Archive for the 'NCHC' Category

NCHC Final Weekend: Playoff Races, Scoring Titles

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

The NCHC wraps up its regular season this weekend while the other five conferences start their conference tournaments. Here’s a look at the storylines for this weekend in terms of playoff positioning, and the scoring titles up for grabs.

First, here are the current NCHC standings:

NCHC
Conference Overall
GP W-L-T SOW PTS GF-GA GP  W-L-T GF-GA
1 St. Cloud State 22 15-4-3 1 49 87-54 32 21-6-5 122-78
2 Denver 22 11-6-5 4 42 67-47 32 17-8-7 104-67
3 Minnesota-Duluth 22 12-10-0 36 74-51 34 18-13-3 109-75
4 North Dakota 22 8-9-5 2 31 66-62 34 14-11-9 98-82
5 Nebraska-Omaha 22 9-12-1 28 70-92 32 16-14-2 113-121
Western Michigan 22 9-12-1 28 73-90 32 14-16-2 106-118
Colorado College 22 7-11-4 3 28 59-76 32 13-14-5 90-103
8 Miami 22 6-13-3 1 22 56-80 32 11-17-4 89-108

 

St. Cloud State has wrapped up the Penrose Cup as the NCHC regular season champion and will therefore be the No. 1 seed in the NCHC tournament. The Huskies will likely host Miami in the NCHC quarterfinals (a best-of-three series) next weekend.

As far as I can tell, the only way this doesn’t happen — based on the NCHC tiebreaker scenarios — is if Miami sweeps Denver on the road this weekend (winning in regulation or the first overtime) AND Western Michigan does the same to Colorado College AND Minnesota-Duluth does the same to Nebraska-Omaha. That would leave Miami, CC, and Omaha in a three-way tie for last place with 28 points, and CC would finish as the 8th seed based on having fewer regular season conference wins than Miami. But again… three weekend sweeps with no games going to overtime, including a Miami sweep of Denver… is probably not going to happen. So you can all but pencil in a trip for the RedHawks to St. Cloud next weekend.

Denver will be the No. 2 seed and their second round opponent is to be determined by this weekend’s games. And Minnesota-Duluth will host a first round playoff series, too, likely as the third seed, but can drop to fourth if — for example — the Bulldogs get swept by Omaha AND North Dakota (a team win only two wins in its last 11 games) sweeps St. Cloud State.

Of course, the real intrigue comes down to which team ends up with the final home-ice spot for the NCHC quarterfinals — North Dakota, CC, Western Michigan, or Omaha. The fact that CC could technically finish with a home-ice spot OR finish last in the conference shows how wild the NCHC has been this season. As you can see from the standings above, North Dakota controls its own destiny, but hosting the No. 1 team in the country will be a big challenge. Expect the aforementioned tiebreakers to come into play to ultimately determine playoff seeding. There’s no easy matchup in the league, but teams are certainly going to want to avoid finishing seventh — which would mean a trip to the reigning national champions, Denver.

And lastly. this weekend for North Dakota and Omaha is huge on the national stage as well, with each team squarely inside the NCAA Pairwise bubble at the moment.

SCORING TITLES

Heading into the weekend, Denver’s Henrik Borgstrom leads the conference with 30 points in NCHC play, but CC’s Nick Halloran and Omaha’s David Pope (who leads the conference with 14 goals scored, 11 of which have come on the power play) are certainly within striking distance for the scoring title:

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North Dakota’s Cole Smith: Dirty Hit?

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

“Same fu**ing guy, same fu**ing guy,” screamed Denver head coach Jim Montgomery on the bench — picked up by the TV microphones and cameras early in the third period of Friday’s thrilling game between Denver and North Dakota. It was the first college hockey game since 2011 featuring two starting goaltenders who have won national titles.

The game officially ended in a 3-3 tie, with Troy Terry scoring in the bonus 3-on-3 overtime session to give Denver the extra point in the NCHC standings.

Montgomery’s comments from the bench referred to an incident in November, the last time North Dakota and Denver squared off. UND sophomore Cole Smith was called for a boarding major that injured Denver defenseman Adam Plant, who needed significant on-ice attention from the medical and training staff before being helped to the locker room. Plant is a reliable senior defenseman for Montgomery — Friday’s game in Grand Forks, after all, was his 139th in a Pioneer uniform.

