Sunday, October 4, 2015

Roses and Thorns: Reasons for Excitement

Pure goal scoring.

Dynamic, game-breaking, cold-blooded goal scoring.

Whatever superlative you'd like to name it, the UND men's hockey team has lacked a pure goal-scoring punch over the last few seasons. Couple that sentiment with the fact the the Green and White lost six of it's 10 leading point producers from last season either to graduation or professional hockey, the need for scoring was a major story line heading into the 2015-16 season.

Albeit in exhibition form, UND may have gotten a glimpse of a special crop of goal scorers in a 8-3 drubbing of the Manitoba Bisons on Saturday night.

Trailing 2-1 early the second period, the Green and White ripped off seven unanswered goals en route to a victory. Of those eight goals, four came off the sticks of freshmen suiting up for the first time for UND.

For those of you new to the blog, DDC takes a look back at each weekend's series with his Roses and Thorns. Roses are the positives with Thorns being negatives.

So, let's take a look at what stood out.


Freshman forward Brock Boeser notched his first goal in Green and White
in UND's 8-3 exhibition win on Saturday. (Photo credit: GF Herald)

No. 1 -- New Blood

As mentioned before, UND got four of its eight goals on Saturday night from freshmen. Three more came off the stick of Johnny Simonson, a sophomore that did not score a goal in just 22 appearances as a freshman. Brock Boeser gave the fans a peek at what looks to be pretty special ability, firing a laser that beat the Bisons' netminder high glove side, tying the game at one in the first period. Then in the second, Shane Gersich notched back-to-back goals in a span of 12 seconds to give UND the lead. Joel Janatuinen also scored his first goal in a UND uniform. The production wasn't just goal scoring. Boeser, Janatuinen and Chris Wilkie also notched assists. So, in total, the Green and White underclassmen (freshmen and sophomores) tallied 15 points with seven of those coming from freshmen. An encouraging start, to say the least.

No. 2 -- Don't Forget About Us

Some of UND's "elder statesmen" shined, as well. Junior assistant captain Troy Stecher looked dynamic on Saturday night, tallying three assists and fellow junior Keaton Thompson added two, including a terrific pass off the side boards from the defensive zone to spring Boeser for his goal. The upperclassman, especially in the defensive corps, will need to continue to shine as scoring from freshmen can't be expected every night, particularly early on in the season.

No. 3 -- Effort Before Execution

New head coach Brad Berry echoed the idea of "effort before execution" to his young team in the week leading up to the exhibition win. That certainly showed on Saturday night. Despite trailing 1-0 and 2-1 early on in this game, UND never let off the gas. The Green and White peppered the Manitoba net with 56 shots on goal and carried a tremendous pace throughout. Credit the veterans and coaching staff for keeping the freshmen from being starry-eyed in their first appearance in front of their rowdy, Ralph Engelstad Arena crowd.


Sr. F, Colten St. Clair
will miss the first half
of the season due to injury.

No. 1 -- Injuries

Already? C'mon!

UND found out on Friday that it will be without senior forward Colten St. Clair for half the season after suffering an arm injury in practice that will require surgery. Also, freshman goaltender and third-round NHL draft pick Matej Tomek sat out on Saturday with a nagging wrist injury. Tomek's injury, however, looks like it won't keep the Slovak rookie out much longer.

Here's to hoping that this is never a thorn again, this season.

No. 2 -- Shaky Start Between the Pipes


Goaltending, behind the play of All-American Zane McIntrye, hasn't been a question mark for UND over the past two seasons. With the injury to Tomek, it was sophomore Cam Johnson's net on Saturday night for an early audition. Although Johnson's play didn't decide the game in anyway, the netminder didn't impress, allowing three goals on just 12 shots faced, including two in his first four. Johnson, who was pulled in the first period in his only action as a freshman, fought the puck a bit on Saturday and had two goals in particular that he'd most likely want back. The Michigan native will likely be an important piece for this UND squad as the Green and White look to replace a gaping hole. Despite having an excellent defensive corps in front of him this season, Johnson simply needs to be better going forward.

So, that's it.

Come back later this week as UND prepares to head to Portland, Maine for games with Lake Superior State and Maine on Friday and Saturday night at the IceBreaker Invitational.

Friday, October 2, 2015

DDC's NCAA Preseason Top 20, NCHC picks and an exhibtion peek

No, this is not baby Emma. Sorry. This is DDC's giddy face.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!! It's HOCKEY TIME!

DDC is bouncing up and down like baby Emma with a poopy diaper, but certainly in much happier spirits.

"Giddy" is a good choice of words, right?

Let's get into it, shall we?

DDC's NCAA Preseason Rankings

The march to the 2016 Frozen Four in Tampa is on.

