ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

University of North Dakota men's hockey has weathered off-season changes well

GRAND FORKS -- On a sleepy Monday morning in May, everything seemed to change for the University of North Dakota hockey program.Not only was the team losing a large senior class and one of its best captains of the last decade, it was losing head ...

GRAND FORKS - On a sleepy Monday morning in May, everything seemed to change for the University of North Dakota hockey program.
Not only was the team losing a large senior class and one of its best captains of the last decade, it was losing head coach Dave Hakstol, who was making a nearly unprecedented move straight from college to the NHL.
In the coming months, UND would lose Zane McIntyre, the best goalie in college hockey, and standout defenseman Jordan Schmaltz to NHL contracts, too.
Lots of questions followed.
What would happen without McIntyre and all of those seniors? What would happen to the program without the steady hand of Hakstol, who made the NCAA tournament in all 11 seasons as coach and guided the team to seven Frozen Fours?
UND has delivered an unexpected answer during the first half of the 2015-16 season.
Through 20 games of the Brad Berry era, UND is 16-2-2, ranked in the top five nationally and sits atop the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings.
Here are the top five reasons why UND has excelled this first half:
1. The coaching staff
In the wake of Hakstol’s departure for Philadelphia, UND wasted no time in naming Berry the new head coach. There was hardly any time for players or recruits to question what would happen or wonder about the future of the program.
With Berry, everyone knew the main principles of the program would stay intact and all of the recruits quickly re-affirmed their commitment to the program.
2. The explosive top line
Senior Drake Caggiula, sophomore Nick Schmaltz and freshman Brock Boeser have teamed together to form arguably the most dynamic line in the nation.
Through 20 games, they have combined for 29 goals, 74 points and a plus-78 rating. They have scored at least one goal in every game they’ve played together. Individually, all three of them have put together terrific first halves.
3. As-advertised defensive corps
With so many regulars returning on the blue line - Troy Stecher, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Gage Ausmus and Keaton Thompson - it was supposed to be a big strength. It has been just that for North Dakota.
They’ve done a remarkable job at limiting opponent scoring chances, breakaways and odd-man rushes. Through 20 regular-season games, UND goalies have faced three clean breakaways (and stopped all three).
4. Surprising goaltending
The biggest question facing UND came in net. None of its goaltenders had completed a college game entering the season.
The situation became more complicated when both scholarship goalies - Matej Tomek and Cam Johnson - went out with injuries.
But third-string goalie Matt Hrynkiw was outstanding in filling in, going 9-2-1 with a .911 save percentage and a 2.11 goals-against average.
5. Road warriors
UND has played more games away from home than any other school in the nation outside of Division-I transitioning Arizona State. It has been away from The Ralph for 13 of 20 games, but has lost just one of them.
Road games haven’t been a problem for this team, which posted two-game sweeps at Vermont, Colorado College, Michigan State and Minnesota Duluth.
Although UND’s season has been strong to this point, there are plenty of areas where this team can improve during the second half of the season.
Here are three reasons why UND can be better come January:
1. Depth of production
Outside of the top line, UND stands to get more production from its second, third and fourth lines down the stretch.
Bryn Chyzyk, who had a dynamic start to the season, went quiet at the end of the first half, going without a point in nine straight games. Luke Johnson, Chris Wilkie and Shane Gersich also figure to be more involved in the second half.
Once they get those lines going, UND will be more difficult to stop.
2. Special teams
UND has a new power play setup this year, coached by first-year assistant Matt Shaw. The team has had its ups and downs adjusting to the new system.
Surprisingly, the Caggiula, Schmaltz and Boeser trio has struggled to score with the extra man. That won’t last all season.
3. Home cooking
After being on the road for much of the first half, UND returns home in the second half to play 10 of its final 16 regular-season games in The Ralph.
UND is 22-3-3 at home in its last 28 games. Coming back to The Ralph, which has been sold out for all seven home games this season, should provide a boost.

What To Read Next
Members Only
Dickinson's Michael McChesney helps lead Team USA to a silver medal finish in the World University Games, inspiring young athletes to strive for greatness
Members Only
Midgets’ late goal would only serve as a consolation, falling to the Demons 2-1 in gritty performance highlighting signs of season-long improvement
With talented players from 6 different states, including North Dakota and Montana, the Blue Hawks are poised for another winning season with key additions to the team's roster.
The Tuesday, Jan. 31, game between Sioux Falls Lincoln and Watertown was forced to move after junior JT Rock broke the rim with a powerful two-handed dunk. Rock is committed to play at Iowa State.