At 3:14 of the third period, Plant collided with Smith again, this time with both players battling for a loose puck in the Denver offensive zone. In real time, it genuinely looked like an unfortunate mishap, with Plant’s momentum seemingly propelling him into Smith as they both reached for the puck.

The replays on CBS Sports Network, unfortunately, show a different story.

There’s no objective way to sugarcoat this — it was truly a shocking hit by Smith. Here’s what happened: Smith was a step late to the play. After Plant won the loose puck, Smith raised his left arm in an unnatural position, and as he leans in (as opposed to trying to avoid the hit), his elbow struck a defenseless Plant in the right temple. Plant, who crumpled to the ice, lying flat on his back, very well may have been unconscious for a moment. Clearly shaken, he needed plenty of assistance to skate off the ice. Though there’s no official word from Denver yet, it was an obvious, serious head injury and presumably a concussion.  

After the game, UND head coach Brad Berry said, “Is it a penalty? Probably a penalty.” — which is a bit disappointing. It was definitely (not probably) a major penalty, and the only question now is whether the NCHC will issue a suspension this afternoon.

I’m not suggesting Smith — a sophomore who has scored 5 goals this season — is a dirty player (typically, in fact, he isn’t), and it’s impossible for me or anyone else to comment on what he was thinking as the play unfolded. An otherwise clean player can certainly suffer a lapse and deliver an anomalous dirty hit, and in reality, these plays happen quickly and the players’ movements are instinctive. And of course, despite Montgomery’s comments on the bench, it’s likely just an unfortunate coincidence that Friday’s occurrence involved the same two players as the Nov. 18 contest. But again, this singular play was startling and unnecessary, and I can’t imagine that Smith will avoid a brief suspension from the NCHC as a result of the hit. 

Of note, 36 of the sophomore forward’s 58 penalty minutes this season have come in three games against Denver.

The injury to Plant depleted the Pioneer defense for the remainder of the game, but the Fighting Hawks battled back regardless — overcoming Terry’s power play goal on the ensuing major power play and earning a tie thanks to a Hayden Shaw extra-attacker goal that beat Denver’s Tanner Jaillet. Still, North Dakota remains winless in its last four games. Denver remains in first place in the NCHC standings, although St. Cloud State — four points back — has two games in hand.

UND and Denver face off again on Saturday in Grand Forks to complete the regular season series — continuing what has become one of the most dramatic rivalries in college hockey over the last few years.

In case you missed it:

  • Terry will be the youngest player on Team USA at the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea next month. I spoke to him earlier this week about the opportunity to return to international play.
  • Western Michigan has been hit with the injury bug, losing two of its most talented offensive players in Colt Conrad and Wade Allison. Allison is out for the season, and I spoke to head coach Andy Murray on Thursday about how his team is trying to overcome these injuries. On Friday, the Broncos gave up 6 goals for the second consecutive game, this time in a 6-2 loss in Omaha in a game that was 2-2 with seven minutes to play.
  • Special teams proved important around the NCHC on Friday. Minnesota-Duluth scored 2 shorthanded goals in a 5-1 win against St. Cloud, while Colorado College went 3-for-3 on the power play to beat Miami 6-3. The Tigers improve to 11-11-3 this season, looking to finish over .500 for the first time since 2012.

 

NCHC: Big League Weekend Starts Now

Friday, December 1st, 2017

We’re less than 2 hours from a critical slate of NCHC league games kicking off this weekend, with all of these six teams currently ranked in the top 15 of the Pairwise.

NCHC
Denver at Minnesota-Duluth  7:07 CT Compare Radio  Map
St. Cloud State at Nebraska-Omaha  7:07 CT Compare Radio  Map
Western Michigan at North Dakota  7:37 CT Compare TV Radio  Map

 

Miami also hosts Cornell for a two-game nonconference series, in a pair of games that (given their strength of schedule), is likely to be more important for Cornell than for Miami. That series kicks off in just over an hour.