Here's how DDC sees the Top 20 coming into the 2015-16 campaign:

1) Denver
2) Boston College
3) Minnesota-Duluth
4) North Dakota
5) Minnesota State
6) Boston University
7) Nebraska Omaha
8) Colgate
9) UMass-Lowell
10) St. Cloud State
11) Michigan
12) Minnesota
13) Bowling Green
14) Quinnipiac
15) Miami
16) Yale
17) Providence
18) Michigan Tech
19) St. Lawrence
20) Notre Dame

Denver F, Danton Heinen
Simply put, Denver is loaded. Danton Heinen might be the best player in the country. Losing Joey LaLeggia is no easy task, but Will Butcher is certainly no slouch. With Heinen, Trevor Moore and Quinten Shore leading the forward group, the Pios look to be the real deal. In the pipes, Evan Cowley and Tanner Jaillet look like a duo that will continue the goalie-rich tradition in Denver.

BC loses Noah Hanafin and Michael Matheson, both outstanding defenseman, but still carry stalwarts Steven Santini and Ian McCoshen. That duo in front of Thatcher Demko, seems to be one of the best.

UMD returns a bunch of dynamic scoring and North Dakota sports a blue line that could be the best in the country.

NCHC Preseason Picks

1) Denver
2) Minnesota-Duluth
3) North Dakota
4) Nebraska Omaha
5) St. Cloud State
6) Miami
7) Western Michigan
8) Colorado College

Had to mimic the Top 20 rankings, here. Man, is this conference loaded, or what? Nebraska Omaha could turn some heads again this year. Lots of scoring on that team that returns a bunch of quality forwards. If North Dakota gets the scoring that expects to out of Brock Boeser and the rest of the incoming freshman, UND could very well defend its Penrose Cup.

Preseason All-NCHC Team

F- Danton Heinen, Denver
F- Drake Caggiula, North Dakota
F- Trevor Moore, Denver
D- Andy Welinski, Minnesota-Duluth
D- Paul LaDue, North Dakota
G- Kasimir Kaskisuo, Minnesota-Duluth

Player of the Year: Heinen
Defenseman of the Year: LaDue
Rookie of the Year: F, Brock Boeser, North Dakota

Lots of names nearly miss the cut. UNO forward Austin Ortega, UMD forwards Dom Toninato and Alex Iafallo, Miami forward Sean Kuraly and UND defenseman Troy Stecher are hard to leave off, but DDC likes his picks. Miami rookie forward Jack Roslovic could push Boeser for ROY honors.

Quick Peek at Manitoba

The Green and White come into their tune up tussle with the Manitoba Bisons looking for some answers. Returning who they do on the blue line, North Dakota should be just fine there. However, who will be the man in the pipes and who is going to score up front are the questions looming large.

Freshman goalie Matej Tomek, a third-round NHL pick, and potential, long-term replacement for all-world netminder Zane McIntyre, will not play on Saturday night due to a lingering, preseason injury. Cam Johnson will get the nod early. Johnson struggled mightily in his lone appearance last season, getting yanked in the first period against Lake Superior State, but will have a chance to prove himself a bit against the Bisons.

UND will take care of Manitoba, but will the Green and White faithful see the scoring and goaltending they are looking for? DDC is interested in seeing what Brock Boeser can bring to the ice. The potential is certainly there for the first-round pick.

UND wins 6-2.

Let's get it. Let's go.

It's time to drop the puck.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Quick Look Back To Move Forward

It's been 172 days since the University of North Dakota men's hockey team fell 5-3 to the Boston University Terriers on April 9 in the Frozen Four semifinals in Boston.

172 is also the number of times, give or take a dozen or so, that DDC has thought to put into words his thoughts about the way the season ended.

*Swallows hard*

Nope, still can't do it.

So, in lieu of another nervous sweat and bout of nausea, let's move forward a little bit.

It has been 133 days since May 18 when Dave Hakstol left the University of North Dakota men's hockey team to become the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League. Simultaneously, it has been 133 days since Brad Berry was elevated from assistant coach to head coach of the Green and White.

133 is also the amount of emotions, thoughts and head-scratches that have been brought to DCC since May 18.

Quite the interesting month, wouldn't you say?

It's Berry's Bench

UND first-year head coach
Brad Berry
While the memories of April 9 may ring in many fans minds longer, May 18 is the date that most affects the 2015-16 incarnation of  UND men's hockey.

Let's get one thing straight... in DDC's opinion, Brad Berry is the right man for this job.

The former assistant coach has had success at every level and that means EVERY level. The speedy hiring of Berry limited the shock waves which could have shaken the core of UND down to recruitment and even early departures.

If UND had put any delay in elevating Berry to the head job, instability could have caused recruits to bolt and/or made UND's current roster doubt the direction of the program.

The Green and White brass did the right thing. Keeping on the path of a team that has made back-to-back Frozen Fours and is the defending Penrose Cup champion of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference keeps things going in the right direction.

