By Brad Schlossman
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — A month into the college hockey season, things are looking up for the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team.
The Fighting Hawks are 5-1-1, perfect at home, generating more offense than last season and have moved into the top 10 in the national rankings ahead of this weekend’s home series against Miami University (7:37 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday, Ralph Engelstad Arena).
One month isn’t an overly large sample size for statistics — and it leaves room for change — but here are some eye-catching ones after the first month that tell the story to the quick start:
Higher shooting percentage
UND’s shooting percentage (how many shots on goal end up going in the net) currently is 12.3%, which is the program’s highest since College Hockey News began tracking the statistic in 2005-06.
That number will likely drop as UND’s schedule turns more difficult, but still, it’s an extremely positive sign and a major jump from a year ago.
Last season, as UND struggled to generate offense, it had a shooting percentage of 7.8, which ranked 52nd nationally. That was the program’s lowest shooting percentage on record.
UND’s highest team shooting percentages since CHN tracked the stat are 2010-11 (12.2), 2005-06 (11.9), 2006-07 (11.9) and 2015-16 (11.3). Notice anything in common with those four years? UND went to the Frozen Four in all of them.
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Who is shooting?
UND finished last season with an odd stat.
Its top four players in attempted shots were all defensemen: Matt Kiersted, Gabe Bast, Jacob Bernard-Docker and Colton Poolman. Perhaps a big part of the reason for the low shooting percentages was that the shots were, often times, coming from the outside.
That has turned a little bit this season.
Bernard-Docker, a sophomore defenseman, leads the team in attempted shots (39), but the next four on the list are all forwards: freshman Shane Pinto (36), senior Westin Michaud (34), junior Grant Mismash (33) and sophomore Jasper Weatherby (31).
Due for a goal?
Pinto leads UND in shots on goal with 22. Perhaps surprisingly, Weatherby — who ranked 14th on the team in that category last season — is second with 21 shots on goal (41 percent of last season’s total).
And Weatherby may be due for a goal.
No player in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference has more shots on goal without a goal to show for it than Weatherby. In fact, second place in that category is Bernard-Docker (17 shots on goal).
The forwards in the NCHC with the highest number of shots on goal without a goal yet are Weatherby (21), Minnesota Duluth’s Cole Koepke (15) and Omaha’s Ryan Brushett (12).
Two forwards in the country have more shots on goal than Weatherby without a goal to show for it: Colgate senior Bobby McMann (27) and St. Lawrence senior Alex Gilmour (24).
A surprise plus/minus leader
If you’re not familiar with how the plus/minus stat works, here’s a quick primer: If you’re on the ice when your team scores (excluding power-play goals), you get a plus. If you’re on the ice when you’re team gives one up (excluding power-play goals), you get a minus. It’s meant to measure how often you’re on the ice for goals for and goals against.
In 2017-18, forward Collin Adams finished tied for last place on the team in that statistic with a minus-8 rating.
Last year, Adams again finished last place on the team with a minus-7 rating.
UND’s leader in that category so far this season? Collin Adams, plus-9.
The junior forward is off to a great start with five points in seven games. More impressive, he’s been on the ice for nine UND goals and has yet to be on the ice for an opponent goal.
The last time Adams has been on the ice for an opponent goal was March 1 at Colorado College. He’s played 11 games since then without being on the ice for a goal against.
Jordan Kawaguchi (plus-8) also has not been on the ice for an opponent goal this season, an impressive statistic considering his minutes and the difficult line matchups he often faces.
The other three UND players who haven’t been on the ice for an opponent goal have played limited minutes thus far: Judd Caulfield, Zach Yon and Josh Rieger.
UND’s best period
Take a guess: What has been UND’s best period this season?
The answer may surprise you.
The Fighting Hawks are outscoring opponents 6-3 in the first period, 8-4 in the second period and a staggering 13-3 in the third period and overtime.
In two of the last three games, UND flipped the game in the third period. After trailing Bemidji State 1-0 late in the third, the Fighting Hawks scored a late equalizer (Kawaguchi), then Michaud won it in overtime. Last weekend against Michigan Tech, UND was tied 1-1 in the third and won it on a Kawaguchi goal (nine of Kawaguchi’s last 13 goals have come in the third period or overtime).
Perhaps UND’s depth and willingness to play four lines and three defensive pairings has kept the Fighting Hawks fresh in late games. It’s also worth noting that UND feasted on Canisius in the third period, outscoring the Golden Griffins 8-0 in the finale frame during their two-game series.
Major drop in penalty minutes
UND’s penalty kill has been excellent, allowing just a single power-play goal in 21 opponent opportunities (Bemidji State scored on a deflected point shot).
But the penalty killers haven’t been particularly busy.
UND has been one of the least penalized teams in the nation through the first month, averaging just 7.4 penalty minutes per game. That ranks 54th out of 60 college hockey teams in penalty minutes.
The six teams that have fewer penalty minutes per game are RPI (7.0), New Hampshire (6.9), Colorado College (6.7), Bemidji State (6.3), Notre Dame (6.3) and Harvard (2.0).
Last season, UND ranked No. 5 nationally in penalty minutes (13.9 per game).
One of REA’s longest home winning streaks
On Friday night, UND will aim at winning its eighth-straight home game, which would tie the program’s second-longest home winning streak in Ralph Engelstad Arena, which opened in 2001.
The Fighting Hawks are currently on a seven-game running, winning the last two home games last season and opening this season 5-0 at home. That’s tied for the fourth-longest home winning streak in the “new” Ralph.
The longest home winning streak in the building is 12 from Jan. 23, 2016 to Oct. 22, 2017. That run started with UND’s 2016 Penrose Cup and NCAA national championship team.
UND has put together two eight-game streaks. It won eight home games in a row from Jan. 22, 2011-Oct. 7, 2011, a run that started with the 2011 team that won the MacNaughton Cup, Broadmoor Trophy and reached the NCAA Frozen Four. It also won eight home games in a row from Jan. 11, 2008 to Feb. 24, 2008. UND reached the Frozen Four that season.
UND has put together five seven-game winning streaks in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
A higher save percentage
Karl Goehring, the legendary former UND goalie who returned this fall as a full-time assistant coach, has to be smiling.
Sophomore Adam Scheel has a .917 save percentage a month into the season, setting a strong pace for UND’s save percentage numbers.
Last season, UND’s team save percentage was .894. In 2017-18, it was .904 and in 2016-17, it was .895.
A strong save percentage combined with the fact that UND is allowing fewer shots on goal than any team in the nation (17.29) has added up to the best team defense in the country.
UND is giving up 1.43 goals per game, which ranks first, ahead of second-place Minnesota State-Mankato (1.50) and third-place Denver and Ohio State (1.62).
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