NCHC suspends Griffin Ness one game for contact-to-the-head major
The UND junior center will sit out Friday's regular-season game against Lindenwood.
GRAND FORKS — UND will be without one of its most consistent players Friday night.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference has suspended junior forward Griffin Ness one game for a contact-to-the-head major penalty during the second period of Saturday's exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 Team.
Ness will serve the suspension during UND's regular-season game against Lindenwood at 7:07 p.m. Friday in Ralph Engelstad Arena. He will be eligible to return for Saturday night's series finale at 6:07 p.m.
On the play, U.S. Under-18 Team forward Ryan Fine collected the puck along the boards in UND's offensive zone. Fine was occupied by UND forward Jackson Kunz when Ness came in from the side and contacted Fine's head.
Ness was called for a five-minute major and a game misconduct with 1:21 to go in the second.
UND killed off the major and won the exhibition 4-3 in overtime.
Suspensions haven't been common in the NCHC this season after the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee clarified this summer that "the purpose of supplemental discipline is to address egregious situations that the rules book may not be able to address, not to review all significant penalties."
Ness' suspension is the fourth levied by the league.
The other suspensions were issued to Minnesota Duluth defenseman Wyatt Kaiser, Minnesota Duluth forward Isaac Howard and St. Cloud State defenseman Brendan Bushy.
Kaiser received a one-game suspension for hitting Wisconsin forward Jack Gorniak in the head with his stick. Howard received a two-game suspension for cross-checking Wisconsin defenseman Corson Ceulemans in the head. Bushy received a one-game suspension for an open-ice elbow to the head of Miami forward John Waldron. Bushy was allowed to serve his suspension during an exhibition.
Ness has been a fixture as the fourth-line center for UND.
He's been particularly effective in limited minutes. He leads UND in inner-slot chances per minute played and he's one of the tops in the league in goals per minute.
Ness, of Wayzata, Minn., scored on four consecutive Friday nights in November and December. For the season, he has four goals in 16 games. He also scored in UND's preseason exhibition against the University of Manitoba.
"He's going to those hard areas and being predictable to his teammates," UND coach Brad Berry told the Herald last month. "We always look for guys who have consistent habits and details and are not erratic with their play. He's been the mainstay as a centerman on that line and they've become very effective."
UND's lineup for Friday is unclear.
The Fighting Hawks have 16 forwards on the roster, but will definitely be without Dane Montgomery (upper-body injury) and Ness. Jackson Blake will be traveling back from the World Junior Championship in Halifax, N.S., and it's unclear if he will be available to play.
Gavin Hain (precautionary) and Ben Strinden (illness) were held out of Saturday's exhibition, but both are expected to be available for the Lindenwood series.
The series is a vital one for UND.
The Fighting Hawks are currently No. 18 in the Pairwise Rankings and need to move up to, at a minimum, No. 14 to be eligible for the NCAA tournament. A loss on Friday would drop UND roughly six spots and make it a steep climb to get into NCAA contention.
Lindenwood is a first-year Division-I team out of suburban St. Louis.
The Lions are 5-13, but have put scares into several of college hockey's most prominent teams: They were tied with Minnesota in Mariucci Arena in the third period; they led Michigan at Yost Arena in the second; they led Wisconsin in the Kohl Center in the third; and in their last game before Christmas break, they led Denver in Magness Arena in the third.
Lindenwood is coached by former UND and NHL defenseman Rick Zombo.