But clearly, the main event this weekend is a rematch of April’s national title game, with Minnesota-Duluth hosting reigning champion Denver. The Pioneers were just 3-3 in November, although have won three of four. The key will be whether UMD can slow down Denver’s offense — which, through all the ups and downs, has been the one constant. Montgomery’s team has scored at least four goals in each of its last nine games. Henrik Borgstrom, Troy Terry, and Dylan Gambrell — often used on different lines this season — have combined for 25 goals. Still, I would expect lower scoring games this weekend, especially with the intensity expected in this series after the two teams battled for the championship trophy in Chicago.

It will be interesting to see, as well, if two UMD freshman defensemen (Scott Perunovich and Mikey Anderson — who of course had nothing to do with April’s title game) — can continue to generate offense from the blueline for a young, developing UMD team that showed what it is capable of with a well-rounded 3-1 win over Minnesota State last week.

Finally, in case you missed it… two NCHC features this week published on the main site:

  • Tough Love:  A look at Montreal Canadiens first-round prospect Ryan Poehling and St. Cloud State. Poehling shared a great anecdote about his childhood that led him to play hockey.

I also asked Ryan about his relationship with his brothers, Nick and Jack — all of whom are sophomores this season for the Huskies.

“We’ve always been competitive,” said Ryan. “It comes with everything, even when we work out. I see it in golf a lot too, where we always want to be better than one another. I think it’s just friendly competition. We know at the end of the day it doesn’t matter, but at the same time, it’s always nice being able to beat your brother. That’s why we compete so hard.”

  • Second Chance for Nick Jones at North Dakota, after he started his college career at Ohio State

The Fighting Hawks host first-place Western Michigan and will be looking to snap a three-game winless streak at home. Pleasing the home crowd in Grand Forks is one of many goals for UND this weekend. Jones had this to say about North Dakota’s home-ice advantage:

“It’s unbelievable. I grew up going to Oilers games, which are sold out every night. But I can’t recall one Oilers game I’ve ever been to in my life that compares to the Minnesota series out here. The crowd is unbelievable. I’ve never seen a crowd like our crowd. It’s special to play here for sure.”

Western Michigan won three of four games against UND last year.

NCHC: Weekend Preview

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Each NCHC team has played at least five games, and every team in the league is over .500 at this early stage in the season, after another successful first few weeks of nonconference action.

Conference play is underway, too. Colorado College split with North Dakota last weekend in the first league play of the season, and there are three more league series this weekend — Denver at Western Michigan, CC at Miami, Minnesota-Duluth at St. Cloud State. Omaha is off, while North Dakota plays two at Wisconsin.

As a preview of this weekend’s action, here’s a brief look at each of the team’s starts to the season (teams listed alphabetically):

 

Colorado College: After a split against Vermont and a sweep against Alaska-Anchorage, all eyes were on the Tigers last weekend to see how they would fare in their first league games of the season — one of many areas in which the Tigers have struggled in recent seasons. CC responded in a big way with their split against North Dakota. In the Tigers’ Friday night win, they took advantage of their chances, stayed out of the penalty box (North Dakota had only one power play opportunity), and survived periods of pressure in the third… but I found their loss to be encouraging as well.

Despite defensive lapses in a 6-4 game, CC scored all four of its goals on the rush — an area in which they struggled last year. They showed plenty of speed getting behind the UND defense, and that will serve them well as the season goes on. CC already has five wins this season — incredibly, the earliest the Tigers have reached that mark since the fall of 2005. It’s the best start during the Mike Haviland era in Colorado Springs, and junior Mason Bergh has led the way with seven goals (tied for most in the country).

 

Denver: The defending champions are rolling — undefeated at 4-0-2 after sweeping Boston University and Boston College on the road last weekend. And as expected, the Pioneers’ trio of high-end forwards, Henrik Borgstrom, Troy Terry, and Dylan Gambrell, are leading the way. Borgstrom in particular has picked up where he left off last year, as the potential Hobey Baker candidate has a point in each game he’s played this season and leads Denver with five goals.

