Things to watch in UND’s exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 Team – Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS – A year ago, UND returned from Christmas break to play the US Under-18 team.

Everything about that rivalry reflects the importance — or lack thereof — of a mid-season performance.

The Fighting Hawks gave star defenseman Jake Sanderson the day off. The team showed little urgency in the afternoon matinee and lost 2-0. No team has generated 20 shots on goal. The fans who did show up could barely get a peek as they probably wondered why they trekked in 30-below temps to watch it.

Performance itself was not a major concern. After all, it doesn’t count. But what happened next?

UND lost its next four games. It was swept at home by Cornell and swept on the road at Western Michigan.

The Fighting Hawks eventually got it going again and charged to win the Penrose Cup, but this year’s team can’t afford a similar hiccup coming out of the break.

UND sits at No. 21 in the pairwise rankings and will need to climb to at least No. 14, in order to make the NCAA Tournament. That climb will be tougher than in years past because the National Collegiate Hockey Conference hasn’t fared as well against out-of-conference opponents, so league wins won’t be as valuable.

Only two NCHC teams — Denver and St. Cloud State — sits in the top 16.

“This is playoff hockey here in the second half of the season,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “We’re fighting for our lives here to get into the national tournament and obviously here in the NCHC to try to be top four – ultimately to win Penrose, but definitely to be in the top four. It starts. This weekend. “

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UND’s main issue in the first half of the season was on the defensive side of the puck.

The Fighting Hawks (7-8-4) scored so many goals that even a top-10 offense and top-five power play weren’t enough to pull it off.

But in the last weekend before Christmas break, UND held the NCAA’s top scoring team, Western Michigan, to just two goals in two games and held the nation’s highest scoring streak without a single point.

The Fighting Hawks picked up five of six NCHC points from that series, then immediately went on a three-week break.

Now, they’ll try to rediscover that form as quickly as possible, starting with an exhibition game against the US Under-18 team at 4:07 p.m. Saturday at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

“The biggest thing we took away from that series is how we have to play off the puck collectively as a team,” Berry said. “We got a consistent effort from Drew (DeRider) both nights and we played sound, defensive hockey against him. That’s what we’re known for as a team in North Dakota – he’s tough to play against.

“I know it was a struggle for us in the first half of the year, but at the end of the day, our guys’ ears really perked up. We needed that morale-wise. The proof is in the pudding. That’s how we play against a very good offensive team. It was a good start. Now it’s gaining momentum.”

Barry emphasized that there was no time to waste.

“It should be like a game,” Barry said. “It’s got to be an NCHC-like mentality. We’ve got to hit the field this weekend, then against Lindenwood in the regular-season game.”

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After the exhibition game, UND will host three straight series at Ralph Engelstad Arena — Lindenwood (Jan. 6-7), Western Michigan (Jan. 13-14) and Minnesota Duluth (Jan. 20-21).

“We’re excited that we have a chance to push,” forward Jake Schmaltz said. “We’re confident in our locker room and we’re very confident in what we can do. I think that starts with our defense and commitment to execution. The offense will come. I think executing and taking care of our defensive end That’s our mindset right now.”

UND can dress any number of players in the exhibition, but it’s possible there will still be scratches.

Forward Jackson Black is at the World Junior Championships and will miss the contest. Defenseman Ryan Sidorski, who was stuck in his Buffalo home all week because of the snow, returned to campus Thursday and has just one practice under his belt since Christmas. It is doubtful.

The Fighting Hawks also had several players playing through injuries in mid-December. Although only Black (World Juniors) forward Dan Montgomery (upper body) was absent from practice Friday, it’s possible UND could be cautious and hold several other players to stay healthy for the stretch run.

“We’re all excited to move on from the first half, take what we learned and apply it to the second half,” defenseman Cooper Moore said.

The UND coaching staff will also have to decide how many goalies to include in the action.

Grand Forks native Caleb Johnson has yet to see any regular-season action but is pushing starter Drew DeRider and backup Jacob Halston.

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The National Team Development Program features many of the top players born in the United States in 2005 on the U.S. Under-18 team in Plymouth, Mich.

They play a mixed schedule with United States Hockey League, NCAA Division-I and NCAA Division-III foes.

The US Under-18 team is 10-2 against NCAA Division-1 teams this season. Damage occurred in Minnesota and Niagara. They have defeated Boston University, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, RPI, RIT, Army, Yale, Lake Superior State and St. Thomas.

UND has no commitments on the U.S. Under-18 team this season.

It also has no current commitments on the U.S. Under-17 team, but there are several players on that team who are not eligible to commit until Aug. 1, including Moorhead defenseman Sam Laurila.

The UND-US Under-18 team showcase on Saturday will feature some familiar faces.

A 16-team bantam hockey tournament is being played at the Icon Sports Center this week. Games are scheduled from 8 am to 12:45 pm on Saturday and Sunday. There were also games on Thursday and Friday.

The sons of several former UND players — Lee Goren, Jason Ulmer, Jeff Panzer, Dan Jackson, Jason Andres and Kevin Spivak — are participating. Other bantam dads include former St. Cloud State star Matt Cullen and Minnesota State-Mankato’s Nate Metcalf of East Grand Forks.

The bantam tournament has a break on Saturday so players can attend a performance by the UND-US Under-18 team.

When: Saturday at 4:07 pm.
Where: Ralph Engelstedt Arena.
TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).


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