There was much hand-wringing by the North Dakota faithful in fan forums following last Saturday’s 2-1 loss to host Alaska in the championship game of the Brice Alaska Gold Rush. It is rather silly, even if the Nanooks are picked to finish last in the CCHA.
If anything, the suspensions and injuries (seven Friday, six Saturday) that led to a short-handed squad could pay dividends later this season and next. The freshmen and role players got extended looks in game situations, experience that could help if injuries mount over the course of a long season.
“Saw a lot of good things,” coach Dave Hakstol told the Grand Forks Herald. “I liked the poise; I liked the presence of a lot of our young guys. Hopefully, in some way, shape or form that will accelerate their development and help their confidence a little bit.”
UND dressed only nine forwards for Friday night’s 5-0 win against Alaska-Anchorage but came away with a 33-21 advantage in shots on goal.
Seven players were suspended one game either Friday or Saturday for team violations. Senior captain Danny Kristo sat out both nights for separate violations but made the trip with the team.
“The guys did a really good job playing simple and sticking to our game plan with just three lines on the big Olympic sheet,” Kristo said. “It was frustrating for all of us who didn’t play but our team accepted it and we’re moving forward as a whole.”
UND battled injuries all season in 2011-12 but still won the WCHA Final Five and earned the top seed in the West Regional. This team could be more talented than last season’s, but it certainly doesn’t have the experience to go short-handed again.
That’s where graduated defenseman Ben Blood was so helpful last season when he ate up large amounts of minutes each game.
“We’re probably going to face adversity down the road so we’ll deal with it,” said defenseman Derek Forbort, who missed five games last January after he injured his knee in the World Junior Championship. “We won’t use it as an excuse, though.”
Forbort is part of a defensive corps that will give goaltender Clarke Saunders more help than he’s ever seen at the collegiate level. The junior transfer from Alabama-Huntsville allowed just two goals on 53 shots.
“We have a good ‘D’ corps but he did an awesome job,” Forbort said. “He was very solid both nights and he’s a guy the ‘D’ corps is going to play for.”
Kerdiles: ‘Staying here at the University of Wisconsin’
Last Friday, the NCAA downsized a season ban on Wisconsin freshman Nic Kerdiles to a 10-game suspension, although it remained uncertain he would stay in Madison.
Over the weekend, a Wisconsin State Journal report surfaced, indicating Kerdiles would play for the Badgers instead of bolting for the Kelowna Rockets, the Western Hockey League team that owns his rights.
Monday, Kerdiles made it official: He’s still with the Badgers.
“I’m choosing to move forward, put all my energy and focus into being the best student-athlete I can be,” Kerdiles said at a news conference, “and prepare myself to rejoin my teammates competing on the ice as soon as possible.”
The 18-year-old from Irvine, Calif., talked about growing up in California, looking up to the older hockey players from the state. Most went to the WHL. Some chose college.
“Those guys … showed my family and me another option, a chance to play high-level hockey and still continue with earning a degree,” Kerdiles said. “That is why I’m here at Wisconsin, to be the best student-athlete I can be, and to work toward my degree at an amazing university.”
If Kerdiles’ statement is genuinely what he believes and all the academic goals he outlines are what he intends to accomplish, then the college game needs more guys that think like him.
College hockey has lost a number of talented players to major junior hockey in recent years but it sounds like Kerdiles wants to be a pioneer in leading prospects younger than him to the NCAA.
“I take that responsibility very seriously and would be devastated to see any of them change their path from the college route to juniors just because of the adversity I faced as a student-athlete,” Kerdiles said. “I want them to consider and understand going the college route. I will pursue that goal by staying here at the University of Wisconsin.”
Minnesota State fans have some reason to be hopeful
How does the phrase “Minnesota State is unbeaten so far this season,” sound? If you are a purple Mavericks fan, it must sound pretty good.
But don’t buy your Final Five tickets just yet. The competition the Mavs have faced in their 2-0-2 start (Rensselaer, Alabama-Huntsville) does not come close to league play, which begins this weekend at St. Cloud State (2-2).
If anything, the players should have more confidence. That and a hard-driving coach could push Minnesota State up the standings out of its predicted bottom-three finish, as long as it avoids depth-sapping injuries.
Don’t expect much more in head coach Mike Hastings’ first season. You should when the new-look WCHA debuts next season. Minnesota State could quickly develop into a perennial league contender.
Bemidji State cannot afford just 50 minutes
While Bemidji State sophomore Andrew Walsh (51 saves on 53 shots in a split with Lake Superior State last weekend) looks to be the man in net, he needs a full 60 minutes from the players in front of him to be successful at Nebraska-Omaha this weekend.
The only two goals the Beavers allowed against the Lakers came in the final four minutes of a 2-0 loss last Friday.
“We maybe didn’t put a 60-minute effort into it, but we put a 50-minute effort into it,” coach Tom Serratore told the Bemidji Pioneer. “While we had some lapses, I thought we played well defensively.”
Of course, the WCHA defensive player of the week had a lot to do with that. But until he develops into the game-stealer that the underrated Dan Bakala was, BSU (1-1) must step it up, especially in league play.
• Whatever happened to throwing your hats on the ice following a hat trick? None of the Air Force or Colorado College fans did so (as seen from the press box) when CC senior Andrew Hamburg recorded a natural hat trick during the second period of the Tigers’ 6-2 road win. He went on to score four goals and was named the WCHA offensive player of the week.
• After preseason concerns about its offense, Denver pumped in 10 goals in its opening weekend against Air Force and No. 11 Massachusetts-Lowell, which both struggled with the Pioneers’ speed. The defense gets tougher with Michigan Tech coming to Magness Arena this weekend.
• Michigan Tech freshman goalie Pheonix Copley was also honored by the league this week for his home split against No. 2 Minnesota. Last week’s honorees were Minnesota junior forward Nick Bjugstad, CC senior defenseman Mike Boivin and Minnesota-Duluth rookie Austin Farley.
• Minnesota-Duluth will celebrate the 1993 MacNaughton Cup championship team during the first intermission of Saturday’s home game against Wisconsin.
• The University of Nebraska Board of Regents will vote Friday whether to approve construction of a new hockey arena closer to the Nebraska-Omaha campus.
• UNO is 0-4-2 against Bemidji State at home since Jan. 14, 2011.
• Minnesota will get a glimpse of future Gophers player Hudson Fasching, a member of the U.S. Under-18 Team, which visits Minnesota Friday.
USCHO covers the WCHA all week long on the WCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.