Ethan Frisch hasn't always been an elite skater.
When his father, Dan, first put him in skating lessons at the age of 3, Ethan struggled to stand up. He got frustrated and didn't want to go anymore. He just wanted to stay home and play floor hockey in the basement.
So, Ethan came up with a solution.
One day, he grabbed his skates, took them into the garage and hid them on shelving behind some boxes. Maybe if his skates were "lost," he wouldn't have to go, he thought.
There was one problem, though.
"I caught him," Dan said.
Good thing for that.
Ethan returned to skating lessons, learned how to use his edges and soon fell in love with skating and the sport of ice hockey.
That skating ability has been one of Frisch's most important assets as he's climbed to the Division I-level and developed into one of the most pleasant surprises for No. 1-ranked UND, which enters this weekend's home series against Omaha (7:37 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday) on an NCAA-leading 15-game unbeaten streak.
Frisch scored his first-career goal Saturday night during a 5-2 win over Alabama Huntsville, the latest positive development for the freshman from Moorhead, whose minutes and role gradually increased during the first half of the season.
"It was great to see him score a goal," UND coach Brad Berry said. "He's got a heavy, hard shot with his one-timer. It's great to see him get on the scoreboard, but his overall play has been very consistent. As a coach, it's nice to know that, because you can throw him over the boards in any situation.
"He's almost Paul LaDue-like -- very consistent, very calm out there. He doesn't play like a freshman out there. He makes the right decisions on puck movement, on positioning, on taking rushes, on defending. He's done a pretty good job in the first half."
This wasn't exactly expected.
UND's defensive core returned seven of eight players from last season's group, which led the nation in fewest shots on goal allowed per game (23).
Frisch was the lone rookie coming to campus -- as an undrafted true freshman -- trying to crack a group that brought back National Collegiate Hockey Conference player of the year finalist Colton Poolman, senior Andrew Peski, junior Matt Kiersted, junior Gabe Bast, junior Josh Rieger, sophomore first-round NHL draft pick Jacob Bernard-Docker and sophomore second-round draft pick Jonny Tychonick.
But Frisch has played in 17 of 19 games for a defensive core that ranks No. 1 nationally in fewest shots on goal allowed per game (21) and third nationally in goals allowed per game (1.63). Frisch has two points and has a plus-13 rating, which ranks first nationally among rookie defensemen.
Has this type of start to college hockey surprised Frisch?
"I wouldn't say I'm surprised," Frisch said. "I expected a lot out of myself. I think everyone expects a lot out of themselves. And people expect a lot out of me. When I step out on the ice, they expect me to do my job and to play to the best of my abilities. Am I surprised? No. It's been a lot of fun. It's not easy but with all the guys on the team, all the great players, it's fun to be out there and it's easier to play at that fast pace.
"Obviously, coming in, I was the only freshman defenseman. You know there are a lot of talented defensemen, three or four guys who could play professional hockey right now. Obviously, I knew my chances. I stepped into a role with Bast getting injured. I guess my job, really, is to make it harder for the coaches to not want to play me. And if they don't play me, I respect that decision and move forward with the team. There aren't a lot of egos on this team. We want to win. That's the bottom line with us."
Fargo Force head coach Pierre-Paul Lamoureux, who traded to get Frisch in junior hockey last season, said the defenseman's competitiveness, skating and smarts make him stand out.
"First and foremost, I loved his competitive spirit," Lamoureux said. "Deep down inside, he's a warrior and will do anything for his team and teammates to win. No matter what role he was asked to play or what situation he was put in, he wanted to thrive and do the best he could.
"His skating has always been one of his better attributes. He's explosive. When he closes on offensive players, he takes away time and space so well. He has the ability to separate at times when he's joining the rush. He can beat forwards back up the ice. He's so quick and agile in tight areas. Some guys are clumsy in tight areas. He's very mobile and strong on his edges and he would rarely get beat down low."
Learning from the best
Frisch has had a unique opportunity to learn from Moorhead's best.
His father, Dan, was a 1993 Moorhead High grad and high school teammate of former San Jose Shark Ryan Kraft and three-time Stanley Cup champion Matt Cullen.
So, Ethan has skated with Cullen, as well as former Moorhead and UND stars Chris VandeVelde and Brian Lee, both of whom reached the NHL.
"Matt has been a very good mentor for Ethan," Dan said. "Brian Lee sat down with him when the college (offers) came at him and told him some things to consider."
Ethan's finalists were UND, Clarkson, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State. The family was blown away by his visit to UND and a presentation that the coaching staff put together.
"He felt that he could succeed at UND," Dan said, "not only with hockey but also with school."
After winning the state's bantam player of the year as a freshman, Frisch played two years of prep hockey for the Spuds before making the difficult decision to leave Moorhead and play junior hockey as a high school senior.
Frisch spent last season in both Green Bay and Fargo, learning key lessons. One of them was getting experience playing on the left side of the ice as a right-handed shot defenseman. UND has asked him to do that at times this season.
"I'm pretty comfortable with both sides," Frisch said. "Originally, going into juniors, right side was my thing, but I played left side almost all of last year -- in Green Bay a lot and in Fargo pretty much exclusively. So, I'm pretty comfortable with both sides. I'd say there are different things that are easier on both sides. Offensive blue line, I'd say left side is easier. Breaking the puck out, right side is easier. So, it's kind of a mix."
Expectations for the season
Frisch said he had one main expectations for this season.
"I expected to be on a winning team," he said. "I just knew that at this program, we don't settle for mediocrity. We push to be great. You have that feeling all around in the locker room and with the coaching staff."
Frisch was right about that.
UND (16-1-2) has lost just one time in 19 games this season. That loss came in mid-October.
"It's a special team with everyone pushing each other every day," Frisch said. "Nobody is complacent. (Jordan) Kawaguchi could come to practice and say, 'OK, I got Hobey Baker in the first half, I'm unreal right now.' But he's coming to practice every day and working hard, and that's the mindset of everyone. It's an incredible place to be able to improve."
Omaha at No. 1 UND
When: 7:37 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Hockey Fights Cancer tickets available).
TV/radio: Midco Sports Network (GF Ch. 27/622 HD); The Fox (96.1 FM).
Records: UND 16-1-2 (7-0-1 NCHC); Omaha 8-9-3 (2-5-1).
Of note: The Fighting Hawks enter the weekend on a 13-game home winning streak and a 15-game overall unbeaten streak.