Oh, what a difference a year makes. In the past two weeks, the University of North Dakota Hockey team has come up empty. The Fighting Hawks are 0-3-1 in their last four games and have been outscored 7-15. They’ve also been shutout twice. That’s the first time that UND has been shut out on consecutive weekends since November 2011.
After last weekend’s non-conference series against the Gophers, UND is 5-3-1, and it doesn’t get any easier for the Fighting Hawks. Next weekend, they return to league play against their arch-rivals the Denver Pioneers. The following weekend, they take on the high-flying St. Cloud State Huskies. If the Fighting Hawks want to win a third regular season National Collegiate Hockey Conference title in a row, they’re going to need to right the ship soon.
The Numbers Don’t Look Good
First, I am not going to lie, UND’s team statistics don’t look very good right now. Honestly, there’s a lot of room for improvement in all three zones. Presently, the power play (6/45) is ranked 50th nationally and the penalty kill (37/47) is ranked 49th.
To add insult to injury, the Fighting Hawks have already given up three shorthanded goals. Last season, UND gave up two shorthanded goals all season long. The team is ranked 20th nationally on offense and defense.
While things might not look so rosy for the Fighting Hawks right now, the team is building for the future and there’s a lot of potential for growth. During the offseason, the defending champs lost nine players to graduation and NHL defections.
Nine players from last season’s championship lineup (Drake Caggiula, Bryn Chyzyk, Coltyn Sanderson, Nick Schmaltz, Troy Stecher, Paul LaDue and Luke Johnson, and Keaton Thompson) are gone. Those players accounted for 81 goals and 217 points. Breaking it down further, that means 50 percent of last season’s offensive firepower is no longer in the lineup. Currently, there are 19 underclassmen on the Fighting Hawks roster trying to make up the difference. While it sounds like a cliché, there’s no substitute for experience.
On Saturday night, the Fighting Hawks dictated play for large parts of the game, and they outshot the Gophers 33-20. However, they still came up with the short end of the stick. They generated a lot of scoring opportunities but weren’t able to punch through. Moving forward, Saturday’s effort gives the coaching staff something to build on.
“Pretty much the way we wanted to play,” UND head coach Brad Berry told the media after the game. “We competed hard and dominated pretty much every category but the scoreboard, and obviously the effort we had tonight was the effort that we need every night. I’m proud of the way that our guys played.”
Gophers Hold the Edge
With Saturday’s 2-0 loss, UND’s is now winless in the last nine games at Mariucci Arena 0-5-4, (.222). The last time the UND beat the Gophers at Mariucci Area was a 2-1 overtime win on February 1, 2008. Now, the Fighting Hawks will have to wait three seasons before they can attempt sweet revenge on the Gophers. In the last ten games against the Fighting Hawks, Minnesota holds a 7-2-1 series edge.
Tip of the Hat to Eric Schierhorn
In Saturday’s game against the Gophers, the Fighting Hawks dominated play for a large part of the game, however, they couldn’t dent the twine behind Minnesota Golden Gophers goaltender Eric Schierhorn. The Anchorage, Alaska-native stopped all 33 shots that he faced. Schierhorn is now 4-2-2 on the season. Sometimes, you just have to tip your hat to the opposing team’s goaltender.