That being said, Berry steps directly into the spotlight and replaces a legend at UND. You can say whatever you'd like about Dave Hakstol not winning a national championship, but any sane fan of the Green and White knows that Hakstol was the real deal. We've all heard the stats to back that up. The fact that he's now coaching in the NHL shows Hakstol's prowess. It's an extremely rare feat to make the jump from the NCAA ranks to the head spot on a NHL squad.

So, for the first time since 2005, there will be a new head man behind the bench for UND. That alone causes uneasiness for this blogger.

Pair that with the loss of seven seniors, and three others (two, all-world goaltender Zane McIntyre and talented defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, to the pros and one to the budding Arizona State program in Wade Murphy), and you have questions that need to be answered.

Jr. D, Gage Ausmus
was named UND's captain
for the 2015-16 season.

Who's Back?

Despite the losses, UND returns a deep defensive corps, avoiding potential early departures of Troy Stecher, Paul LaDue, Keaton Thompson and Tucker Poolman, all of whom were offered professional contracts over the summer. Gage Ausmus also returns and will captain this year's team.

On the front end, the Green and White return last season's leading goal scorer Drake Caggiula and play-making centerman Nick Schmaltz, softening the blow of the loss of many productive seniors from last year's squad.

Who's Here?

Forward Brock Boeser, a first-round NHL draft pick
Vancouver, looks to make an immediate impact at UND.
Looking to replace the 10 players that left the UND program, the Green and White bring in a group of 10 freshmen that will look to make an immediate impact.

Leading the charge in that potential impact is forward Brock Boeser, a first-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks (23rd overall), and goaltender Matej Tomek, a third-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers (90th overall).

Boeser, the Burnsville, Minn., native has lit up every level of hockey on his way to Grand Forks and looks to have a much-needed scoring touch for North Dakota.

Tomek, from Slovakia, will push returning goalies Cam Johnson and Matt Hrynkiw right out of the gate and could quickly be the man to fill the gaping hole left by McIntyre in the UND net.

The rest of the class includes talented scorers Chris Wilkie, Shane Gersich and Joel Janatuinen, all of which had 50+ points last year in the USHL. On the blue line, Christian Wolanin had a stellar 41-point year and Hayden Shaw earned first-team honors last season, both in the USHL.

Any Questions?

So, with returning players and impact rookies, the questions seem to be answered, right? Well, only time will tell. We'll get a first glimpse this Saturday as UND takes on Manitoba in an exhibition tussle.

Come back later this week for a look at the rest of the NCHC and a peek at his Top 10 across the country. DDC will reveal his picks for preseason conference honors and where the teams in the country's best conference are coming into this year.

It's good to be back. It's almost time for hockey.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Thursday Frozen Four Gameday: Back to Business

Frozen Four Semifinals from TD Garden in Boston:
Both games on ESPN 2:
Nebraska Omaha vs. Providence, 4 p.m. CT
North Dakota vs. Boston University, 7:30 p.m. CT


It's a memory that DDC, and all Sioux hockey fans a like, remember very well.

UND had the favored Minnesota Gophers on the edge of overtime in the 2014 Frozen Four semifinals in Philadelphia.

A face off loss in the offensive zone, a quick Minnesota transition and a seeing-eye bleeder to the back of the UND net later, a devastated North Dakota squad saw its quest for an eighth national championship fall by the wayside against it's biggest rival, 2-1 with 0.6 left on the clock, in gut-wrenching fashion.

Fast forward a year.

For UND, with 0.6 now far in the rear view mirror, yet still very much fresh in their minds, it's back to business. This time, North Dakota is here to finish the fight.

What will be the story of tonight's Frozen Four semifinal showdown with a dynamic Boston University team playing in front of what will essentially be a hometown crowd from TD Garden in Boston?

We'll find out in a few short hours.

Here's a look at UND coming into their semifinal tussle with BU.

Green and White Go-Tos

UND's Zane McIntyre, Jordan Schmaltz and Paul LaDue celebrate
following their 4-1 victory over St. Cloud State in the West Region final,
March 28 in Fargo. (Photo credit: Grand Forks Herald)

Players to Watch:

Jr. F, Drake Caggiula, 18 goals, 18 assists -- 32 points
Sr. F, Michael Parks, 12 g, 20 a -- 32 pts (1 point in last 10 games)
Jr. D, Jordan Schmaltz, 4 g, 23 a -- 27 pts
Fr. F, Nick Schmaltz, 5 g, 21 a -- 26 pts

Jr. G, Zane McIntyre, 29-9-3 (.744 win percentage 4th in NCAA), 2.00 goals against average (11th in NCAA), .931 save percentage (7th in NCAA)

Standout Stats

3.29 goals per game (8th in NCAA), 2.17 goals allowed per game (7th in NCAA), 16 players with at least 11 points, 25-0-2 when leading after two periods, 20-3-3 when scoring first.

