After leading turnaround season in 2019-20, North Dakota’s Berry tabbed USCHO Coach of the Year

2019 November 22 St. Cloud State University and University North Dakota meet in NCHC conference game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena Grand Forks, ND (Bradley K. Olson)
North Dakota coach Brad Berry goes over strategy with his Fighting Hawks players during a game Nov. 22, 2019 at Ralph Engelstad Arena against St. Cloud State (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has brought the sports world to a halt, but that hasn’t stopped college fans from talking and T-shirts from being printed.

Inspired by a recent editorial from the Grand Forks Herald’s Brad Schlossman, North Dakota’s Ralph Engelstad Arena has been selling shirts with a black 2020 banner displayed underneath green boxes signifying UND’s eight recognized national championships.

And really, why not?

The Fighting Hawks finished the NCAA tournament-less season first in the PairWise Rankings.

It was some season for the Hawks, recovering in a big way after missing back-to-back NCAA tournaments for the first time since the mid-1990s.

Because of that turnaround, UND’s Brad Berry has been voted as USCHO Coach of the Year.

At 26-5-4, UND won eight more games than it did in 2018-19 and nine more than in 2017-18, a season in which UND posted its lowest win total in 16 years. This season, UND was very much in line to earn the Hawks’ first NCAA title since 2016, at the end of Berry’s first campaign at the helm.

Last season, when UND finished 18-17-2, the Hawks won five consecutive games through late October into early November but otherwise struggled to find consistency. As for trying to climb back into the NCAA tournament, two losses in January at Canisius proved too much to recover from.

This season provided no such problem. UND put 13 goals past Canisius at home in a season-opening series, and the Hawks went on to win 17 of their first 20 games and won 10 straight around the holidays.

NCHC play was its usual meat-grinder self this season, but UND went 17-4-3-2 in league play and won the Penrose Cup outright as the conference’s regular-season champion, beating Minnesota Duluth to claim both handles of the trophy by a three-point margin.

This season’s UND squad thrived without a lot of star names, as indicated in part by only junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi being included in this year’s All-USCHO Team.

However, as Berry and anyone else who has been paying attention would say, this Hawks group was greater than the sum of its parts.