Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Roses and Thorns: Back-to-Back Banners

NCHC Standings:
1) UND (clinched share of league title) 17-4-1-1 -- 53 points;
T-2) Denver, 15-5-2 -- 47 pts; T-2) SCSU, 15-6-1-1 -- 47 pts;
T-4) UMD, 9-10-3-1 -- 31 pts; T-4) Miami, 9-11-2-2 -- 31 pts;
6) Omaha, 8-13-1 -- 25 pts; 7) WMU, 5-16-1-1 -- 17 pts;
8) Colorado College, 4-17-1 -- 13 pts.

UND, DU and SCSU have all clinched home ice
for the first round of the conference playoffs.

Click here for a breakdown of all NCHC scenarios
from the Grand Forks Herald's Brad Schlossman.

The UND men's hockey team came into Baxter Arena in Omaha tied for first place atop the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings with St. Cloud State with just two weekends to go in the regular season.

The Green and White were facing an angry Nebraska Omaha squad coming off a rough sweep at the hands of the Huskies while SCSU was at home against a UMD team that got swept in a frustrating series against UND.

Sounds like a recipe for the Penrose Cup to be settled in the last weekend, right?

A pair of sweeps later, one by UND in dominant fashion over Omaha and another in shocking fashion for Minnesota Duluth over St. Cloud, the Green and White return to Grand Forks for the last weekend of the year as Penrose Cup champions for a second straight season. UND can finish no lower than in a tie for first, but will, at worst, share the league title.

It turned out to be a banner weekend for UND (25-5-3). With the 4-2, 4-1 sweep and subsequent UMD sweep over St. Cloud, the Green and White clinched their 17th conference title, the most in college hockey history.

Here's what stood out to DDC in this weekend's Roses and Thorns recap with Omaha and UND.


No. 1 -- Defensive Dominance

Two weekends ago, UND played arguably their worst defensive weekend as the Green and White were swept in Denver. North Dakota allowed 10 goals in the series while the Pioneers top line exposed UND, finding gaping holes in the slot and in front of the net while DU raced to a sweep. The Green and White got a bit of their defensive mojo back the next week in a sweep of Duluth and carried that momentum through to Omaha. UND was fantastic in the series, filling passing lanes with sticks, winning puck battles and clearing out the net front for goaltender Cam Johnson for a 4-2, 4-1 sweep. North Dakota was flying all series with a terrific team effort on the back check even without their best defenseman Troy Stecher, who served a one-game suspension on Friday night for a checking from behind penalty the Saturday before against UMD. Simply put, if the Green and White play defense like this the rest of the way, they will make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

No. 2 -- CBS is Must-See-TV, Once Again

UND Sr. F, Drake Caggiula
netted both game-winning
goals this weekend in the
4-2, 4-1 sweep at Omaha.

Injuries and a week of inconsistent play had mired the vaunted CBS line of Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz in a bit of a slump over the last handful of weekends. However, against Omaha, the CBS line looks like they are getting back to form at the most important time of the season. Caggiula netted both game winners and added an assist on Saturday, Boeser added a pair of goals, his 21st and 22nd of the season and Schmaltz tallied an assist on Saturday to give the line six points on the weekend. Boeser leads the NCHC in goals, is second nationally in rookie goal scoring and is tied for fourth overall. A bonus rose goes to Caggiula specifically as the senior was all over the ice this weekend on both ends. The Ontario native brought all the bit of the Hobey Baker candidate play he'd shown for large parts of the season, forechecking, winning puck battles and creating scoring chances. UND fans saw what this team can be like during much of this year when this line is at its best and the CBS delivered that against Omaha.

No. 3 -- UND Shows Depth

A consistent storyline for the Green and White this season has been lack of scoring outside of the CBS line. Against the Mavericks, UND showed that they are absolutely more than a one line team. Forward Luke Johnson and defenseman Tucker Poolman netted goals on Friday, then, defenseman Keaton Thompson and forward Bryn Chyzyk added markers on Saturday, as the Green and White delivered the sweep. Austin Poganski added three assists, Johnny Simonson added a pair of helpers, while Poolman and Chyzyk also added assists, for a successful team statistical weekend.  The line of Johnson, Poganski and Rhett Gardner were terrific on Saturday, adding a physical element to the UND attack.

UND Jr. D, Keaton Thompson celebrates his second goal of the season on Saturday.
Thompson scored one of four non-CBS line goals in the series as UND swept
Nebraska Omaha 4-2, 4-1 in Omaha to clinch a share of the NCHC title.
(Photo Credit: Chris Machian, Omaha World-Herald)

Honorable Mention -- TRF Skates to State

One special shoutout to DDC's hometown Thief River Falls Prowlers as they topped defending Class A State champion East Grand Forks 3-1 in the Section 8A championship game to advance to the Minnesota State Tournament. Hopefully the Green and White brass are talking a good, hard look at TRF senior Ethan Johnson. The forward netted two goals in the title game, his 44th and 45th of the season. Johnson had seven goals in the section tournament and his 45 goals on the year is fourth-best in the state. DDC coached several of these young men in youth baseball during his high school days. Big props to DDC's hometown Prowlers.

Thief River Falls’ Brendan Bushy (66) and Wyatt Ortloff pile on top of teammate Ethan Johnson
after Johnson scored an empty-net goal to seal the Prowlers’ win over East Grand Forks on Thursday
in the Minnesota Section 8A championship game. (Photo Credit: Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald)


No. 1 -- One Weekend Left

It's hard to believe, but there is only one weekend left in the regular season. UND's series against Western Michigan this weekend brings senior weekend, which will certainly be an emotional one for the four seniors, Bryn Chyzyk, Coltyn Sanderson, Colten St. Clair and Drake Caggiula. With the Penrose Cup likely in the house, UND needs just one point to take the conference title outright. It would be a fitting end for this group of four to skate with the "Penne Rosa" on their senior night. Here's to hoping the Green and White can make that happen. 

Thanks for reading. Come back later this week as DDC takes a look at UND's last regular season series of the season, as they take on the Western Michigan Broncos at the Ralph.

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