OXFORD, Ohio -- The players walked through the loading dock Thursday afternoon, Nov. 8, to haul their gear back into Goggin Ice Arena.
It was sunny, the temperature was around 50 degrees. The players were upbeat, on a four-game winning streak ahead of this weekend’s series against Miami University.
It was different the last time they walked through the same loading dock.
Last February, they hauled gear in pouring rain after a fateful winless weekend that ultimately sealed their season’s fate.
North Dakota missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in 16 years -- and a single game in this building was the difference.
The Fighting Hawks led Miami 3-0 in the second period of the series opener before giving up four straight goals and losing 4-3 in overtime.
Had UND held onto that lead and won the game, it would have been in the NCAA tournament for a 16th-straight season. Minnesota Duluth, which went on to win the national championship, would have been out.
That fact was not lost on the returning players and coaches this week.
“We always talk about turning the page and starting at zero -- and we do -- but we’d be remiss if we didn’t bring up (last year’s) Miami weekend earlier this week,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “We left points on the table. We left two games on the table that we dearly needed. Put aside things like players who weren’t in the lineup that weekend, we needed those games and didn’t get them. That culminated in us not getting in the national tournament.”
UND sophomore forward Jordan Kawaguchi said: “It definitely wasn’t our best series. Kind of some bad memories. We needed those games and it definitely hurt us getting in the tournament. I think coach has already addressed that and we’ve put that behind us and said, ‘Let’s try to get two wins this weekend.’”
The Fighting Hawks (4-2-1) open National Collegiate Hockey Conference play at 6:35 p.m. today against the 7-3 RedHawks, who are off to their best start in four seasons.
Miami is similar to last year up front, led by the NCHC’s leading scorer, Gordie Green (12 points in 10 games), senior Josh Melnick (10 points) and junior Karch Bachman (six points).
“They’re pretty skilled and quick,” Kawaguchi said. “They were a good team last year and even better this year with all the guys they have returning. They have some good, skilled guys. We have to take care of those guys, for sure.”
The big difference for the RedHawks has been on defense and in goal. Rookies Derek Daschke and 6-foot-6 Bray Crowder have become regulars, contributing both offensively and defensively. Dartmouth grad transfer River Rymsha also has played a big role.
Junior defensemen Grant Frederic and Chaz Switzer, regulars in each of the last two seasons, have essentially been sidelined because of added depth.
Junior goalie Ryan Larkin has been excellent, posting a 6-2 record with a 1.51 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage.
“We have to make sure we get dialed in and focused,” Berry said. “We don’t want to have to look back when we’re in the second half of the year saying, “woulda, coulda, shoulda.”Hoff, Hain out
UND will be without two forwards this weekend.
Junior forward Ludvig Hoff (undisclosed injury) and freshman forward Gavin Hain (illness) did not make the trip to Oxford.
Hoff played on a line with Cole Smith and Mark Senden last Saturday against Wisconsin. Berry singled out that line and praised their play in a postgame press conference.
Freshman forward Jackson Keane, who sustained an injury during morning skate two weeks ago in Las Vegas, did travel and is expected to be available to play. Keane has played one game so far this season.
The only other player who didn't travel is third goalie Ryan Anderson.No. 11 UND at No. 19 Miami
When: 6:35 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, Ohio.
Records: UND 4-2-1, Miami 7-3.
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
Of note: UND has won four games in a row.