It will be interesting this weekend to see how Denver plays on Friday night against the Broncos, as the Pioneers have shown a tendency this season to start slowly before picking up momentum as the weekend goes along. Denver is 1-0-2 on Friday (allowing eight goals in those three games) and 3-0-0 on Saturday (allowing four goals in those three games). Even though Tanner Jaillet is the unquestioned starter in goal, I’d expect head coach Jim Montgomery to mix in freshman Dayton Rasmussen periodically as well. The rookie netminder earned the win for Denver’s first home victory of the season two weeks ago against Lake Superior State.

 

Miami: The RedHawks rebounded from an inconsistent weekend against Maine to pummel UConn last weekend, outscoring the Huskies 10-1 in a pair of games in Oxford. Miami hosts CC this weekend, and one story to watch will be whether the RedHawks can continue their strong power play efforts — after scoring 11 power play goals on their last 21 opportunities. Their 34.3 percent success rate is fourth best in the nation currently, and in years past, CC has struggled on the penalty kill.

Sophomore Gordie Green (11 points already) looks to be one of the NCHC’s breakout stars this season.

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NCHC Preview

Friday, October 13th, 2017

All eight NCHC teams are in action this weekend, and aside from Miami’s exhibition tonight against the U.S. Under-18 team, all the games — finally — count. Western Michigan is already off to a good start this week, with a 3-1 mid-week win over Bowling Green. The Broncos’ Colt Conrad already has three goals this season.

In case you missed it, some relevant NCHC items on the site from the past two weeks:

  1. My full NCHC preview, i.e. an overview of the strengths/weaknesses/outlook of each of the league’s teams.
  2. NCHC Watch List: A look at 5 storylines to watch this season, as well as 5 players to watch (beyond just the names you’ve seen garner preseason honors on the all-conference team)
  3. Above and Beyond: A feature on Denver, after I spoke to head coach Jim Montgomery and sophomore star Henrik Borgstrom about whether it’s really possible to be as motivated to repeat as champions as they were last year to win their first title
  4. Quiet on the Western Front: A feature on North Dakota, with comments from Shane Gersich about his outlook for the season.
  5. Denver Seems Destined to Repeat: A column by my colleague Joe Meloni about the favorites to win the title this season.

3 Things to Watch this weekend:

  1. St. Cloud’s season opener

In the NCHC preview above, I talked about St. Cloud as the team in the league most likely to challenge Denver this season. And that’s in large part because players who scored 100 of the team’s 105 goals last season return this year.

“I think the guys are ready,” said the Huskies’ Judd Peterson at the NCHC Media Day last month. “I know we have goal-scorers, and we just need to find a way this year.
“It’s exciting to be in a leadership role and to kind of show the young guys how it’s done. It’s going to be a fun year, and it’s going to be exciting to see where we go. We have a lot of depth in our lineup this year, so I’m excited.”

Still, I anticipate that the defense will make or break the Huskies this season, so players to watch in that regard are junior Will Borgen (a fourth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2015), sophomore Jack Ahcan (21 points as a rookie last year), and junior Jimmy Schuldt (the Huskies’ captain).

It helps, too, to have a head coach in Bob Motzko who has led a team to the Frozen Four recently and won a gold medal last season as head coach for the World Junior team — a position he will renew this winter.

This is Motzko’s 13th year as head coach of the Huskies. St. Cloud takes on Alaska (WCHA) in a two-game nonconference series starting tonight.

I never want to sound like an old guy, but I truly enjoy the building of the team and the process that we go through,” said Motzko ahead of the season. “Individual wins are awesome moments, but then when that moment’s over, and you go back over, and it’s — you know, when you recruit a Nic Dowd out of Huntsville, Alabama, and he becomes an All-American and now he’s playing in the National Hockey League. To be a part of that whole process… It’s not cliche. Those are the things you enjoy the most, watching the development of young men.”

2. Denver/Notre Dame rematch

Denver pummeled Notre Dame, 6-1, in the national semifinals last year en route to the national title. The result was somewhat unexpected given the close regular season meetings recently, but regardless, the anticipated rematch begins tonight. Both games will air on NBC Sports Network.

For Denver, Montgomery confirmed that he will start the season with the same top line with which he ended last season — Dylan Gambrell centering Jarod Lukosevicius and Troy Terry. On his second line, Henrik Borgstrom will be paired with classmate Liam Finlay and rookie Ryan Barrow.

