Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Things to watch in UND's exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 Team

The Fighting Hawks are hoping to regain their form from the final weekend before Christmas break.

UND defenseman Luke Bast makes a check during a game against Western Michigan on Dec. 9, 2022, in Lawson Ice Arena.
Ashley Huss / Western Michigan athletics

GRAND FORKS — A year ago, UND returned from Christmas break to play the U.S. Under-18 Team.

Everything about that contest reflected the importance — or lack thereof — of a midseason exhibition.

The Fighting Hawks gave star defenseman Jake Sanderson the day off. The team showed little urgency in the afternoon matinee and lost 2-0. Neither team generated 20 shots on goal. The fans who showed up hardly made a peep as they likely pondered why they trekked through 30-below temps to watch it.

The exhibition itself was not a huge concern. After all, it didn't count. But what followed did.

UND lost its next four games. It got 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 cannot afford a similar hiccup coming out of break.

UND is sitting at No. 21 in the Pairwise Rankings and will likely need to climb to No. 14, at a minimum, to get into the NCAA tournament. That climb is going to be more difficult than previous years because the National Collegiate Hockey Conference hasn't performed as well against out-of-conference opponents, so league victories will not be as valuable.

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

"This is playoff hockey the second half of the season here," UND coach Brad Berry said. "We're fighting for our lives here to get in the national tournament and obviously with the standings in the NCHC here to try to be top four — ultimately trying to win a Penrose, but to be in the top four for sure. It starts this weekend."

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) allowed so many goals that even a top-10 offense and top-five power play was not enough to overcome it.

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 kept the nation's highest-scoring line without a point.

The Fighting Hawks grabbed five of six NCHC points from that series, then instantly went on a three-week hiatus.


Now, they'll try to rediscover that form as quickly as possible, beginning with an exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 Team at 4:07 p.m. Saturday in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

"The biggest thing we took away from that series is how we have to play away from the puck collectively as a team," Berry said. "We had a consistent effort from Drew (DeRidder) both nights and we played sound, defensive hockey in front of him. That's our identity as a team in North Dakota — being hard 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 went up. We needed that morale-wise. The proof is in the pudding. That's the way we can play against a very good offensive team. It was a good start. Now, it's getting that momentum back."

Berry emphasized there's no time to waste.

"It's got to be game-like," Berry said. "It's got to be an NCHC-like mentality. We have to hit the ground running this weekend, then against Lindenwood in regular-season play."

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

"We're just excited that we have the opportunity to make a push," forward Jake Schmaltz said. "We have a belief in our locker room and we're all very confident in what we can do. I think it starts with our defense and commitment to executing. The offense will come. I think executing and taking care of our defensive end is our mindset right now."

Who will play?

UND can dress as many players as it wants in the exhibition, but it's possible there will still be scratches.


Forward Jackson Blake is at the World Junior Championship and will miss the contest. Defenseman Ryan Sidorski, who was stuck in his Buffalo home all week because of a blizzard, returned to campus Thursday and only has one practice under his belt since Christmas. He is questionable.

The Fighting Hawks also had several guys playing through injuries in mid-December. Although only Blake (World Juniors) forward Dane Montgomery (upper body) were absent from practice Friday, it's possible UND could take precautions and hold some other players out to keep them healthy for the stretch run.

"We're all excited to move on from the first half, know what we learned and use that for the second half in getting it rolling," defenseman Cooper Moore said.

The UND coaching staff also will have to decide how many goalies to get into the action.

Grand Forks native Kaleb Johnson has not yet seen any regular-season action but has been pushing starter Drew DeRidder and backup Jakob Hellsten.

About the U.S. Under-18s

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

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

The U.S. Under-18 Team is 10-2 against NCAA Division-I teams this season. The losses came at Minnesota and Niagara. They've beaten Boston University, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, RPI, RIT, Army, Yale, Lake Superior State and St. Thomas.


UND does not have any commits on the U.S. Under-18 Team this season.

It also does not have any current commits on the U.S. Under-17 Team, but there are several players on that squad who are not eligible to commit until Aug. 1, including Moorhead defenseman Sam Laurila.

Familiar faces in town

There will be some familiar faces at the UND-U.S. Under-18 Team exhibition Saturday.

There's a 16-team bantam hockey tournament being played at Icon Sports Center this week. Games are scheduled from 8 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. There also were games Thursday and Friday.

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

There's a break in the bantam tournament Saturday so the players can attend the UND-U.S. Under-18 Team exhibition.

U.S. Under-18 at UND

When: 4:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.
TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
Stream: NCHChockey.com.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
What to read next
Persson played three seasons for the RedHawks. He will have two years of college eligibility remaining.
The former Fargo Davies and UND defender helped the Ottawa Senators hold the Philadelphia Flyers to 11 shots on goal, lowest of any NHL team this season.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound defenseman came close to leading the Nanooks to the NCAA tournament this season.
Also, a look at who is planning on returning among the seniors and the Huskies' NHL draft picks
Get Local