Monday, February 1, 2016

Roses and Thorns: Bucking the Broncos -- Back in the Saddle

NCHC Standings:
1) UND, 13-2-1-1 -- 41 points; 2) SCSU, 12-3-1-1 -- 38 pts;
3) DU, 9-5-2 -- 29 pts; T-4) UNO, 6-9-1 -- 19 pts;
T-4) UMD, 5-8-3-1 -- 19 pts; T-4) 5-9-2-2 -- 19 pts;
7) WMU, 4-11-1-1 -- 14 pts; 8) CC, 4-11-1, 13 pts.

Simply put, it wasn't pretty, but at this time of year, it's not about style points and the Green and White are back in the saddle, again.

In what was likely the most physical and gritty series they've played this season, the No. 2 UND men's hockey team took care of business against the Western Michigan Broncos, winning 2-0 and 2-1, earning an important National Collegiate Hockey Conference sweep. That sweep vaults the Green and White past St. Cloud State into first place in the race for the Penrose Cup.

UND was again without a pair of Hobey Baker candidates in Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz due to injury, and it was their CBS linemate, freshman Brock Boeser, leading the way. The Burnsville, Minn., native scored both game-winning goals in the series, potting two on Friday and adding a goal and an assist on Saturday for a four-point weekend, earning NCHC rookie of the week honors for the fourth time this year.

The heavy and fast attack by WMU made goals a premium this past weekend as the Green and White slugged it out at Lawson Arena. While Boeser lead the way offensively, UND sophomore netminder Cam Johnson stole the show defensively. Johnson stopped 59 of 60 Bronco shots in the series, earning NCHC goalie of the week honors for an impressive fifth time on the season.

With just four regular season series left, the Green and White (23-3-3 overall, 13-2-1-1-- 41 points NCHC) leads SCSU by three points and control their own destiny in the race for the Penrose.

Here's what stood out to the DDC in his weekly Roses and Thorns series recap.


No. 1 -- Cam Johnson

UND So. G, Cam Johnson
stopped 59 of 60 shots
against WMU, earning
NCHC goalie of the week
honors for the 5th time
this season.

UND was without two Hobey Baker candidates and two more forwards (Chris Wilkie and Rhett Gardner) on Friday night and saw two of their best defensemen (Troy Stecher and Tucker Poolman) go down with injuries on Saturday. With players of that ilk on the shelf (Poolman returned later in the game on Saturday) the Green and White turned to the steady hand of Johnson and the sophomore again stepped up large. Johnson shook off a less than stellar series against Colorado College the previous week and took control of large stretches of both games against Western Michigan. Johnson dazzled throughout and weathered a storm of 17 Bronco shots in the second period on Friday with tremendous rebound control and poise. The sophomore's stellar weekend kept Johnson atop the NCAA goaltending statistical world. If there were any questions of Johnson's starting status coming into Kalamazoo, he certainly answered them all, emphatically. It's Cam's net, from here on out.

No. 2 -- Brock Boeser 

What an impressive run this kid has been on. Boeser again led UND with his linemates out, delivering game winners on both nights. The freshman is now tied for the NCHC lead in goals with 18 and puts himself in the company of UND legends T.J. Oshie and Jonathan Toews, finding the back of the net the most times as a freshman since the duo tore up the college hockey world in 2005-06. Boeser is now second nationally among rookies in goals and third in points (31). A special blend of speed, physicality, defensive effort and goal scoring, Boeser is the real deal.

No. 3 -- Finding a Way to Win

UND head coach Brad Berry
after their 2-1 win on Saturday:
"I said to our guys in the locker room
that we have a really special group in
our team this year, to the point where
it doesn't matter who is in the lineup,
we find a way to win. That goes to our
mentality at North Dakota and
the players and their character."

As already stated, this wasn't a pretty weekend. Five total goals were a product of a physical, but incredibly up-tempo series. Western Michigan challenged UND with a banging style of play that they have yet to see this season and the Green and White were up to the task. DDC has mentioned it several times in this post alone, but it absolutely cannot be undersold -- UND was very banged up this weekend and the Broncos continued to bang. To go into Lawson Arena in front of a rowdy and hostile crowd and come out with a sweep is an impressive feat. The Green and White have now shown the ability to win in every way possible. Whether it's run and gun or grinding, UND has gotten it done, this season. Down the stretch, defenses will show their meddle and this weekend was an important one to show they have the ability to win these types of games when the lights are the brightest.


No. 1 -- Injuries

Seriously? This is getting a wee bit ridiculous. Add defenseman Troy Stecher, arguably UND's best blue liner, to the injury report. The Green and White are off this coming weekend and it could not have come at a better time. Up next is Denver in two weeks and with the race for the Penrose in full form, UND needs to be healthy if they plan on repeating as NCHC regular season champs.

Thanks for reading. More to come, soon.

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