During the offseason, Terry (Anaheim Ducks), Gambrell (San Jose Sharks), and Borgstrom (Florida Panthers) all turned down offers to sign with the NHL teams that drafted them.
Said Montgomery, “I give them credit. They wanted to come back because they felt like there was something they wanted to add here at Denver still. But also, more importantly, and I always tell them this, they have to be selfish in their decisions, and they have to do what’s best for them. And they felt that the best thing for them was to come back to the University of Denver, get closer to a degree, and be able to walk into the NHL instead of having to earn your way through the minors.”
It’s an interesting comment from Montgomery — and hard to argue with. The sample size is small, but just look at what reigning Hobey winner Will Butcher, who stayed all four years at Denver, has done in his first week at the NHL level with the New Jersey Devils (3 assists in his season debut, against the team that originally drafted him, the Colorado Avalanche).
Tonight will also be the first official action for an incoming Denver freshman class considered one of the top recruiting groups in the nation. That includes Chicago Blackhawks prospect Ian Mitchell on the blueline, as well as a pair of talented but undrafted forwards, Jake Durflinger and Kohen Olischefski.
“I’m surprised that a couple of our freshmen didn’t get drafted this year,” said Montgomery, who singled out 6-foot-4 defenseman Griffen Mendel — who wears Butcher’s old No. 4 jersey — as a player he expects to be drafted in next summer’s NHL Entry Draft. “But we don’t concern ourselves with whether our players are drafted or not. We’re concerned with them being prominent college hockey players, that they fit our culture and the way we play.”
3. UMD defense
In last week’s season opening weekend, Minnesota-Duluth earned a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over in-state rival Minnesota before falling, 4-3, to Michigan Tech in the final of the annual IceBreaker tournament. UMD’s goaltenders — Nick Sheery and Hunter Shepard, taking over for Hunter Miska, who opted not to return for his sophomore season — allowed seven goals on just 38 shots.
Last season, the Bulldogs — en route to the national title game — had the eighth best statistical defensive unit in the nation, allowing 2.26 goals per game.
Watch for renewed focus in the defensive zone this weekend as UMD takes on Bemidji State in a home-and-home series. These are the season opening games for the Beavers.

 

NCHC Final Weekend: What’s at stake?

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

The final regular season weekend in the NCHC begins tomorrow night, with all eight teams in action:

 

NCHC
Minnesota-Duluth at Western Michigan  7:05 ET Compare Radio  Map
Denver at Nebraska-Omaha  7:37 CT Compare TV Radio  Map
North Dakota at Miami  7:35 ET Compare Radio  Map
Colorado College at St. Cloud State  7:37 CT Compare Radio  Map

 

 

… and there’s plenty on the line. A quick look at the most notable items:

Regular season title: The Penrose Cup

Denver looks for its first regular season title since its WCHA title in 2009-10 this weekend, and the Pioneers can clinch their first Penrose Cup as NCHC regular season champs with a win at Nebraska-Omaha tomorrow (or with a Minnesota-Duluth loss at Western Michigan). The Bulldogs are the only other team in play for the regular season title (and therefore the No. 1 seed in the NCHC tournament) but trail Denver by four points heading into the weekend.

We won’t get into all the tiebreaker scenarios (you can work through them using the rules here), but here’s a look at things from the UMD perspective. Basically, UMD needs either 5 or 6 points this weekend to have any chance at all (reminder: NCHC regular season games go to a 3×3 OT and then if necessary a shootout if the game is still tied after regulation and a 5 minute 5×5 OT; 3 points in the NCHC are given for a regulation or 5×5 OT win, 2 points are given for a win in the 3×3 OT or shootout, and 1 point is given for a loss in the 3×3 OT or a loss in the shootout).

So if UMD earns 5 points in the standings, Denver must lose each game in regulation or within the 5×5 OT.

If UMD earns 6 points in the standings, it only wins the regular season title if Denver earns less than 3 points this weekend. The most interesting scenario would be as follows:

– UMD earns a 6 point sweep, while Denver earns only 2 points (say, a shootout win combined with a regulation loss). In that scenario, each team finishes with 55 points. The first tiebreaker in this scenario — head-to-head record — does not apply here because it only applies when the teams have played a balanced home-and-away schedule (in this case, Denver only placed UMD at home, and they split the weekend series). The second tiebreaker is regular season NCHC regulation + OT wins, and the teams would be tied here (16 apiece).

