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UND coach deserves credit

Much has been made of the job UND head coach Dave Hakstol has done this season.

Hakstol is a finalist for the Spencer Penrose Award, given annually to the top coach in college hockey. Many, including ex-UND coach Gino Gasparini and Dave Starman of CBS/ESPN, have lauded Hakstol’s performance this season, leading the team to the Frozen Four despite having a distinct lack of high-end offensive talent. This UND team has only one legitimate point-a-game scorer (Rocco Grimaldi).

UND, in the last three years, has lost no fewer than nine point-a-game scorers to graduation and early pro signings. The list includes Matt Frattin, Jason Gregoire, Evan Trupp, Brad Malone, Chay Genoway, Brock Nelson, Carter Rowney, Danny Kristo, and Corban Knight. That’s a lot of firepower to replace, yes, but has the incoming talent kept up with the outgoing? To be fair to Hakstol, a few top prospects, including Miles Koules and Stefan Matteau, have decommitted from the UND program in recent years. Let’s take a look at UND’s last two recruiting classes.

The 2012-13 class featured four forwards, Drake Caggiula, Colten St. Clair, Coltyn Sanderson, and Bryn Chyzyk. Only Caggiula, scoring about half a point a game in his two years here, has developed into an offensive threat. St. Clair and Chyzyk are fourth line role players and Sanderson has hardly played in his two years at UND.

To be fair, that class also included talented defenseman Jordan Schmaltz and goalie Zane Gothberg. Schmaltz, a first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues, is an excellent D-man with solid offensive skills. He should continue to improve. As for Gothberg, it took a bit of time for him to settle into his role, but he should be a top level Division I goalie for the next two years.

This year’s class was filled with defensemen, as the loss of Andrew MacWilliam, Derek Forbort, and Joe Gleason left a gaping hole back there on the blue line. Paul LaDue, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Gage Ausmus have done a good job, especially in the second half of the season. However, the story with forwards Luke Johnson, Wade Murphy, and Adam Tambellini is not so rosy.

Only Johnson, scoring a bit better than half a point a game this season, has been a factor on offense. Tambellini, who bailed on the program, and Murphy, have contributed very little. The jury is still out on goalie Matt Hrynkiw.

These classes are loaded with blue-line talent and a good goaltender, no question about that.

Of the seven forwards though, just two, Caggiula and Johnson, have contributed significantly on the offensive side. I do bring some good news, though. Incoming this fall are three forwards putting up big numbers in the USHL. Nick Schmaltz, Jordan’s brother, Grand Forks product John Simonson, and Trevor Olson of Duluth, Minn., are all bringing their considerable skills to Grand Forks. I’ll have a complete look at all the incoming recruits in the fall.

Frozen Four Preview

Last week I wrote about some of the good fortune the hockey Gods have bestowed upon UND over the past week or so, and asked if it might continue at the Frozen Four in Philly. For the sake of North Dakota hockey fans nationwide, it must. In an unusual turn of events, North Dakota (25-13-3, strength of schedule rank 29th) is the clear underdog in this group, much as Yale was last season. Minnesota (27-6-6, SOS 4th), Boston College (28-7-4, SOS 6th), and Union College (30-6-4, SOS 28th), are unquestionably the three best teams in the nation. Of course, in a one-game elimination, a favorable bounce or a hot goalie can make the difference. Having said that, it’s clear to me that beating Minnesota and the Boston College/Union winner will be a colossal undertaking for the boys in kelly green and white.

UND vs. Minnesota,                   7:30 p.m., ESPN 2

These two, having gone their separate ways after leaving the WCHA, did not play this season for the first time in some 40 years. Might as well continue the rivalry at the Frozen Four, and let the whole country enjoy this grudge match.

North Dakota: UND’s strengths include balanced scoring, a persistant forecheck, solid goaltending, and a high scoring defense corps. North Dakota has won three in a row, but is just 6-4 in its last 10. UND has 14 players scoring in double digits, and four (Grimaldi, Parks, Mark MacMillan, Caggiula) with 10 goals or more. The high scoring defense corps includes Jordan Schmaltz (6 goals-17 assists-23 points), Nick Mattson (4G-19A-23 Pts), Dillon Simpson (7G-15A-22 Pts), and Paul LaDue (6G-15A-21 Pts).

Goalie Zane Gothberg (20-9-3, 1.99 GAA, .926 save percentage, 3 shutouts) has put together a solid season. His play in the regional final is the reason UND is here instead of Ferris State. Goals scored (3.07) and allowed (2.44) per game and specialty team (17.4 power play, 83.3 penalty kill) numbers are middle of the pack. UND is winning 52.4 percent of its face-offs (11th ranked). Dillon Simpson, with 107, is the top shot blocker in the nation.

