It's been 172 days since we saw the UND men's hockey team skate around Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL with the National Championship trophy. Before DDC takes a look ahead, let's all reminisce, one more time, shall we?
One last time ... what a team.
While the pressure of once a seemingly unending, unbearable streak of frustration is over, the goal for the 2016-17 version of the Green and White remains the same as all previous incarnations of UND hockey -- to win a national championship.
The 2015-16 team was special. A squad stuffed with scoring, defense and tenacity, they finally cashed in on their all-time UND legacy. While many of those special players are gone, many remain and the expectations are still as high as ever in Grand Forks. Losing players like Troy Stecher, Drake Caggiula, Nick Schmaltz and Paul LaDue, all key cogs in the run to No. 8, will force the 2016-17 squad to look for answers as to who will step up into key roles.
However, let DDC make one thing clear -- UND doesn't rebuild. We reload.
Here's a look at what remains and who will be there to restock the talent load lost from the tremendous 2015-16 squad.
UND's Top Returning Players
Sophomore Forward, Brock Boeser
Without a doubt, Boeser is the most important and dynamic returning player for the 2016-17 Green and White. The first-round NHL draft pick was arguably the best forward in the country last year, ending last season as the nation's third-leading scorer with an impressive 27 goal, 33 assist -- 60 point season. Boeser was pegged by USCHO as the top returning forward for the 2016-17 season, and for good reason. If you need a refresher as to why, here you go:
Boeser's unique blend of effort, power, speed and scoring touch led to one of the best freshman campaigns in UND history. Last year's NCHC Rookie of the Year is a Hobey Baker candidate and will wear an 'A' for the Green and White as they look to repeat.
Junior Forward, Austin Poganski
The big-bodied power forward really came into his own last year as a part of UND's Heavy Line with Rhett Gardner and Luke Johnson. Poganski was a force in the middle of the ice, owning the front of the net and anchoring a line that was matched with opponent's top lines down the stretch. The St. Cloud, Minn., native notched 10 goals and added 15 assists last season. This year, Poganski has been named an Assistant Captain and will greatly factor again into UND's success. Another step forward for the St. Louis Blues draft pick will be an important piece in the Green and White's run to No. 9, this season.
|Jr. D, Tucker Poolman|
named an Assistant Captain
for the 2016-17 season.
Junior Defenseman, Tucker Poolman
Much like Poganski, Tucker Poolman took another big step in his development as one of UND's most important defensemen last year on a squad chocked full of important defensemen. Poolman was fifth in the NCHC in defenseman scoring and notched career highs in assists (19) and points (24). The East Grand Forks, Minn., product will wear an 'A' for the 2016-17 team. Armed with a lethal slap shot from the point, Poolman is also incredibly steady on the back end and will anchor a great returning corps of D-men along with two-time Captain Gage Ausmus and sophomores Christian Wolanin and Hayden Shaw. Defense was the backbone of the 2015-16 title team and with Poolman on the back end once again, UND should be stellar, once again.
UND's Top Newcomers
Freshman Forward, Tyson Jost
As DDC noted earlier, UND doesn't rebuild ... it reloads. Bringing in the talent the likes of freshman forward Tyson Jost, the Green and White will look to do just that. The St. Albert, Alberta native was selected No. 10 overall in this year's NHL draft by the Colorado Avalanche, becoming UND's second forward Top 10 pick of all time with the legendary Jonathan Toews. The comparisons to the former Fighting Sioux superstar isn't just due to his high draft status. DDC was recently told by a local media member that Jost reminds him very much of Toews in that he just simply does everything right. Last season with Penticton, Jost was named the BCHL MVP, the CJHL National Player of the Year, MVP and forward of the year with an eye-popping 104 points (42 goals, 62 assists) in 48 games. He has been tabbed as ISS Hockey's Top Incoming Freshman. Take a look at UND's new prized blue chipper:
Oof. Anyone else licking their chops? Looks like a special player. Hands, playmaking ability, vision and scoring touch, anyone? With Nick Schmaltz and Drake Caggiula gone, look for Mr. Jost to make an immediate impact.
Freshman Forward, Ludvig Hoff
The Oslo, Norway native had a stalwart career with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, posting 57 points last season. Hoff was eighth in the league in points and fifth in assists (37) and was named a USHL Third-Team All-star. Hoff, UND's first Norwegian-born product, twice captained Norway's World Junior Championship team. Hoff will certainly have his chance at Top 6 minutes in UND's effort to reload.
|Fr. D, Casey Johnson adds|
to UND's local talent pool.
Freshman Defenseman, Casey Johnson
Johnson, a Grand Forks native and former Central High Knight, continues a trend of local flavor that has spotted the Green and White over the last handful of years. The defenseman spent the 2015-16 season with the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints and tallied nine goals and 13 assists, helping Dubuque to the Clark Cup Final. A solid defenseman, Johnson will have the opportunity for minutes as UND looks to find a pair to join a returning corps.
Poised for a Breakout?
DDC's Breakout Player for 2016-17
|So. F, Shane Gersich |
is DDC's pick for UND's
Breakout Player of 2016-17.
Sophomore Forward, Shane Gersich
Losing the likes of Schmaltz, Caggiula, Stecher and LaDue, who will be the man to take the biggest step for the 2016-17 Green and White? Along with the previously mentioned Austin Poganski and Rhett Gardner, Shane Gersich showed flashes of greatness last year for UND. Gersich scored 9 goals and added two assists last season and scored the Green and White's first goal in their 5-1 National Title winning victory against Quinnipiac. The Chaska, Minn., product has tremendous top-end speed and a noticeable scoring touch in space. With that speed and touch, Gersich could very well have the opportunity to play on the top line with Boeser and potentially Jost, setting up a group that's loaded with a dynamic scoring knack. With opponents having to contend with Boeser and with what looks to be elite-level playmaking ability in Jost, Gersich should have time and space and DDC thinks big things are in store. DDC sees Gersich jumping up into the 30 point range and becoming a huge factor for the Green and white.
It's good to be back, folks. Thanks again for reading and keep coming back for DDC's takes on UND hockey all season.
Later this week, visit DDC as he looks at UND's biggest storylines for 2016-17, delves into his NCHC and NCAA preseason rankings and predictions and previews the season-opening exhibition against the Manitoba Bisons.
We're just three days away from the glory of another banner raising as the Green and White hoist Green Banner No. 8 into the Ralph Engelstad Arena rafters on October 3 to kick off the 2016-17 season.
Cheers and Fight On, Green and White!