The next tiebreaker comes back to head-to-head, which again was 1-1, so we go to the fourth tiebreaker: comparison of goals scored. In the weekend series, UMD outscored Denver 6-5, so the Bulldogs would win the Penrose and be the No. 1 seed in the NCHC tourney as a result. The 6th goal for UMD that weekend was an empty-netter at the end of the Saturday night game.

Fun to talk about these things, but the reality is that Denver — the No. 1 team in the Pairwise — is clearly in the driver’s seat heading into the final NCHC regular season.

Home Ice

Denver and UMD will be the top two seeds in the NCHC tournament, and Western Michigan is locked in to No. 3. North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha, and St. Cloud State, meanwhile, are all in the hunt for the No. 4 seed — and therefore the final home-ice spot for the NCHC quarterfinals next weekend. The three teams are currently separated by a single point, and it’s certainly possible that the tiebreakers above will come into play.

On paper, St. Cloud State may have the “easiest” schedule with a home series vs Colorado College, but the Huskies have also lost three of their last five.

North Dakota heads to Miami. The Fighting Hawks and Red Hawks split a weekend series in Grand Forks, N.D, earlier this season.

Points and Goals

A look at the players in the hunt heading into the final weekend, courtesy of collegehockeystats.net

Point Scoring GP PPG G-A-P
1 Austin Ortega Omaha SR F 21 1.29 9-18-27
Alex Iafallo Minnesota Duluth SR W 22 1.23 10-17-27
3 Anthony Louis Miami SR F 22 1.18 8-18-26
4 Dylan Gambrell Denver SO F 22 1.09 10-14-24
5 Mikey Eyssimont St. Cloud State SO F 22 1.00 11-11-22
Kiefer Sherwood Miami SO F 22 1.00 7-15-22
Will Butcher Denver SR D 22 1.00 3-19-22

Ortega and Iafallo have both been on fire lately, but Iafallo may have the edge this weekend, only because — despite Ortega’s 7 points in his last 3 games — UNO has to face the top goaltender in the conference, the stingy Tanner Jaillet.

And not even on this list is Shane Gersich, who’s got the pole position for the goal-scoring title. The UND sophomore has 14 goals this season, two more than second-place Matheson Iacopelli (WMU).

Finally, among defensemen and rookies, respectively:

Defenseman Scoring GP PPG G-A-P
1 Will Butcher Denver SR D 22 1.00 3-19-22
2 Luc Snuggerud Omaha JR D 22 0.95 9-12-21
3 Neal Pionk Minnesota Duluth SO D 22 0.82 4-14-18

 

Freshman Scoring GP PPG G-A-P
1 Joey Anderson Minnesota Duluth F 21 0.76 7- 9-16
2 Henrik Borgström Denver F 18 0.83 8- 7-15
3 Tyson Jost North Dakota F 16 0.88 6- 8-14

NCHC: More on WMU goaltender Ben Blacker

Friday, January 27th, 2017

Western Michigan freshman Ben Blacker has emerged as the starter for Andy Murray’s Broncos, following a recent run that seemed to start with an early December win at North Dakota. In that game, Blacker made 21 saves in the third period alone, and aside from an anomalous outing at Denver in mid-January, he’s been stellar for WMU — 8-1-0 this season, and has helped propel the Broncos to the No. 5 position in the Pairwise.

I spoke with Blacker on Wednesday, and you can read the full story here.

Not included in the feature was our conversation about his transition to college hockey. As a freshman, he’s had plenty to adjust to, including the college game itself. Before starting his college career, Blacker played two seasons in the USHL with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. In the 2015-16 season, he led the USHL in wins with 33.

“The pace is a lot faster, guys are a lot bigger, shots come a lot faster,” said Blacker of NCAA play. “You learn your game through practice. That’s what coach stresses a lot with your team — that you get better every day. And that comes in practice and off the ice.”

