Dramatic endings define first halfAt first, they couldn’t win on Saturday. Then, they couldn’t outshoot an opponent. The UND men’s hockey team also was called out for lack of offensive production, inconsistent line combinations and not being able to sweep a weekend series.
At first, they couldn’t win on Saturday.
Then, they couldn’t outshoot an opponent.
The UND men’s hockey team also was called out for lack of offensive production, inconsistent line combinations and not being able to sweep a weekend series.
But for all the time that was spent discussing the negatives, UND quietly had a very productive first half.
At Christmas break, UND has the top winning percentage in Western Collegiate Hockey Association games (7-2-3, .708), it has the league’s top offense (3.67 goals per game) and the league’s top scorer (Corban Knight, 19 points in 12 games). When they eventually come back after 20 days off for the holidays, UND will be in control of its destiny as it chases the MacNaughton Cup for the final time.
This was the goal all along for UND — it has just been a work in progress to get there. Without the help of three dramatic endings, UND would be in a vastly different spot right now. Remember those key, Saturday night games?
• On Oct. 27, UND pulled goaltender Clarke Saunders for an extra attacker against Alaska Anchorage. Eventually, the puck came to Derek Forbort at the point. Forbort snapped a wrist shot through a Knight screen and in the net, allowing UND to come away with a 3-3 home tie.
• On Nov. 17, UND rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat Minnesota-Duluth at home. Danny Kristo set up Mark MacMillan for the game-tying goal in the third period, then did it again late in overtime.
• On Dec. 1, UND pulled Saunders for the extra attacker in the final minute. Just when it looked like Colorado College was going to skate away with a series sweep, Knight found Dillon Simpson, who rocketed a wrist shot into the corner of the net to tie it. On the second shift of overtime, Drake Caggiula snapped home the winner to give UND two points.
How key are those three games? Had UND lost all three, it would currently be in eighth place in the WCHA, one point ahead of Bemidji State. Instead, UND is in second place with two games in hand on leader St. Cloud State.
Although UND has played a difficult first-half schedule, it’s not about to get any easier down the stretch. UND still has to play the top five teams in the WCHA standings — four of them on the road. That schedule includes the final trip to Mariucci Arena as a member of the WCHA, the outdoor game at T.D. Ameritrade Park in Omaha and a flight to the Rocky Mountains to take on the University of Denver, which hasn’t been swept in over three years.
So, look out for a wild an entertaining second half as UND and seven other schools finish out the WCHA farewell tour.
• UND’s MIDSEASON MVP: Knight. Three others — Kristo, Forbort and Saunders — all could stake claim to this, but Knight has been pretty consistent and has played his best in the last few weeks as UND has reeled off a five-game unbeaten streak.
• UND’S MOST IMPROVED: Simpson. At times, he’s been UND’s top defenseman. Foot speed has become a non-issue with Simpson this season and he’s been great defensively. Although he’s hit the post about 10 times, he made no mistake on UND’s biggest goal of the season thus far — the game-tying tally in Colorado Springs.
• UND’S SECOND-HALF PLAYER TO WATCH: Michael Parks. Remember him? He was one of UND’s top offensive performers at the end of last season. He hasn’t even suited up for a full period yet this season, but is expected to be back in the second half. He brings a little bit of everything to the lineup — speed, physicality and skill.
• WCHA MIDSEASON MVP: Knight, UND. Not only does he lead the league in scoring, Knight does it all in every area of the game. He’s probably the best faceoff guy in the WCHA. He’s one of the top defensive forwards, too.
• WCHA MIDSEASON ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Kalle Kossila, St. Cloud State. The freshman forward didn’t receive any preseason attention but is the only rookie in the country to have 10 goals at the holiday break.
• WCHA SECOND-HALF TEAM TO WATCH: Minnesota-Duluth. After a rough 2-6-2 start, the Bulldogs are 5-2-1 and showing the type of play they did in Ralph Engelstad Arena in November. The Bulldogs only got one point of that series, but looked the part of a contender.