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Brad Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published April 04 2010

UND men's hockey: Hopes dashed after great run

GRAND FORKS – They started the season with more freshmen and fewer seniors than anybody in the league, saw their captain go out for the season in November and proceeded to go on a roller coaster ride expected of a young team.

But by the end, the Sioux climbed to the top half of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, ran to the league’s playoff championship, earned a top-five ranking nationally and developed into one of the most dangerous teams in the country.

That’s what made the 3-2 loss to Yale in the first round of the NCAA tournament so difficult to swallow for the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team.

“We had a pretty good opportunity in front of us,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “We weren’t able to take advantage of it, so there’s some pretty great disappointment from that aspect. It’s an awful hard result coming out of (last) Saturday night.

“From a different aspect, when you look at our season, look at the makeup of our team, look at the development and growth as a team, there are a lot of awfully positive signs out of it. That’s pretty exciting. There is a breaking point where you have to look at two different aspects. Right now, we’re focused on the positive side and what we need to do – starting immediately – to turn some of the positives into the next step in moving toward our ultimate goal.”

Captain’s crusade

This season will long be remembered for the significance of Chay Genoway’s outstanding play early on, devastating concussion in November and leadership from the bench for the rest of the season.

The captain tallied 10 points in the first nine games (two of which he played with a bad case of the flu) and rallied UND to a 7-1-1 start – the best in Hakstol’s six seasons as head coach.

Then, UND’s fortunes turned when Genoway was checked from behind into the boards by St. Cloud State’s Aaron Marvin on Nov. 13. Genoway suffered a concussion and was unable to return for the rest of the season.

The Sioux sputtered without their captain, going 6-10-4 in the next 16 games.

A February rematch against St. Cloud State spurred the Sioux to say they would play for their captain for not only that weekend, but the rest of the season. UND ended up winning 12 of its next 13 games before the season-ender against Yale.

Several players had major roles in UND’s big run at the end of the season:

- Goalie Brad Eidsness, who started UND’s last 16 games, held a 1.62 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage during UND’s 12-1 run. He earned second-team all-WCHA honors.

- Matt Frattin, who rejoined the Sioux in January after a team-imposed suspension, had no goals and three assists in his first 11 games back. In the last 12 games, he had 11 goals and 16 points.

- Jason Gregoire had 10 points in the last nine games of the season.

- Chris VandeVelde had 22 points in his last 16 games.

- When Brett Hextall returned from injury, the power play excelled. The power play converted at 6.5 percent in the nine games that Hextall missed with an ankle injury. It converted at 24.9 percent with Hextall in the lineup.

The Sioux will say goodbye to senior centers VandeVelde and Darcy Zajac – two guys who were strong in all areas of the game. They’ll find out in the coming months whether Genoway will pursue a medical redshirt or turn pro.

Hakstol says that UND has a great chance to return all of the other key cogs.

“There’s a realization that has to come immediately,” Hakstol said. “You can’t waste a week or two or a month or two this summer. If we waste any time, we’re not going to make the necessary improvements.

“If we are committed from Day One, which I believe we will be, we can use this summer to be a real key tool for us and for the development of our team. Motivation should not be an issue.”

Brad Schlossman is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.