Blacker has matured quickly in all aspects. He’s one of four goaltenders on the roster and is by far the youngest, with a 1997 birthday (the other three, including senior Collin Olson, who was a 2012 NHL draft pick, were born in ’94).

“We all have a pretty good relationship, and we push each other,” Blacker said. “We make each other better. Having that kind of support, and the competition between us, I think that’s making the team better.”
Blacker and Western Michigan begin a two game series at Miami tonight. Blacker will match up against Miami goaltender Ryan Larkin, a former teammate of his with the RoughRiders.

NCHC: In Case You Need More Troy Terry

Monday, January 9th, 2017

The Denver Pioneers welcomed back forward Troy Terry on Saturday, just 48 hours after his shootout goal against Canada propelled Team USA to a memorable gold medal win at the World Junior Championships. You can ready all about the homecoming — and his now famous ‘5-hole’ shootout strategy — here.

But another layer to Terry’s story this week was his palpable humility. After Saturday’s 6-1 win by the Pioneers vs. Arizona State — Terry had 2 goals, 3 assists — the 19-year old sophomore fielded question after question about his week. First beating Russia. Then Canada. Then the social media attention from celebrities and professional athletes.

Clearly grateful, he seemed to catch himself often, making sure to deflect some of the attention.

“It was really amazing,” said Terry of his whirlwind week. “I get a lot of attention for the shootouts, and some people only remember that, but we played such a good team game in both of those.”
As for the possibility of buying a ‘Five Hole Terry’ t-shirt?
“I know a lot of the guys have ordered them already,” said Terry, shaking his head seemingly in both disbelief and embarrassment. “I don’t know. It would be cool to have one I guess, but I don’t think you’ll see me wearing it around.”
What we will see, going forward it seems, is Terry returning to wearing his familiar No. 19 Denver jersey (he donned the No. 20 at the WJC). Alongside him will be No. 7, Dylan Gambrell, and No. 5, Henrik Borgstrom — the Pioneers’ only three forwards on the roster drafted by the NHL, loaded up on the top line. Borgstrom was a first-round pick of the Florida Panthers last summer, and like Terry, scored two goals on Saturday.
“That’s the plan moving forward,” revealed head coach Jim Montgomery after the game. “Let’s see how effective they can be and how much they can grow.”
They created havoc in the Sun Devils defensive zone on Saturday, possessing the puck for long stretches and punishing Arizona State with dizzying passing plays.
Continued Montgomery, “We hope they can stay together. Obviously, other teams are going to load up and play their best checking line and two best defensemen against them. But when you do have skill like that, it’s kind of like our top line last year, they found ways to make plays no matter who they played against.”
Denver heads on a four game road stretch now — at Western Michigan this weekend, and then next weekend at St. Cloud State, where Troy Terry will reunite with his Team USA coach, Bob Motzko.
Check CHN tomorrow for a full feature on Motzko.

Denver ‘Relentless’ Last Night vs. No. 1 UMD

Saturday, December 10th, 2016

Last night’s showdown in Denver between the DU Pioneers and Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs was the obvious highlight of the night’s college hockey schedule, and it certainly lived up to expectations. It was a wild showdown between the top team in the Pairwise Rankings (UMD) and No. 3 Denver, but more importantly, a showdown between two teams who expect to be playing in Chicago this April.

And appropriately, the game felt like a Frozen Four matchup, a fiery contest that followed a week of, at times, sub-zero temperatures in the Mile High City. Denver overcame a first goal deficit for the fifth time in less than a month, extended its unbeaten streak to 15 games (12-0-3), and held off the Bulldogs in a chaotic final minute to secure a 4-3 win.

After the game, Denver coach Jim Montgomery used the word ‘relentless’ repeatedly in describing his team’s performance.

Said Montgomery, “If you look at the success we have had here, it’s always because of our relentless pursuit of pucks and getting on the right side — continuing to go at people, forcing people to make tough decision with pressure on top of them.”

That’s precisely what Denver did, particularly during a five minute span in the second period, when the score turned from 1-0 in favor of UMD to 3-1 in favor of the Pioneers. It started with freshman Kevin Conley gaining inside position in the crease on UMD senior Dan Molenaar — collecting a Colin Staub pass to score his first career goal — and it ended with a Dylan Gambrell no-look pass from behind the net to Troy Terry, who converted a dizzying backhand shot in front of UMD netminder Hunter Miska, sending the Magness Arena crowd into a frenzy.

