Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday Gameday: Breaking the Ice

It's time to break the ice on the 2015-16 UND men's hockey season.

The Green and White are in Portland, Maine for the Ice Breaker Invitational, kicking off the season with non-conference games against the Lake Superior State Lakers today at 3:30 CT and the Maine Black Bears on Saturday at 7.

UND travels to the New England area for the first time in the regular season since 2013, looking to start off the season on the right foot in two all-important Pairwise rankings (PWR) games. It may sound silly this early in the season, but with PWR out-of-conference games being so heavily weighted, these games are big.

Let's take a look at who will be on the other side of the ice against the Green and White.

Lake Superior State Lakers

Last Season: 8-28-2, 7-20-1 (9th in WCHA). Made WCHA tournament as Alaska was disallowed from postseason play, lost to Minnesota State in two games in the first round.

Key Players: Sr. F, Bryce Schmitt, Sr. D, Eric Drapluk, So. D, James Roll, So. G, Gordon Defiel

Last Meeting with UND: 7-4, 3-1 losses in Grand Forks, December 2015

About the Lakers: Lake Superior State looks to improve off a tough 8-28-2 record last season that saw them finish 8th in the WCHA. The Lakers had a quick exit in the WCHA playoffs, dropping two to Minnesota State. LSSU is a team that will be looking for scoring. The Lakers return just five players who tallied 10 or more points last season and has 10 incoming freshmen. Senior alternate captain Bryce Schmitt, a Minot, N.D. native, notched 15 points (7g, 8a) last season for the Lakers.

Maine Black Bears

Last season: 14-22-3, 8-12-2 (10th in Hockey East). Lost to Vermont in three games in the first round of the Hockey East tournament.

Key Players: Sr. F, Steven Swavely, Jr. F, Cam Brown, Jr. F, Blaine Byron, So. G, Sean Romeo, Sr. G, Matt Morris

Last Meeting with UND:
3-1 L, 3-3 T in Grand Forks, October 2011.

About the Black Bears:
Maine was an OT loss away from advancing in the HEA tournament last season and returns a bunch of scoring to a lineup that potted plenty of goals last season. Senior captain Steven Swavely had a solid, 28 point (8g, 20a) season last year and Junior forward Blaine Byron was second on the team with 12 goals. Sophomore Sean Romeo and Senior Matt Morris shared the net for the 2014-15 Black Bears last year and both could see time this weekend.

The Search for a Goalie and Goals 

UND Sr. F, Drake Caggiula
The two major storylines for UND coming into this season will be the search for goal scorers and a goaltender to replace All-American Zane McIntyre.

The Green and White return 2014-15 leading goal scorer and point producer Drake Caggiula (18g, 18a -- 36 pts) to this year's squad, but outside of the senior alternate captain, many question marks exist. UND loses seven seniors and two others (Jordan Schmaltz to pro hockey and Wade Murphy to Arizona State) from their scoring attack. Sophomore Nick Schmaltz and Junior Luke Johnson look to be important returners. The Green and White also bring in 10 freshmen to the program, led by NHL first round selection, Brock Boeser. Boeser (1g, 1a) and three other freshmen, Shane Gersich (2g), Chris Wilkie (1a) and Joel Janatuinen (1g) all notched points in an exhibition win last Saturday against Manitoba.

In the nets, sophomore Cam Johnson will likely start both games this weekend as freshman Matej Tomek will be out due to a lingering wrist injury for at least a couple more weeks. Tomek did not make the trip to Portland. Johnson was serviceable, but not great, against Manitoba, allowing three goals on 12 shots.

The Pick(s)

UND So. G, Cam Johnson
Season-opening road trips are always tough to pick as UND really doesn't know what it has in its 10 freshmen until they show it on the ice. In their exhibition win against Manitoba, those freshmen paced a quick and physical attack that saw them put up eight goals. If that win was any indication of things to come, UND will like what they see this season. Despite being loaded on the blue line with five returning regulars, North Dakota's weekend will likely come down to goaltending.

DDC sees UND putting up some goals, but until he sees Johnson take charge in net, it's hard to pick anything but one win in Portland on Maine's home ice.


Come back on Monday and see if DDC's predictions held true in his Roses and Thorns Ice Breaker recap.

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