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.

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