Terry also had two assists in the game and is now tied with standout defenseman Will Butcher for the team lead in points.

And Conley’s important contribution was, yes, ‘relentless’. And a reward for Montgomery’s ‘process.’

“He’s one of those freshmen who hasn’t been rewarded for all the chances he’s had,” said Montgomery. “It’s hard when you don’t score goals to keep believing in the process, but he played relentless hockey tonight.”

The reality is that offensive players — on any team — get most of the attention and certainly most of the accolades. But watch any Denver game, and it’s clear that the most ‘relentless’ aspect is its defense. Five of the six blueliners in the lineup last night have played in all 17 games this season. The other, sophomore Blake Hillman, has played in 16. It was Hillman’s turnover in the first period while exiting the defensive zone that led to UMD’s Alex Iaffalo opening the scoring.

“It was really hard for me to bite my lip when he came back to the bench,” said Montgomery of Hillman. “I just went up to him and said, ‘Look, he’s the first forechecker. Even if you get by him, there are still four more guys to go through. Let’s put it behind him and let our forwards work.'”

And that’s what the Pioneers did for the rest of the game. Relentlessly.

“That’s a hard team to gain offensive opportunities against because of they way they skate, the way they check, and their relentless pursuit of pucks,” said Montgomery. “A lot of players are gaining confidence, and we’re going to continue to get better throughout the year.”

The teams face off again tonight, as Denver looks to extend its unbeaten streak to 16 games. Check CHN this week for a full feature on the critical weekend series.

More on North Dakota (CHN Team of the Week)

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

Four of the first seven CHN ‘Teams of the Week’ this season have been NCHC squads (first Denver, then St. Cloud State, then Minnesota-Duluth, and now North Dakota). You can read the full story about North Dakota’s back-to-back shutouts of St. Cloud State here.

I spoke to UND goaltender Cam Johnson on Tuesday evening. Johnson returned to form with a 62-save performance during the weekend, and the NCHC Goaltender of the Week propelled North Dakota to its first sweep at St. Cloud since 1998.

The performances helped quell some of the anxiety surrounding the Fighting Hawks’ six game winless streak heading into the weekend, especially with the pressure of trying to meet the highest of standards set by the 2015-16 national champions.

“We have a way different team than last year,” said a candid Johnson. “The standard people hold us to, which is tough, is that they expect us to be as great as we were last year. I think we have a really good team this year, but we have a much different recipe.”

That’s indisputable. Last season’s team was fueled by a series of dramatic Frozen Four losses and was led by a dominant top line of Drake Caggiula, Nick Schmaltz, and Brock Boeser. Caggiula debuted for the Edmonton Oilers last week, while Schmaltz has played in all 21 Chicago Blackhawks games this season. That left Boeser — now a sophomore — behind, and if this past weekend’s performance is any indication, players like Shane Gersich and Austin Poganski are helping shoulder the burden offensively.

Gersich, after a hat-trick on Friday, leads UND in scoring with 10 goals and 8 assists.

The last meeting between St. Cloud and North Dakota at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center was a 6-1 Huskies win last season — a game in which Johnson allowed three goals on 13 shots.

So the redemption, understandably, felt good.

“It felt unbelievable,” he said. “Especially because St. Cloud is a really quality opponent. They’re a team the last few years that we’ve had wars with. Obviously to get back-to-back shutouts, I don’t think that’s been done in their building, so that’s a pretty cool accomplishment. It was huge for our group.”
Indeed, after outscoring St. Cloud 7-0 over the course of the weekend, North Dakota became the first team to shut out the Huskies on consecutive nights in the history of the National Hockey Center, which opened in 1989.
In the big picture, though, the wins — to Johnson — were meaningful for what they represent for the Fighting Hawks going forward.
“It’s something that helps our group,” said the junior. “It fuels us to continue to get better and not get complacent. Day in and day out, it’s going to be a battle, and we’re going to see every team’s best every weekend.”