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No. 3 UND hockey will be tested greatly in coming weeks

GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota men's hockey team was rarely challenged during the first month-plus of the season. It has one loss in 10 games. It has outshot its opponent in all 10 games -- more often than not by a wide margin. And...

GRAND FORKS - The University of North Dakota men’s hockey team was rarely challenged during the first month-plus of the season.
It has one loss in 10 games. It has outshot its opponent in all 10 games - more often than not by a wide margin. And it enters this week with the nation’s No. 3 ranking.
But the truth is that we haven’t learned a ton about this team yet.
The best opponent that UND has played this season is 3-4-3 Wisconsin. The other five teams have a combined record of 5-32-8. Outside of the Badgers, no other UND opponent has a winning percentage better than .300.
It’s about to get a lot harder.
Miami University, which comes to Ralph Engelstad Arena for a two-game series at 7:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday, will be UND’s first opponent with a winning record.
After the RedHawks, UND will close the first half with series against No. 9 St. Cloud State (6-2), Michigan State (4-3-1), No. 8 Denver (5-3) and No. 13 Minnesota Duluth, a team much better than its 3-4-2 record.
At that point, we’ll know a lot more about this North Dakota squad.
Yes, UND has done nearly everything asked so far. You can only play the games on the schedule, and North Dakota has dictated those games, as it should.
But it hasn’t had to deal with a highly skilled opponent that will make you pay for the smallest of mistakes. The goaltenders haven’t been under heavy duress at any point this season. The defensemen have rarely been hemmed in their own end for extended periods of time.
The upcoming opponents can do all of those things.
Friday night’s 3-1 loss to Wisconsin was the first message to this UND team that it’s not going to be able to sleepwalk through games and get positive results. A week earlier, it won a pair of games against Colorado College with average performances. That didn’t happen against the Badgers and won’t happen the rest of the first half.
The forwards are going to find out that time and space isn’t going to be easy to come by. They will find out that goals aren’t always going to be pretty transition plays. They will find out how difficult it is to score on wrist shots and slap shots when nobody is screening the goalies.
The defensemen, most of whom have been through the National Collegiate Hockey Conference grind, will be reminded that breakdowns in coverage have a much better chance at ending up in the back of their own net.
The goaltenders, who haven’t had to make a save on a clean breakaway in eight straight games, will be called upon to bail out the rest of the team a lot more often.
UND has some promising pieces in place, and things have looked pretty good to this point in the season.
But we’ll learn a lot more in the next month.

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