UND rookies making an impactGRAND FORKS — Ask the University of North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol to describe the personalities of his freshman class. He will laugh.
By: Brad Schlossman, Forum Communications Co.
GRAND FORKS — Ask the University of North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol to describe the personalities of his freshman class. He will laugh.
That says it all about the 10 rookies, who have provided light moments around the locker room and excitement on the ice this season for a Sioux team that has made a remarkable charge down the stretch.
UND, which sat in 11th place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings in November, finished fourth, won the league playoff title and will be a No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament begins Saturday in St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
“They span such a wide range,” Hakstol said. “They’re a fun class. That’s a way to talk about our freshmen. There are so many different personalities there. We’ve got it all the way from Mark MacMillan, who like Brad Eidsness, probably has his entire year planned out before he steps foot on campus, all the way down to somebody who stepped on campus late and has become best known as ‘Jim’ — and everything in between.”
UND signed arguably the top two recruits in college hockey last spring in forwards J.T. Miller and Rocco Grimaldi. Miller bolted for Canada before showing up on campus and Grimaldi has missed almost the entire season with an injury.
But the other guys have stepped in to make big impacts — especially down the stretch.
Michael Parks had four points in the first 20 games of the season. He has 17 in the last 20.
MacMillan had eight points in the first half of the season and has 14 points in the second half, including nine in the last six games.
Walk-on forwards Connor Gaarder and Stephane Pattyn have combined for 17 points and have been reliable players, while Dan “Jim” Senkbeil has transitioned from defense to forward, where he has tallied a point in three straight weekends.
On the back end, Nick Mattson has six goals and 19 points. He’s been a key cog on the power play, while Andrew Panzarella has played in 38 of 40 games.
Grimaldi and Brendan O’Donnell are sitting out with injuries, while Colten St. Clair was not cleared by the NCAA.
“All in their own way added to the character of the team, added to the performance level of this team and they’re all good teammates,” Hakstol said. “That’s a big part of this. Each individual brings his own piece to the puzzle.”
Hakstol said the rookies are excelling away from the ice, too.
“A lot of times, things go hand-in-hand with what they’re doing off the ice,” he said. “Academically, it’s a real good class. They’ve been pretty low maintenance. They’ve done a good job in the classroom and around campus and that seems to carry over to what they bring every day to practice. They bring a solid work level.”
Hakstol said the consistency level has been much better in the second half. That’s very evident in Parks, who had a nine-game point drought in the first half. Since Christmas, Parks has a point every weekend.
“It’s much better than it was back in October,” Hakstol said. “That’s to be very much expected. Their work ethic and level of effort at the rink day in and day out is pretty consistent.”
Like Hakstol, junior defenseman-turned-forward Joe Gleason also laughed when asked about the rookies.
“They’re a great crew. They remind me of our freshman class when we came in with 10 guys. There are a lot of different characters. They mesh really well together. They’ve really bought into the system. None of them are big-shot ego guys. They all just want to do what they can to help the team win. It’s been cool to watch the adjustment they’ve made in the second half.”
Schlossman is a sports reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.