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.
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.
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.