Fighting Hawks gaining momentum
The season started off slowly for North Dakota, and Brad Berry’s group looked particularly out of sorts after a 7-4 loss to Minnesota State on Oct. 19. The next night, faced with a tie game entering the third period, UND rebounded for a 4-3 win against the Mavericks, and the Fighting Hawks carried that momentum into last night’s contest against long-time rival Minnesota, in a game played at Orleans Arena in Paradise, NV.
In front of a large contingent of traveling fans (of course), junior defenseman Colton Poolman scored his first two goals of the season (and just the 10th and 11th of his career) to lead UND to a 3-1 win. And in a game full of drama (66 combined penalty minutes), senior defenseman Hayden Shaw chipped in with three assists. The victory also gave freshman goaltender Adam Scheel back-to-back wins heading into next weekend’s home series against Wisconsin.
It’s early, but a win like this can prove to be defining, and North Dakota is playing well in all phases as it gains momentum heading into November.
Omaha defense in shambles
After losing 8-2 to Notre Dame last Saturday, UNO allowed 13 goals in a pair of blowout road losses at Arizona State this weekend. Still winless this season, the Mavericks have lost five in a row after a season-opening tie against Union, and their 33 goals allowed is the worst in the nation.
A disturbing statistic is that the Mavericks have allowed a goal inside the first seven minutes of the first period in each of their five consecutive losses. It’s often snowballed from there — in each of the last three games, UNO has allowed three first period goals each time. Those deficits are clearly too large to overcome, for a team that lost forwards David Pope, Tyler Vesel, and Jake Randolph to graduation after that trio combined for 99 points last season.
It hasn’t helped, either, that UNO has averaged 16.8 penalty minutes per game thus far (9th most in the nation), while enjoying success on the penalty kill only 67.6 percent of the time.
It’s a recipe for disaster, obviously, and something has to change quickly. I picked Omaha to finish last in the NCHC this year, and unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s going to happen if things don’t turn around defensively. UNO hosts Miami this weekend.
UMD, St. Cloud Show Off Depth
Minnesota Duluth is, right now, the best team in the nation after sweeping Notre Dame on the road this weekend, in a rematch of last season’s national championship game.
The sweep punctuated a 6-1-1 start to the season in nonconference play, and over the weekend, UMD scored six times from six different goal scorers, and showed off its depth in all facets of the game on each night. The Bulldogs also held the Irish to a 1-for-10 clip on the man-advantage over the weekend.
Nine different players for UMD have scored multiple times already, while only one (Scott Perunovich) is averaging over a point per game. The story is similar for St. Cloud State, with eight multi-goal scorers at this young stage of the season — spread throughout the lineup. The Huskies’ leading scorer is, like UMD, a defenseman — Jack Ahcan. St. Cloud appeared to be heading to a sixth straight win to start the season, but let a two-goal lead slip away on Saturday at Northeastern.
Still, much of each team’s success was expected before the season started, and each team has excelled at translating those expectations into results. But what is emerging as a significant storyline is that each team has enjoyed contributions from key freshmen — Noah and Jackson Cates for UMD, and Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker for St. Cloud State. All four are players to watch as conference play begins this weekend. The Huskies travel to Colorado College, while UMD is idle before hosting CC next weekend.