Who’s the Greatest All-Time UND Hockey Player?

The University of North Dakota men’s hockey team has a rich and storied history. UND is a hockey program that’s  committed to excellence. Looking at their 68-year history, who’s the greatest all-time UND hockey player? Apparently, that’s a topic of much debate.

The UND hockey team has won seven NCAA division I titles and 15 conference titles. UND is tied for second all-time in NCAA titles with the University of Denver with seven.

North Dakota loses to Minnesota in the semifinals of the Frozen Four. [photo: Josh Smith]
North Dakota loses to Minnesota in the semifinals of the Frozen Four. [photo: Josh Smith]

UND’s connection to the NHL

During UND’s storied 68-year existence, the school has had over 250 alumni go on to play professionally. Many former UND players have gone on to play in the NHL.

Counting the 2013-14 NHL season, 12 former UND hockey players have won the Stanley Cup. Three former UND hockey players have won two Stanley Cups (Jay Caufield, Matt Greene and Jonathan Toews). Four of the last five Stanley Cups champions has had former UND hockey player on their roster.

Currently, UND has six players on NHL rosters that are wearing letters: Matt Greene, L.A. Kings (A), T.J. Oshie, St. Louise Blues  (A), Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild (A), Drew Stafford, Buffalo Sabres (A), Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (C), Travis Zajac, New Jersey (A).

During its 68-year history, UND has had two players win the prestigious Hobey Baker Memorial Trophy, Tony Hrkac (1987) and Ryan Duncan (2007).   Just for comparison sake, UND has had 21 Hobey Baker Memorial finalists, that’s second only to Boston College.

All-time, there are over 80 former UND hockey players with 100 or more career points. Looking at the top 10, you can see that there’s many different eras included.

Top 10 All-Time North Dakota  Career Points 
1. Greg Johnson (1989-93)………………………..272
2. Mark Taylor (1976-80)………………………….265
3. Jeff Panzer (1997-01)…………………………….228
4. Dixon Ward (1988-92)………………………….219
5. Lee Davidson (1986-90)………………………..202
6. Doug Smail (1977-80)…………………………..195
7. Steve Johnson (1984-88)………………………191
8. Ben Cherski (1951-55)…………………………..188
8. Phil Sykes (1978-82)…………………………….188
10. Rick Zaparniuk (1976-80)……………………185

Oshie is widely considered the Blues' best player (Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)
Oshie is widely considered the Blues’ best player (Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)

Who’s the greatest all-time UND hockey player?

Obviously, there’s a lot of great hockey players that have played at UND, but who stands out above the rest? I posted a question on the UND fan message board Sioux Sports; who would you pick as the greatest all-time UND hockey player? I also posted this same question on twitter and on my fan blog.

Breaking down the numbers from the Sioux Sports poll, there was one unanimous choice; former All-American forward Tony Hrkac was the top choice bringing in more than 57 percent of the vote. Placing second, All-American forward  Jonathan Toews, who had 12.5 percent of the vote. Finishing in third place, All-American forward Zach Parise, who claimed 5.36 percent of the vote. Finally, the other player category received 16.07 percent of the vote.

Quantifying the greatest all-time UND hockey player

The biggest question is how do you quantify who’s the greatest all-time UND Hockey player? UND hockey has 68 years of storied hockey history, not all things are equal.

In my opinion, the biggest question is how do you compare the different eras? For instance, the 1980’s and 1990’s are a much different era than today’s college game. Over the years, the college game has evolved a lot. Is it even possible to definitively name the greatest all-time UND hockey player?

If you don’t think the game has evolved, take a look at the goalie equipment over the years. Compare Eddie Belfour’s goalie equipment to Zane McIntyre’s, there’s no comparison.

Could you imagine Tony Hrkac with a carbon fiber stick? That’s a scary thought for goalies of that era.

Looking at all of the players that played for UND, only one UND player, Dixon Ward (110g-109a-219pts) scored a 100 goals and 100 assists during his career.

In today’s game, blue chip players rarely stay  in college for four years. This could be a reason why there aren’t any recent players in UND’s top 10 career points leaders. If  All-American forward T.J. Oshie had stayed another year, he would have had a great chance of cracking the top 10 in career points.

Finally, should winning Hobey Baker’s put a player at the top of the list? I am not so sure. UND hockey fans differ on that point, too.

In conclusion, I am not so sure that you can definitively pick the greatest all-time UND hockey player. That being said, If you were going to pick someone, who would you pick to be your greatest all-time UND hockey player?