UND Hockey: Searching for Answers

The University of North Dakota doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. That’s been the mantra for the past 14 years. After winning their eighth NCAA title last season, the Fighting Hawks have dropped off substantially in 2016-17. All teams go through rough patches, just ask Michigan and Minnesota. The Fighting Hawks are no different. This season, Hawks fans have been searching for answers.

Through 33 games,  the Hawks 16-14-3, 9-12-1 NCHC.  At the present moment, the Fighting Hawks are tied for fourth in the NCHC with the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. The Hawks need two wins if they want to host a first round NCHC playoff series.

Checking the record books, UND has qualified for the NCAA tourney in 14-straight seasons. That’s the second longest streak in college hockey history. The University of Michigan holds the record with 22-straight years.

With the Fighting Hawks sitting on the Pairwise bubble, that streak could be in jeopardy. If the Hawks don’t string together a few wins, they will be sitting at home when the NCAA tournament kicks off on the 24th of March.

This season was supposed to be the perfect storm for the Hawks. They’re hosting the NCAA West Regional Championship in Fargo, ND, and if they can make it to Scheels Arena, they will have a massive advantage. It’s like a home game on steroids.

Obviously, there’s some work to be done if the Hawks are to make the NCAA tourney for the 15th season in a row. It’s pretty clear what must happen.

A Season of Firsts

This season, the Fighting Hawks have been a hard team to figure out. During the 2016-17 campaign, there have been a couple of firsts. Two come to mind.

UND Forward Mike Gornall (Photo Credit: Russell Hons for UNDsports.com)

First, on the positive side: in November, the Hawks swept St. Cloud state in St. Cloud for the first time since the 1998 season when the Fighting Sioux swept the Huskies (4-3, 7-4). Since the 1998-99 season, UND had been unable to sweep the Huskies on home ice until they broke that streak this season.

On the negative side: a more dubious honor. As I mentioned yesterday, the Hawks have been shutout five times during the 2016-17 season. Checking the team’s media guide, that’s a record — during the 1967-68 season, UND was shutout four times.

Hawks Have Been Highly Inconsistent

This year’s team has been highly inconsistent. One night they’ve looked like a team that could beat anyone in the nation. The next night, they played like a team that’s lost and fighting for sixth place in the NCHC standings.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times this season, missing from last season’s championship team are underclassmen that gave up their college eligibility to play professional hockey (Paul LaDue, Keaton Thompson, Nick Schmaltz and Troy Stecher). Imagine if half of these players had come back for another season?

NCHC Team Statistics

Statistically, The Hawks have struggled in comparison to previous seasons. At the present moment, their conference statistics are mediocre and beg for improvement. Offensively, the Hawks are ranked fifth in the NCHC in scoring 2.77 G/PG. Defensively, they’re are ranked third in the NCHC 2.68GA/PG. On special teams, they’re ranked fifth in the NCHC on the power play with 19.1%. On the penalty kill, they’re ranked second in the NCHC with 86.7%. (Courtesy of College Hockey Stats Net)

National Team Statistics

The Hawks’ national statistics are down from previous seasons. At the present moment, they are ranked 24th in the nation in scoring 3.06 G/PG. They’re ranked 20th in the nation on defense 2.58 GA/PG. On special teams, the Hawks are struggling nationally: they’re ranked 27th on the power play, 26/140 (18.6%) and ranked 18th on the penalty kill, 121/143 (80.0%). (Courtesy of College Hockey Stats Net)

Time is running out, there’s no time like the present. I think the Fighting Hawks caption said it best:

“It’s tough to swallow,” Senior captain Gage Ausmus said. “That’s hockey. Every team is different. Right now, every guy in the locker room needs to realize what is on the line and what’s at stake here.”