134 career points from the senior class is 45 more than BU's and leads all Frozen Four teams. 13-8-3 against tournament teams this season.

The Picks

Let's start with the other side of the bracket.

Nebraska Omaha vs. Providence

These are two teams looking to make a permanent name for themselves on the college hockey scene.

An elite goaltending match up headlines the early game from the Frozen Four and this should be a dandy to watch. Ryan Massa vs. Jon Gillies.

With these two stalwarts in the nets, DDC expects a fast-paced, grinding battle. Scoring first will be a huge key. Who will break first?

Tough one to pick, but having seen both of these two teams first hand this season, DDC expects the speed of the Mavericks to win out. Dean Blais is a heck of a coach and this UNO squad has taken some huge strides this season and DDC thinks this continues into the national championship game.

OMAHA WINS, 3-1 with an empty net goal.

North Dakota vs. Boston University

Seriously. Can it get any better than this?

A high-flying offense in Boston U vs. a tenacious, gritty defensive team in North Dakota.

This is what the Frozen Four is all about. Two all-time programs going at it on the grandest stage.

This match up is one of youth vs. experience. UND's senior class has been here before. They've played under the biggest lights in the biggest spots.

As of today, 0.6 is the story of this North Dakota senior class' lasting legacy.

And simply put, this legacy is one they desperately want to change.

From day one this season and even further back as when they departed Philadelphia in crushing fashion, this UND squad has had one goal in mind and that is to hang the eighth green banner from the rafters of Ralph Engelstad Arena.

BU is talented and features the best player in college hockey in Jack Eichel. No doubt, the Terriers want this game just much as North Dakota does. However, DDC believes that the demons of 0.6 in Philadelphia are what separates UND from BU.

Outside of maybe Boston College, the Terriers haven't seen a team play like UND does defensively. 

Zane McIntyre and the North Dakota defense have played at an elite level all year and with the motivation of No. 8 and 0.6 on the mind of the Green and White, DDC sees this continuing.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Omaha vs. Providence: It's Been Awhile

One phrase may sum up Thursday's Frozen Four semifinal match up between Nebraska Omaha and Providence College: It's been awhile.

On one side of the ice, "it's been awhile" refers to a Friars squad that hasn't made it to college hockey's grandest stage since 1985.

On the other, the phrase refers to UNO's head coach, Dean Blais, who returns to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2001, while with North Dakota. Blais won two national championships with the Fighting Sioux in 1997 and 2000.

While there is some experience for both programs in some shape or form, the current incarnations of these UNO and PC squads are fresh to the national championship scene. Outside of their first run since 1985, it's the first appearance in the Frozen Four for Providence head coach Nate Leaman.

And while the Mavericks head coach may have the experience, this is UNO's first Frozen Four appearance in their 18-year history, after notching their program's first two tournament wins in the this year's Midwest Regional.

So, what should college hockey fans expect when the Friars and Mavericks get together in TD Garden in Boston on Thursday? A look at the nets tells the biggest story as Omaha's Ryan Massa and Providence's Jon Gillies are two of the best goaltenders that college hockey has to offer.

Here's a look at the two teams as they prep for their Frozen Four faceoff.

You Know UNO?

Players to Watch:

So. F, Jake Gunetzel, 13 goals, 25 assists --38 points
So. F, Austin Ortega, 20 g, 17 a -- 37 pts. 11 game-winning goals leads the NCAA.
Fr. F, Jake Randolph, 5 g, 21 a -- 26 pts

Sr. G, Ryan Massa, 14-7-6, .939 save percentage (best in NCAA), 1.92 goals against average (5th in NCAA)

Nebraska Omaha's Ryan Massa leads the NCAA in save percentage (.939)

Friars Flying High

Players to Watch:

Jr. F, Nick Saracino, 13 g, 22 a --35 pts
Sr. F, Shane Luke, 13 g, 18 a -- 31 pts
Jr. F, Noel Acciari, 14 g, 16 a -- 30 pts

Jr. G, Jon Gillies, 22-13-2, .929 SV PCT (12th in NCAA), 2.01 GAA (13th in NCAA)

PC's Jon Gilles  is in the Top 13 in the NCAA in goals against average and save percentage.

Standout Stats


11 players with at least 14 points.

13-3-1 when scoring first, 15-1-1 when leading after 2 periods


14 players with at least 11 points.

2.05 goals against per game (5th in NCAA), 15.2% power play (40th in NCAA)

We've gotten a look at BU, Nebraska-Omaha and Providence. So, check in tomorrow for DDC's look at North Dakota and his picks for the semifinal match ups from Boston. We're just one day away, folks.