Minnesota: The Gophers were the best team in the country for much of the season. Minnesota is 8-2-1 in its last 11. The Gophers also have 14 players scoring in double figures, and five (Rau, Warning, Ambroz, Kloos, Fasching) with 10 goals or better. Their main threat from the blue line is the speedy Mike Reilly (9G-23A-32 Pts), who has a green light to jump up into the play at anytime.

Minnesota freshman have scored 56 goals, most in the nation. Kyle Rau has scored six game-winners and seven on the power play. Adam Wilcox (25-5-6, 1.89, .934, 4 SO) is one of the best goalies in the country. The Gophers are 17-0-5 when scoring first, and are unbeaten when leading after the first or the second period. Minnesota scores 3.51 goals/game and allows 2.00, good for a goal margin of plus-1.51 (3rd). They are fourth in face offs, winning them at a .543 clip. The only Minnesota stat that isn’t dominant is special teams. The Gophers power play is clicking at 20.2 percent (16th) and their penalty kill stands at 82.9 percent(25th).

Comments: Four keys for UND ... an effective forecheck, staying out of the penalty box, limit turnovers in the neutral zone, solid (if not great) goaltending. Success in these areas and North Dakota can make a game of it.

Boston College vs. Union               4 p.m., ESPN2

It’s only fitting that the two best teams from the eastern half of the country would battle at the Frozen Four. Last year, Union used special teams (3 of 7 on the power play, 7 of 7 on the penalty kill) to knock BC out in the east region semifinal, 5-1.

Boston College: BC comes in with a 20-3-2 record since December (when the Gaudreau-Hayes-Arnold line was put together), and all three losses came against Notre Dame, so I’m sure no tears were shed at Chestnut Hill when The Irish were eliminated. BC is first in team offense (4.10 GPG), eighth in team defense (2.28 GPG), and first in goal margin (plus-1.82). Special teams are both top five in the nation (Power play 24.1 percent, PK 90.4), and the Eagles are third in face-offs, winning 54.3 percent.

Offensively, BC is led by the most prolific scoring line we’ve seen in some time (Johnny Gaudreau 35G-42A-77 Pts, Kevin Hayes 27G-36A-63 Pts, Bill Arnold 14G-38A-52 Pts). Captain Patrick Brown (14G-15A-29 Pts) has scored some big goals down the stretch. On the blue line, the Eagles are led by a pair of stud defensemen, Mike Matheson and Ian McCoshen. Freshman goalie Thatcher Demko (2.16GAA, .920) won the starting job around mid-season, but I would not place him among the elite goalies in college hockey.

Union College: Union has won 10 in a row (allowing just 1.1 goals per game with 4 shutouts), and is unbeaten in 15. The Dutchmen are second in team offense (3.70 GPG), fourth in team defense (2.05 GPG), and second in goal margin (plus-1.65). Their power play is 9th in the country at 21.6 percent. The only underwhelming stats associated with this team are its penalty kill (83.0 percent, 24th in the nation) and its weakness on face-offs (.453, 56th in the country). We can expect to see BC dominate the draws in this one. Offensively, Union is led by a pair of Daniel’s, Carr (22G-26A-48 Pts) and Ciampini (19G-17A-36 Pts).

Forwards Max Novak and Matt Hatch were dominant in Union’s two wins at the east regional. Union features a pair of offensive stars on the blue line, Mat Bodie (6G-29A-35PTS), and Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Shayne Gostisbehere (8G-21A-29 Pts). Gostisbehere is the best all around D-man I’ve seen this season. Unheralded goalie Colin Stevens (26-4-2, 1.93 GAA, .932, 6 shutouts) is among the best in the country.

Comments: Both teams are playing great hockey, but I give Union the edge in goal. If Union can contain the Gaudreau line, the Dutchmen should prevail.

How will it play out?

On the “western” side of the bracket, both Minnesota and UND have a fair amount of freshmen, and how they handle the pressure might just decide who plays for the national championship. On the “eastern side,” we have two great hockey teams, Union and BC, playing at a very high level. In truth, there is very little separation between Minnesota, Union, and BC. And of course, UND is fully capable of playing spoiler.

Predictions? I’d have to go with Minnesota and Union in the semis, with the Union Dutchmen winning the championship. Either way, this should be a Frozen Four to remember.

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