could keep this game closer than the highly partisan crowd at the Ralph Engelstad Arena would like.