Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service, Published November 21 2013
North Dakota men's hockey in search of consistencyBOSTON – If the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team is to get momentum going this season, it will have to start on the defensive end.
Through the first month and a half of the college hockey season, UND (4-5-1) is allowing an average of 3.30 goals per game, which ranks last among eight National Collegiate Hockey Conference teams and 44th nationally.
That figure would rank 12th in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, only ahead of winless Alabama-Huntsville, and sixth among Big Ten teams.
“We have to keep working hard in all areas of the game,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “It’s early in our year. We’ve played some real good defensive hockey at times; it’s just an area that has to become more consistent. For us to consistently win games, we’ve got to be a little bit better in that area.”
There isn’t one single area responsible for UND’s high goals-against total.
Offensively, UND hasn’t been able to sustain pressure on opponents and keep the puck in the offensive zone. That is evidenced by its No. 41 ranking nationally in shots per game.
With UND’s lack of puck possession, opponents have been able to throw more shots at UND than it is accustomed to. Right now, opponents toss an average of 33.4 shots per game at UND, which is more than any NCHC, Big Ten or WCHA team outside of Huntsville.
UND’s goaltenders, Clarke Saunders and Zane Gothberg, have been inconsistent, too.
Hakstol has pulled his starting goalie in 30 percent of the team’s games so far this season and UND’s team save percentage of .901 ranks seventh in the NCHC, only ahead of Nebraska-Omaha’s .880.
“I think what we have to do more consistently is dictate the pace of the game and put our opponents in positions that they are making more mistakes on a regular basis than we are,” Hakstol said. “Right now, we’ve got portions of games where we are playing at that type of pace, we’re just not doing it enough.”
UND players say that team defense has been an emphasis at practice.
“There are a lot of areas that we can fix in the defensive zone with our coverage,” sophomore Rocco Grimaldi said. “We’ve definitely been learning in the past couple weeks about coverage and who’s man is who in certain situations. Obviously the game of hockey is so fast. You’ve got a set system, but breakdowns happen and you have to read and react to certain situations.”
Although the numbers aren’t good right now, the players aren’t losing confidence.
“I think we have the tools to do it,” Dillon Simpson said. “We have a few things we have to work on.”
When Hakstol looks across at the other bench tonight, there will be an odd sight – no Jack Parker.
The longtime Boston University coach retired last spring after spending 40 years as the head man for the Terriers. David Quinn, a former assistant coach of Parker’s, is in his first year.
“Jack has become a good friend to all of us here over the years,” Hakstol said. “He’s always abrasive when it comes to the competitive side. He’s a good man. I’ve got nothing but respect for him. I’m excited to go in and play against David Quinn’s team, knowing him for a long time. He’s a great person and a great coach.
“It’s the start of a new era there, but you’ve got to remember that David worked for Jack for a lot of years. I think we’ll see a lot of similarities, just with a new twist.”
Like UND, the Terriers (5-6) have gotten off to an up-and-down start to the season.
Part of it has to do with the schedule.
Boston University has already played several of the country’s top-ranked teams, including Boston College, Providence, Michigan, RPI and Wisconsin.
Brad E. Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald