On March 12, UND practiced in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
It was one day before the team's playoff journey was set to begin, a journey that, as the No. 1 team in the Pairwise Rankings, the Fighting Hawks expected to end at the NCAA Frozen Four in Detroit.
Within a couple of hours of leaving the ice that Thursday in March, the entire season was called off due to the coronavirus pandemic. The players went in their own directions. Ralph Engelstad Arena was locked down. And everyone began to wonder when things would return to normal.
There are plenty of questions left to be answered on what the 2020-21 season will look like.
But there was finally a small sense of normalcy Tuesday.
Most of the UND hockey team was back on the ice in Ralph Engelstad Arena, participating in a voluntary summer skate and pickup hockey game. There were no coaches and not every player was there -- some of the rookies will be filtering in over the next month -- but it was still an opportunity for this masked-up, social-distancing correspondent to get a glimpse of UND hockey for the first time in months.
If UND fans are looking for some good news, here it is: Jake Sanderson is good. OK, perhaps that's not exactly breaking news. He is, after all, expected to go in the top 10 of the NHL Draft, whenever that occurs.
It was only about an hour of an informal summer skate, so take it for what you will, but Sanderson looked like he's ready to immediately step into a big role on this year's UND team.
On a couple of occasions, he used his terrific stride to slice through defenders in the neutral zone and gain the offensive zone by himself. In this day and age, it can be difficult to skate the puck in the zone. Many times, teams are forced to dump and chase. But it appears Sanderson will be among the UND players with the ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone.
He also showed his strength, on one play in particular, in the defensive zone. Judd Caulfield, who often stripped players of the puck last season, was hounding Sanderson for the puck, but Sanderson was strong enough on his stick to maintain possession and eventually skate away and break it out.
And he also showed the ability to consistently find open players in the offensive zone. He repeatedly threaded the puck to players in scoring-chance spots on the ice.
While he may not be a highlight-reel type of player like a Christian Wolanin or a Chay Genoway, he appears to be the type that can control games from the back end, perhaps like a Tucker Poolman.
Here are a few other observations:
- Freshman defenseman Tyler Kleven of Fargo is on campus, too. In a summer pick-up game, you won't see Kleven lining up players for big hits, which he has the ability to do. But his ability to shut down attacking players on the rush was evident a couple of times. On his most impressive play of the day, he angled a player off into the boards, forced a turnover and started a rush the other way. While defensemen tend to play rover a bit during summer skates -- and Sanderson did -- Kleven really stayed within himself and his game Tuesday.
- Collin Adams' speed was back on display. The senior forward's most eye-opening play on the day came on a one-on-one rush. Adams slowed up a little bit in the neutral zone, as did the defender. Once the defender started to slow up, Adams turned on the jets and blew past him to create a breakaway.
- Sophomore forward Carson Albrecht scored a goal, which isn't a huge surprise. We never saw Albrecht last season in a regular-season game. He obviously has areas of his game to round out -- including strength and conditioning -- but even last season, when he got looks in practice, he could score. He may not get a ton of scoring chances in games, but if he does, don't be surprised if he puts it away.
- Everyone saw what Jordan Kawaguchi was capable of last season, but there was one play Tuesday that raised an eyebrow. Kawaguchi had the puck in the corner and made a real sharp turn -- almost Tyson Jost-like -- and lost his defender and had a free lane to carry the puck to the side of the net. Kawaguchi showed how strong he is below the goal line last season, but that play showed he has, perhaps, improved his edges in the offseason. Time will tell.
- The goaltenders -- Peter Thome, Adam Scheel and Harrison Feeney -- are facing their first game-like action in a while. It will probably take them a few skates to get back some of their sharpness.