|The UND men's hockey team were presented with their National Title|
rings earlier this week. Their season kicks off tonight against Manitoba.
The defending national champions, the University of North Dakota men's hockey team, kicks off its repeat bid as they take on the University of Manitoba Bisons in exhibition fashion tonight at 7 pm from the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Let's say that once more, shall we?
The defending national champions, the University of North Dakota men's hockey team. Man, that feels good.
UND has already gotten its rings and green banner No. 8 will be hoisted into the REA rafters tonight and the memory of last season's incredible run has DDC thinking, will the Green and White do this again next year and potentially raise No. 9?
Well, we shall see, but these three storylines are going to go a long way to decide if UND can celebrate in Chicago in April.
1) Can the 'D' do it Again?The 2015-16 UND squad was simply loaded. They were a special team that could score in bunches, but also completely shutdown an opponent defensively. While the Green and White return four defensemen that played heavy minutes last season in now two-time Captain Gage Ausmus, dynamic offensive defenseman Tucker Poolman, Christian Wolanin and Hayden Shaw, outside of that top four, the final two spots will needed to be figured out quickly.
UND carried the second-best scoring defense in the NCAA last season, allowing just 1.84 goals a game. Losing Troy Stecher, Paul LaDue and Keaton Thompson to professional contracts doesn't just leave a hole in UND's 'D', it leaves a chasm. The Green and White still sport Mike Richter Finalist Cam Johnson between the pipes, but will need to figure out the last two spots on the backend to make a deep run this season.
2) CBS 2.0?
|Can freshman Tyson Jost|
jump into a key role for
the Green and White?
The CBS line of Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz is no more. While Boeser remains and is a legitimate Hobey Baker preseason front runner, the loss of Caggiula and Schmaltz to the NHL ranks means UND needs to figure out how to replace a combined 97 points. That's a lot of scoring. The CBS line was a special blend of speed, power, defense and scoring touch. Can the Green and White find a duo to pair with Boeser on the top line? What about the rest of the lineup? Who is going to step up to produce?
Austin Poganksi, Shane Gersich, Rhett Gardner and Chris Wilkie could go a long way to help shore up the top 6 forward group. Can highly-touted freshman Tyson Jost turn into the playmaker Schmaltz was last year? He certainly appears to have the talent. DDC believes we may see Jost and Boeser paired together and he'd be surprised to see Gardner and Poganski split up because they spent so much time playing together last year. Can the speedy Gersich step into Cagguila's game-breaking, goal-scoring role? We shall see.
3) Battle Between the Pipes
|Can Matej Tomek push|
Cam Johnson for the
starting role in net?
Coming into last season, UND was looking to replace an all-world goaltender in Zane McIntyre with three netminders who had barely seen the ice in their college careers. Well, with all those questions, Cam Johnson became as much as a sure thing as UND has ever seen, becoming a Mike Richter Finalist with a tremendous year. Matt Hrynkiw proved he was a solid backup, too, going on a great, early season run with Johnson shelved with an injury. What about NHL draft pick Matej Tomek? Highly regarded coming into the 2015-16 season, an early injury hindered Tomek's chances of seeing any ice time.
So, once a huge question mark, the goaltender spot for UND is now a strong point and we could very well see a battle for playing time between these three. DDC believes Tomek will get his shot, this season. NHL teams don't draft goalies early in the draft for a player that isn't incredibly talented. As we start the season, Johnson deserves to be the starter. But, was Cam's year a product of an incredibly special defenseman group? DDC thinks it helped, but Johnson certainly held his own. However, this will definitely be a battle for time this season.
DDC's Preseason Top 20
2) Boston University
8) Boston College
9) Notre Dame
10) Minnesota Duluth
13) Bowling Green
16) St. Lawrence
17) Michigan Tech
18) St. Cloud State
20) Air Force
DDC's NCAA Take
Boston University brings in one of the most dynamic freshmen groups in recent history, with NHL first-round picks Clayton Keller, Dante Fabbro and Keifer Bellows while returning fellow first-rounder Charlie McAvoy. Can all that young talent produce big results? Denver lost a lot, but brings back all-NCHC picks Dylan Gambrell and Will Butcher in front of veteran netminder Tanner Jalliet. BU vs. DU in early October will be a true test for both teams.
Can a budding team like Bowling Green or Wisconsin get all their pieces in place to make a run? It'll sure be fun to watch and find out.
|Sophomore Brock Boeser is the clear-cut favorite as NCHC|
Preseason Player of the Year. Can he improve on his dynamic
2015-16 season as UND looks to repeat in 2016-17?
3) Minnesota Duluth
4) St. Cloud State
7) Colorado College
8) Western Michigan
DDC's All-NCHC Team
F -- Brock Boeser, UND
F -- Dylan Gambrell, DU
F -- Tyson Jost, UND
D -- Will Butcher, DU
D -- Neal Pionk, UMD
G -- Cam Johnson, UND
|Can Omaha's Austin Ortega|
take an all-NCHC spot?
Player of the Year: Boeser
Defenseman of the Year: Butcher
Goaltender of the Year: Johnson
Rookie of the Year: Jost
DDC's NCHC Take
|UND is 12-0 all time against the Manitoba Bisons|
Bring on the Bisons
UND is 12-0 all-time against Manitoba, outscoring the Bisons 72-21 in those 12 games. Tonight isn't about wins and losses, but more about taking a look at some new pieces. Who will group with Boeser on the top line? Will Jost show of his Top 10 NHL draft pick talent? How about Tomek? How much time does he get in an effort to earn time between the pipes?
Last season, the Green and White rolled to a 8-3 victory and tipped off the REA faithful that something fun was brewing in Grand Forks. DDC thinks this happens again.
Jost gets his first and adds an assist, Johnson and Tomek start their battle and slow a hyped-up Manitoba squad and Boeser shows while he'll be a Hobey front-runner this year with a pair of goals.
UND RAISES THE BANNER IN STYLE, 6-2
It's here, hockey fans. It's time to RAISE 8 and start the run to No. 9.
Come back next week to see how it went down. Thanks for reading!