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Season shaping up like 2011-12 for UND

By Mark Schuttenhelm, For The Sun

Last weekend’s series with Minnesota-Duluth started out promising enough with a 4-2 UND win on Friday, but it ended with a pretty bad 6-3 loss on Saturday.

Friday’s win was a high-energy, fast-paced, physical game. I counted three-to-five good hits by North Dakota players each period, and we haven’t seen that kind of sustained physical play from the team very often this season. UND showed good resilience, coming back nicely after coughing up a two-goal lead in a 20 second span in the third period.

Coach Dave Hakstol praised the Connor Gaarder line (Gaarder, Rodwell, Pattyn ) for coming out with a high energy shift after Duluth tied it up, calling it the “key shift of the game.” Jordan Schmaltz made a great play when he knocked a UMD clearing pass out of mid-air and kept it in the zone during a third period UND power play. A few seconds later he scored what would turn out to be the game winner. And Clarke Saunders was great in goal, stopping 34 of 36 Duluth shots.

Now for the bad news.

The energy level was lacking on Saturday. The locker room was hit pretty hard by a flu bug all week, so it’s possible there just wasn’t much gas left in the tank. Hakstol commented that the energy level was low, but he was clearly unhappy that the team did not play an “intelligent” game. The coach spoke about ill-advised penalties and not managing the final minutes of periods one and two well. Injuries are also becoming an issue. Mark MacMillan was clearly laboring out there and needs some time off, according to the coach.

Clarke Saunders, after two excellent games in net, was suddenly fighting the puck and struggling to control rebounds. He was pulled in favor of Zane Gothberg after the first period. Minnesota-Duluth’s stars, Farley, Basaraba, Iafallo, and Cameranesi, all came up big. Bryn Chyzyk and Paul LaDue scored their first career goals for UND while Dillon Simpson and Rocco Grimaldi each scored a goal and two assists on the weekend.

North Dakota’s penalty kill, which started the season hot, has now given up five goals in its last 15 attempted kills. Not good. UND has also been giving up a lot of shots on goal, and this series was no exception. Duluth had 36 shots on Friday and 32 on Saturday.

This North Dakota team is allowing 3.3 goals per game thus far, and a number like that simply will not get the job done. When we look around the country at the top ranked teams, we see that most are allowing two goals a game or less.

This season is starting to remind me of 2011-2012. In late November of 2011, North Dakota was 4-7-1 and unranked. The team was hit hard by injuries. Things were looking pretty bleak. Hakstol did a masterful job working around the injuries and the nickname controversy, which was in full swing at the time. That UND team went on a second-half tear and finished the season at 26-13-3.

Stat of the Weel

UND’s record on Friday’s this season is 3-1, but Saturday’s (0-4-1) have not been as kind.

Around the Country

Did anybody think Quinnipiac was a one year flash in the pan? If so, you need to rethink that position. After an opening night loss to Alaska-Anchorage, the Bobcats are unbeaten in 12. They’re giving up just 1.54 goals per game and have four players scoring a point a game or better. Not bad for a team that lost 11 players to graduation. Union College swept Rensselaer over the weekend, and has now won five of six after a slow start.

Providence has won five in a row after a sweep at Vermont. Goalie Jon Gillies has a 1.59 goals against average and a .949 save pct with 3 shutouts. After a brutal start, New Hampshire has won five in a row, allowing just four goals in that span. U Mass-Lowell has won seven of eight after a road sweep at Penn State, and Boston College is 5-0-1 since being badly beaten by the Gophers in late October. Seven of Hockey East’s 11 teams are now above .500. This weekend, UND will visit one of the few Hockey East teams that isn’t playing all that well, Boston University.

The Gophers continued rolling with a home sweep against Minnesota State. Coach Don Lucia decided to start backup goalie Michael Shibrowski on Saturday and was rewarded with a 25-save shutout. The freshmen continue to lead the way for the Gophers. Wisconsin, with Joel Rumpel back in goal, earned a split at Miami with a 3-2 win on Saturday. Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha split a pair of one goal games, and Denver swept Western Michigan at home. The Pioneers are on top of the NCHC standings.

‘Dynamic Duo’ Update

Danny Kristo and Corban Knight continue to light it up in the AHL. Knight has six goals and 10 assists for 16 points in 19 games. Kristo, nine goals and sevens assists for 16 points in 16 games.

UND-Boston Preview

Boston University (5-6) is one of the most storied programs in US college hockey. Early last season BU visited Grand Forks for a two game series. The Terriers lost on Friday and entered the third period of Saturday’s game trailing 2-1, 20 minutes away from being swept. BU shocked UND and the crowd at the Ralph by scoring three goals in the third period and headed back to Boston with a split.

But with eight freshmen in the lineup and a first-year coach behind the bench, it’s impossible to predict what we’re going to see this weekend. BU is coming off a 4-1 home win vs. Connecticut, but that was two days after being embarrassed 7-0 up at Maine. That was BU’s worst defeat in 18 years.

Believe it or not, the Terriers gave up a shorthanded goal while on a two-man advantage in that loss to Maine. Coach David Quinn admits his team is a “mentally fragile group right now.” Statistically, BU is being outscored and outshot pretty badly, especially in the third period. Its power play is decent at 21 percentg. Two of BU’s four top scorers are defensemen, Ahti Oksanen and Garrett Noonan. Freshman forward Robbie Baillargeon leads the team with nine points. So we have two programs with a lot of pride and a lot of history, and neither is playing particularly well right now. It should be interesting. Friday’s game will be telecast on the NBC Sports Network, and Saturday’s will be on Midco.

Games to Watch

We have two great match-ups in Hockey East this weekend. UNH plays a pair at Providence and Notre Dame travels to U Mass-Lowell, also for a two game set. Minnesota-Duluth will play Friday and Sunday games at Minnesota, both on Fox Sports North. In the NCHC, Miami plays a pair at Omaha and Colorado College visits St. Cloud State.

Look at the Polls

In this week’s poll, North Dakota drops another two spots to 15th, and continues to be the only sub .500 team ranked in the top 20. Is this indicative of the respect the North Dakota hockey program garners across the country? I think so. Union College and New Hampshire are newly ranked this week, replacing two teams that dropped a pair over the weekend, Northeastern and St. Lawrence. We’ll see St. Lawrence and prolific scorer Greg Carey in two weeks at the Ralph. ECAC Hockey continues to lead the way with six ranked teams.

Frozen Dozen

And my Frozen Dozen this week: 1) Minnesota, 2) Quinnipiac, 3) Providence, 4) St. Cloud State, 5) Boston College, 6) Michigan, 7) Ferris State, 8) Notre Dame, 9) Miami, 10) Clarkson, 11) Union, 12) U Mass-Lowell

Mark Schuttenhelm’s column on college                                                hockey runs each Thursday in The Sun