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UND hockey faces offensive challenges, a Pairwise hole and a mountain of criticism

University of North Dakota forward Nick Jones (8) and Minnesota State Mankato defenseman Riese Zmolek (25) duke it out in front of Mavericks goalie Dryson McKay during a game earlier this season at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota hockey team returned from Buffalo, N.Y., early Sunday morning, Jan. 6, facing three big things: a high level of frustration after only scoring twice on 162 shot attempts, a big hole in the Pairwise Rankings to dig out of, and a mountain of criticism from the fans -- both rational and irrational.

They went to work in practice this week looking to address No. 1.

They’re awaiting Friday night’s game against Colorado College at 7:37 p.m. in Ralph Engelstad Arena to start work on No. 2.

And they’re very aware of No. 3.

“We know we have a passionate fan base, and if I was a fan, I’d be frustrated at times, too, with this team,” UND senior center Nick Jones said. “But we’re focused on Friday night and what we can do Friday night. There’s going to be a lot of outside noise this week with how the weekend went. Sticking together as a group is the main message there.

“We know we have passionate fans here and that’s a benefit of living here. Playing for this university, times can be tough with that going on, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re fortunate to have the fan base we have here. In terms of listening to that stuff, we listen to the 26 guys in the locker room and the staff.”

UND (9-9-1) is looking to find a way to generate more offensive production after managing just two goals on 162 shot attempts and 82 shots on goal in a pair of losses at Canisius College last weekend.

UND ranks last among National Collegiate Hockey Conference teams in goals per game (2.42) and 48th of 60 teams nationally.

“We need more from our top guys,” Jones said. “Myself especially.”

Practice drills this week were centered around finishing -- both off the rush and in the zone. The coaching staff has emphasized both shot selection and getting more bodies to the net to screen the goalie and to finish off rebounds.

“There hasn’t been any ambivalence at all in our locker room over the last few days here,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “Obviously, it’s a frustrating time here right now, going into a building and playing reasonably well and not getting a result. I think the only period that we left on the table was Friday night’s first period. After that, I thought we did the right thing, but obviously it wasn’t good enough to get the result. So, now we’re working on things to try to get that result. It’s a group that’s strong and confident, yet hungry.”

UND freshman Mark Senden captained the Fargo Force to a second-half run last season that ended with a United States Hockey League Clark Cup title. The Force started the season with 23 wins and 21 losses (seven in OT or shootout). They finished the season 25-5.

“I strongly believe we have the team to do it here,” Senden said. “We have a lot of grit and determination to do it. We want to make that second-half push here. Obviously, we have to find a way to put the puck in the net.

“We had 49 shots. We had it sitting right there, we just have to find that extra little small thing to make it go over the goal line.”

Jones said a key is staying strong mentally.

“It’s mentally draining to go over there and lose two games that you definitely really want to have,” Jones said. “Mentally that can take a toll on you, but when you’ve got the group that we have in this locker room, we firmly believe that we’re going to have a great weekend this weekend, starting with Friday night.”

Banged up again

UND may have to find a way to generate more offense without one of its top goal-scorers.

Berry wasn’t sure whether sophomore forward Grant Mismash, the team’s second-leading goal-scorer, would be able to play against Colorado College.

Mismash is questionable and listed as “day to day.” Mismash, a second-round draft pick of the Nashville Predators, sustained an undisclosed injury late in Friday’s game against Canisius and didn’t play Saturday.

UND also will be without forward Joel Janatuinen (undisclosed), while it is unlikely to have defenseman Jonny Tychonick (lower body) back. Tychonick hasn’t played since Dec. 1.

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