Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Roses and Thorns: Taking Care of Business

NCHC Standings
1) UNO, 9-4-1 (1 SO win), 29 points. 
2) UND, 9-4-1, 28 pts.
3) UMD, 8-5-1, 25 pts.
4) Miami, 8-6-0, 24 pts.
5) Denver, 7-6-0, 21 pts.
6) WMU, 4-7-3 (3 SO wins), 18 pts.
7) SCSU, 5-8-1, 16 pts.
8) CC, 1-11-1, 4 pts.
This past week, DDC heralded the weekend series between UND and Colorado College as the start of the stretch run.

And down the stretch, only one thing matters regardless of standings, rankings or records – wins.

UND took care of business this past weekend with two hard-fought National Collegiate Hockey Conference victories, 2-1 and 5-3, earning a sweep and grabbing six very crucial NCHC points in front of the Ralph Engelstad Arena faithful in Grand Forks.

The two wins, coupled with a 1-1 weekend for Minnesota State, vaulted UND into the No. 1 national ranking and more importantly, moved North Dakota to No. 2 in the Pairwise rankings, which mimic the NCAA tournament selection process.

Here’s what stood out to DDC this past weekend in this week’s installment of Roses and Thorns.


No. 1 – Zane McIntyre

With eight minutes to play on Friday night and UND nursing a tight 2-1 lead, McIntyre lost his goal stick. Like he has all season, the junior netminder kept his cool making two stops. Then, with an empty net and the game in the waning seconds, it happened again. With his goal stick next to the net and the Tigers feverishly pushing for a tying goal, McIntyre again shut the door and closed out the win. McIntyre wasn’t perfect on Saturday night giving up three goals, but still led the way and helped bring UND the sweep with 25 saves. DDC has said it before and will say it again – as Zane goes, so goes the Green and White.

UND's Luke Johnson and Mark MacMillan celebrate as Johnson nets a goal
on CC's Tyler Marble on Saturday, (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

No. 2 – Connor Gaarder

Is it possible to not record a point on a weekend and be the best player on the ice? DDC thinks so. The senior assistant captain played with speed and power all weekend, leading the team with eight shots on goal. Gaarder found open ice for chances and led rushes throughout. Depth is a huge key to UND’s success and the Edina, Minn., native leads the way for this team.

No. 3 – Senior Leaders

Speaking of leadership, the core of this North Dakota team is led by the top and UND’s seven seniors showed it this weekend. Mark MacMillan scored twice to run his team-high goal total to 13 and Michael Parks chipped in with the game-winning shorthanded goal (UND’s nation leading 9th) on Friday and added an assist on Saturday to pace the attack. The senior group had nine points and was a +9 this weekend. What a class.


No. 1 – Trap Defense

UND's Zane McIntyre and Andrew Panzarella defend against CC's Alex Roos
and Hunter Fejes on Saturday. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

Colorado College may have laid the blueprint for the rest of the NCHC to slow North Dakota, this weekend. The Tigers played very well defensively, plugging the middle against the speedy UND squad. Eventually, the Green and White speed and play-making ability found ways to earn the zone both nights, winning the battles on the boards and grinding out goals, but, CC showed lots of grit all weekend in two hotly-contested contests. UND will have to continue to win end-board battles the rest of the way, because this weekend showed how to at least slow down North Dakota.

No. 2 – Slumping Schmaltz

The play-making freshman Nick Schmaltz has struggled a bit since returning from the World Junior tournament during the Christmas break. When at his best, Schmaltz leads rushes and dishes all over the ice to open teammates. DDC sees a player that may be trying to do too much for his team. A moving back to center this weekend may be just what Schmaltz needed.  The talent is there and no one is arguing that, but UND needs the freshman to start backing that up with points. DDC is very interested to see what the forward plays like this weekend.

Up next for the newly crowned No. 1 team in the country is a monster-sized series with NCHC-leading Nebraska-Omaha. UND trails the Mavericks by just one point in the conference standings and a sweep either way could lead the way to a conference title and the Penrose Cup.

Come back later this week for the breakdown of what should be one heck-of-a series in Omaha.

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