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UND looks to improve faceoffs

FNS Photo by John Stennes University of North Dakota’s Drake Caggiula, right, checks St. Lawrence’s Brian Ward during a nonconference game on Saturday at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

By Brad Schlossman

Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS — Winning faceoffs is not a concern Dave Hakstol has had in a while.

Thanks to players such as Corban Knight, Brad Malone, Chris VandeVelde, T.J. Oshie, Jonathan Toews, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise, the University of North Dakota has ranked near the top nationally in that category each year in the last decade.

But this season, that dominant center is not there yet.

For the first time since UND started keeping the statistic in 2003-04, UND is under 50 percent in faceoff wins.

Entering this weekend’s series at Western Michigan, UND has a 49.9 percentage in the dot (457-459) — and it is a major reason why UND has struggled on the penalty kill in recent weeks.

Prior to this season, UND’s worst faceoff percentage in the last decade is 51.7 percent.

“It’s something we’re working on,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “You look at some of the experience level we have up the middle and that’s an area of the game that you really improve with maturity. Go back to Corban Knight — that’s a skill he worked at and improved during his time here. All of our centermen have to work and improve that.”

So far, junior Stephane Pattyn has been UND’s top faceoff man at 52.7 percent. Mark MacMillan, who has missed the last four games with a lower-body injury, is at 52 percent. Connor Gaarder is at 51 percent.

The two players who have taken the most draws on the team — freshman Luke Johnson and sophomore Drake Caggiula — are at 49.4 and 47.8 percent, respectively.

“We’ve been inconsistent,” Hakstol said. “We’ve had guys on Friday nights have good nights. Then, Saturday night, you look at the stats and all of the sudden they are 3-11. Each centerman has to improve what they are doing on a consistent basis and our five-man effort on faceoffs has to improve.”

Each of the last four years, UND has had at least two centers over 56.7 percent, which is considered elite.

UND’s team faceoff percentage in 2010-11 was 56.3 percent. The last two years it has been 54.1 and 52.5 percent.

Some of UND’s top faceoff players over the years have been Knight (59.9 percent), Parise (59.1 percent), Oshie (58.6), Malone (57.7), Mario Lamoureux (57.3) and Toews (57.2)

UND hopes to work its way toward those marks gradually.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work the last two weeks,” Pattyn said. “That’s definitely something we need to work on. It’s the start of a play. Either we’re chasing and trying to get it back or we’re starting with the puck ready to make plays. It’s a huge part of the game and definitely something we need to keep working at.”

Hakstol said UND’s inability to consistently win faceoffs has been evident in special teams.

“I think the biggest area, as a coach, where I notice it, is in our D-zone five-on-five. . . and a real spotlight on special teams,” Hakstol said. “With that offensive zone faceoff for a team on a power play, it’s a big difference if you are starting with possession of the puck in the zone vs. chasing 200 feet and giving the PK an opportunity.”

Hakstol said he is hopeful that MacMillan will be able to re-join the lineup this weekend. He has practiced this week and a final decision will be made today or Friday morning.

If he does return, he could be of big help in the faceoff dot for UND.

“It’s not easy to jump back in,” Hakstol said, pointing out that MacMillan also played injured for two weeks before sitting out. “If he comes come back and, and if he does play up the middle, eventually, he’s a guy that’s pretty good in the faceoff dot. Where he makes a big difference for us is on the penalty kill.”

LaDue out Friday

UND freshman defenseman Paul LaDue will be benched for Friday’s game against the Broncos after receiving a citation for a noisy party this week.

LaDue, 21, has one goal and four assists in 14 games for UND. He has not missed a game this season.

In his absence, freshman Keaton Thompson is expected to stay in the lineup. Thompson, of Devils Lake, was named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference rookie of the week for his two-point weekend against St. Lawrence.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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