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Hawks won’t break up a good thing: Hain-Senden-Smith line now leads the way for UND

UND's Gavin Hain (10) skates to the boards after scoring his second goal of the night against SCSU as linemate Cole Smith hits Husky defenseman Jake Wahlin in the third period. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Brad Berry decided to shuffle the line combinations during the third period last Saturday night, Feb. 23. He juggled players to different lines. He moved players to different wings.

But there was one thing Berry wasn’t going to touch: the Gavin Hain, Mark Senden and Cole Smith line.

The trio has unexpectedly become the University of North Dakota’s go-to line this season. They start every game. They’ve scored on the first shift of the game twice in the past two weeks. They’re excellent defensively. They’re remarkably efficient offensively.

Berry now lists them as the top line on the line chart -- and the statistics verify that.

In the last month of the season, UND’s leading scorer is Senden, a walk-on freshman who initially wasn’t even scheduled to come until next season. He got moved into this freshman class when another one decided late in the summer that he wasn’t going to come anymore.

Hain, a freshman from Grand Rapids, Minn., has the best ratio of any player in the country in goals for percentage, according to College Hockey News. Hain has been on the ice for 15 UND goals this season and just two against, a percentage of 88.2 percent. Hain has only been on the ice for one even-strength goal against this entire season.

Since Christmas, their line is combined plus-25. During that same time, the rest of the forwards on the team are a combined minus-8 and only three are on the positive side of plus-minus.

“That’s someone taking an opportunity when they get it and fully embracing it and making the most of it,” said Berry. “These guys are going to be here next year, too. They’re our future. They’re all leaders and they’re taking the bull by the horns right now.”

The first time Hain, Senden and Smith skated together was in Las Vegas against Minnesota.

Hain was listed as the extra skater that game, and was mixed in on shifts with Senden and Smith. As the game progressed, the coaching staff noticed how dominant that trio was every shift and continually put them together.

Their line was on the ice when UND defenseman Colton Poolman scored the game-tying goal to even it at 1-1. The Fighting Hawks went on to win 3-1.

“One thing is that they were possessing the puck,” Berry said. “Most of the time, they had the puck. Good things happened when they did have the puck, and they had the puck time and time again. Consistency is a big thing.

“They all play the right way. They’re all responsible. They all play a hard and heavy game. They give you a chance to play in the offensive zone. They’ve done it consistently throughout the year. I know we’ve split them up once or twice to try to add to other lines, but we always keep coming back to them because we know that works.”

After the Minnesota game, Hain missed two weeks with an illness. Once Hain returned, Berry immediately put that group back together.

In the past 22 games, they’ve only been split up three times. UND lost all three games -- a 6-2 defeat to Western Michigan, a 2-1 defeat at Canisius and a 3-1 loss to St. Cloud State.

“Ever since the beginning, I’ve enjoyed it,” Smith said. “They’re just fun guys to play with. I love their passion. Both of them get fired up every game. That kind of feeds into the way I go into games, too. I think they have the fire and they have the competitiveness and that’s what I love the most about them.”

Smith said that Hain, a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, brings the skill to the group. Senden provides work ethic.

“The work ethic he has is unparalleled among the people I’ve met,” Smith said. “He can just go, go, go, go.”

On Friday night, Feb. 29, they’ll likely start the game and be expected to set the tone again.

“We like to bring it right away,” Smith said. “That’s what our line is all about -- being able to go right from the start all the way to the finish.”

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