Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Gameday: It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

First day of Summer.



Start of college hockey.

Today is the day that the fans love the most.  Forget Christmas. THIS is the most wonderful time of the year. Let’s drop the puck.

The 2014-15 season kicks off tonight for the UND men’s hockey team as they share a home-and-home series with former WCHA rival, the Bemidji State University Beavers. 

Tonight’s tilt in Grand Forks and tomorrow’s in Bemidji features teams with much different expectations coming into the season.

UND comes into the matchup ranked No. 2 in the country and is expected to contend for a national championship, while BSU is trying to find its way back into the tournament for the first time since 2010.

Seeking Scoring

Bemidji State should be solid defensively as they return the entire defensive corps from last year’s 10-21-7 squad, including all-WCHA third teamer in senior Matt Prapavessis. The Beavers struggled to score last season, netting just 2.42 goals per game, but returns a large portion of their production from last season, including their top-four point getters in junior forwards Cory Ward and Markus Gerbrandt,  Prapavessis and sophomore forward Brendan Harms.

In the nets, senior Andrew Walsh and freshman and Moorhead native, Michael Bitzer will battle for starts with sophomore Jesse Wilkins out with injury until December. Walsh led the Beavers with 7 wins to Wilkins 3, but Wilkins topped Walsh in save percentage and goals against average last year.

Who’s Going to Step Up?

For North Dakota, scoring also looks to be the focus as defense should be strong for potentially one of the best d-corps in the country. Junior Jordan Schmaltz, senior Nick Mattson and sophomore Paul LaDue lead the way. Schmaltz is poised for a breakout season after a 24-point campaign, notching three points (1G, 2A) in UND’s 4-0 exhibition win over Manitoba this past Sunday.

Junior netminder Zane McIntyre is the backbone of this dynamic blue line. McIntyre comes into the year as the media’s pick for all-NCHC first team goaltending honors after a stalwart 2014-15 season that saw him carry the fifth best GAA (1.99) in country.

Up front, North Dakota returns three key cogs in senior assistant captains Michael Parks and Mark MacMillian alongside junior Drake Caggiula. Parks (12G, 18A), MacMillian (10G,16A) and Caggiula (11G,13A) were UNDs second, third and fourth leading scorers last season.

But, the real question is, who will step up and lead the way?

UND saw the potential of the playmaking touch of freshman Nick Schmaltz in their exhibition win as the NHL first round pick was electric, notching two assists and surrounding the net with chances all game. Schmaltz looks to replace the production of Rocco Grimaldi, who turned pro after last season after leading UND in goals, assists and points.

The Pick

Slow starts have become a punchline for North Dakota during head coach Dave Hakstol’s tenure. Should UND fans expect the same? DDC isn’t worried about it this week. Next week’s series with Providence coming to Grand Forks is a different animal. Nick Schmaltz was absolutely electric this past weekend and DDC looks for the forward to start an impressive season with a couple points this weekend. Nick’s brother, Jordan, is DDC’s pick as preseason player of the year in the NCHC and will show why. UND sweeps, 5-1, 2-0.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Time to Hit the Ice: DDC's 2014-15 NCHC Predictions

College hockey is back and so is the DDC.

As the schedule begins in earnest this week after a round of exhibitions for the NCHC, DDC takes a look at the league and at what to expect in the second year of the conference.

DDC’s Preseason Rankings

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

UND was tabbed by the NCHC media to take the Penrose Cup as the league’s champion this year, and for DDC, rightfully so. North Dakota is deep in the d-corps and Zane McIntyre could very well be the best goaltender in college hockey. Losing dynamic and diminutive Rocco Grimaldi leaves a void for the Green and White up front, but NHL first-round pick and Nick Schmaltz’s (2A) performance in a 4-0 exhibition win this past Sunday gave UND fans someone to look to for that lost production.

Miami returns a deep and skillful offense with Riley Barber, Sean Kuraly and Austin Czarnik leading the way. Last year’s preseason favorite struggled all year but turned it around late but missed the NCAA’s after falling to Denver in the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game. Defense will be the key to this team as scoring doesn’t look to be the problem.

DDC’s preseason darling is the UMD Bulldogs. Justin Crandall, Kyle Osterberg, Alex Iafallo and Tony Cameranesi lead a young and dynamic forward group. If the Dogs can find a netminder in a pair of juniors Matt McNeely and Alex Fons, this could be Penrose darkhorse.

St. Cloud State returns 40 point scorers Jonny Brodzinski and Kalle Kossila  but lose stalwart goaltender Ryan Faragher. If the Huskies find a man in the pipes, they will be a tough out this season 

The ones to watch

F – Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State
F – Austin Czarnik, Miami
F – Riley Barber, Miami
D – Jordan Schmaltz, UND
D – Joey LaLeggia, DU
G – Zane McIntyre, UND

Honorable Mentions: F – Michael Parks, UND; F – Cameranesi, UMD; D – Jacob Slavin, Colorado College; D – Paul LaDue, UND.

Player of the Year: D – Schmaltz, UND

Schmaltz was left off the media's NCHC preseason favorites, however, DDC thinks big things are in store for the junior defenseman. Schmaltz was arguably the best player down the stretch for a North Dakota team that fell in the NCAA semifinals last season. The 6’2” blue liner has all the skills and his 3-point night (1G, 2A) in UND’s exhibition win puts the rest of the NCHC on notice.

So, that’s it. Time will tell. Let’s hit the ice.