College hockey’s March Madness is officially here. This weekend, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference begins their conference playoffs. Entering the NCHC playoffs, the University of North Dakota accomplished something it hadn’t done in the past two months: it swept an opponent. Last weekend, the Fighting Hawks traveled to Oxford, OH, and got an important two-game conference sweep against the Miami RedHawks.
With the sweep, UND secured home-ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs for a 15th consecutive season. That’s the longest current active streak in Division I hockey. The sweep also bumped the Hawks to 12th place in the Pairwise Rankings. If the NCAA playoffs started today, the Hawks would be hosting the West Regional Championship in Fargo, ND.
Here are three things I noticed from last weekend’s series between the Fighting Hawks and the RedHawks:
Injuries Continue to Pile up for UND
On Friday, UND announced that sophomore All-American forward Brock Boeser was out with an undisclosed injury. Boeser was also a scratch on Saturday night. The bad news didn’t end there.
During the first period of Saturday’s game, junior forward Austin Poganski took a puck off of the side of his helmet and left the game. Poganski didn’t return and he is listed as day-to-day. Poganski will be re-evaluated this week. It’s unknown how long Boeser is out. Boeser did practice last Thursday.
“(It) goes with the character in the locker room,” UND head coach Brad Berry said. “We’ve been through this before. Guys know that Boeser and Polanski are important players on our team, but we have a lot of important players on our team and they did the job this weekend.”
Checking the Boxes
Before the season began, the Fighting Hawks set team goals. The first goal was to get home ice for the NCHC playoffs. After securing fourth place in the NCHC standings, the Hawks checked off their first box, home ice for the first round of the playoffs.
“In August, when we set our goals for our team they’re always the same goals that we want to achieve,” Berry said. “We call it checking the boxes. The very first one is to get home ice.
Obviously, we’re very blessed to be playing at Ralph Engelstad Arena in front of our loyal fans. We attained that one tonight. It took the last game of the regular season to get it, but we did it.”
No one in the Fighting Hawks locker room is going to celebrate this series win very long. There’s still a lot of work to be done. To qualify for the NCAA tourney, the Fighting Hawks will need to win their series against the St. Cloud State Huskies. The head coach was pleased with how his team responded this weekend.
“We’ve got to move on and turn the page,” coach Berry said. I thought for the first time in a long time, it was a weekend where we were business-like. There was an urgency. There was a hunger there, and there was a focus.”
The Poolman cleaning the pool, patio, and the house with this one. pic.twitter.com/0S8dXn6kKw
— North Dakota MHockey (@UNDmhockey) March 5, 2017
Tucker Poolman’s Big Weekend
During the offseason, the Winnipeg Jets wanted to sign Fighting Hawks defenseman Tucker Poolman to an entry level contract. Poolman decided to return for his junior season so he could finish his degree and play with his younger brother, a freshman defenseman, Colton Poolman.
This past weekend, the elder Poolman did his best Kirby Pucket impersonation. He took the team on his back and led them to victory. On Saturday night, Poolman had a career night scoring two goals, two assists for a four-point night.
The junior from East Grand Forks, MN, had a five-point weekend scoring two goals and three assists. Berry was impressed with his play:
“He (Poolman) got called on to play a lot of hard, heavy minutes,” Berry said.”He’s a big imposing figure out there, and he can play the game anyway that you want, offensive, hard, physical. He’s a leader back there for our group. I thought our whole backend played extremely well for the minutes that we played.”
Eric is a 1996, 1999 graduate of the University of North Dakota. Eric covers the University of North Dakota Hockey and Division I college hockey. Eric is the Contributing Editor for Inside Hockey.