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Daily Skate: Ethan Frisch's return critical for UND's right side

The Moorhead product and reigning NCHC defensive defenseman of the year says he will be back for his senior season.

UND Cornell 7.jpg
UND's Ethan Frisch and Mark Senden wait while a Cornell penalty is reviewed late in the third period Friday, January 7, 2022.
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — There's one phrase you can use that will immediately catch the attention of college hockey recruiters and NHL scouts: "right-handed shooting defenseman."

The majority of North American hockey players are left-handed.

At the forward position, it's not a big deal. Coaches generally want their left wingers to be left-handed and right wingers to be right-handed. Centers can be either hand. So, if the centers are left-handed, then two-thirds of your forwards can be lefty and you still have an ideal setup.

But defense is another story.

Coaches prefer to put left-handers on the left side and right-handers on the right side. That means in an ideal setup, 50 percent of your defensemen are left-handed and 50 percent are right-handed.


However, the player pool is not 50-50. For that reason, right-handed defensemen have extra value.

The Fighting Hawks had three on the roster last season — Ethan Frisch, Brent Johnson and Brady Ferner.

Frisch confirmed Tuesday that he will return for his senior season, which had to be a giant relief for the Fighting Hawks coaching staff.

Besides the fact that Frisch is an alternate captain and one of the best players on the team (he won the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's defensive defenseman of the year award), had he signed a pro contract, UND would have been left with major issues on the right side of its defense.

Johnson and Ferner would have been the only two remaining right-handers and neither should be expected to play top-pair minutes next season. Now, they won't have to.

Frisch can jump back into that spot, where he averaged 23 minutes, 21 second per game last season, second only to Jake Sanderson, and the coaching staff can slot Johnson and Ferner into spots on the second or third pairings, where they'll excel.

Defenseman Tyler Kleven is still working through his decision on next season. The Ottawa Senators are putting on a full-court press to get him signed, but so far, he's held steady. A final decision will likely come by the end of the month.

Kleven and Frisch would give UND an excellent top pairing for next season — the type you would expect for a team that has its sights set on NCHC and NCAA titles.


The Fighting Hawks still have to add one more defenseman to replace Sanderson, who signed with the Senators. All of UND's current defensive commits need another year of junior hockey, so that replacement will be coming from the transfer portal.

UND's projected defensive depth chart

Tyler Kleven (jr)Ethan Frisch (sr)
Chris Jandric (5th)Transfer (tbd)
Cooper Moore (jr)Brent Johnson (so)
Luke Bast (so)Brady Ferner (5th)

UND doesn't necessarily need to have an equal 4-4 split. It hasn't always done that. Last season, for example, the Fighting Hawks had five lefties and three righties.

But UND could balance the defense by adding a right-hander, and there are a few intriguing right-shot defensemen in the transfer portal right now.

1. Ty Farmer, UMass. Fargo Force fans will be familiar with Farmer. He was a key member of their Clark Cup-winning team (captained by Mark Senden). Farmer is a smaller defender at 5-foot-11, but plays heavier than his size and is extremely competitive. He's a great skater, too. He has similarities to Troy Stecher.

2. Drew Bavaro, Bentley. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder led Bentley in scoring as a sophomore blue liner, tallying nine goals and 27 points. Bavaro is a purely offensive defenseman. His defensive partner this season was often Grand Forks Central grad Tucker Hodgson.

3. Connor Kelley, Minnesota Duluth. The Chicago Blackhawks draft pick has been in defensive roles with the National Team Development Program and the Bulldogs, but he is a good two-way defender. Kelley went into the portal Tuesday afternoon and will quickly draw a lot of interest.

4. T.J. Lloyd, Bowling Green. The former Alberta Junior Hockey League captain has put up solid numbers in college — he had a goal and 13 points last season — while playing a two-way game for the Falcons, who continue to churn out quality players.

If UND goes back to the 5-3 split in favor of left-handed shots, Miami's Derek Daschke is likely the top option. Daschke has produced 85 points in four years in the NCHC.


Now that UND has taken care of its goaltending situation by adding Michigan State's Drew DeRidder out of the portal to replace Zach Driscoll, the Fighting Hawks' next biggest task has to be rounding out its defense with a transfer.

Stonehill to join D-I hockey

Stonehill, a small school in Easton, Mass., announced Tuesday that it will elevate its athletic programs to the Division-I level, including hockey.

Stonehill will add to a growing number of smaller schools attempting to add the sport. Others include Augustana College of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Lindenwood of St. Charles, Mo. It's not much of a secret that Utica wants to be next.

Within two years, there could be eight independent college hockey teams seeking conference affiliation: Arizona State, Alaska (Fairbanks), Alaska Anchorage, Long Island, Robert Morris, Lindenwood, Augustana and Stonehill.

It's anybody's guess what the future holds.

Even before Stonehill's announcement, there was speculation that Atlantic Hockey may split into two different conferences. There are some within that league privately hoping for that.

Expect conference affiliation to be a popular topic at the national college hockey meetings in Florida later this month, though it's highly doubtful changes will come imminently out of it.

Quick hits

  • According to The Buffalo News , Northeastern's star goalie Devon Levi has informed the Sabres that he's returning to college hockey next season. Levi was arguably the best goalie in the country this season, posting a .952 save percentage.
  • St. Cloud State defenseman Brendan Bushy of Thief River Falls will return to school for his fifth year of college eligibility.
  • Concordia (Moorhead) has named former Warroad High state champ Kirk Olimb its next men's hockey head coach .
  • UND forward commit Dylan James is the United States Hockey League's forward of the week. James had seven goals and nine points this weekend for the Sioux City Musketeers.
  • Minnesota Duluth added a goalie out of the transfer portal in Maine's Matthew Thiessen, a Vancouver Canucks draft pick. He'll join the Bulldogs' goalie group that also will feature starter Zach Stejskal and Fargo's Zach Sandy, an incoming freshman.
  • One of the more notable forwards entered the transfer portal Tuesday in Quinnipiac's Ty Smilanic, a third-round NHL Draft pick. UND had interest in Smilanic after Denver dropped the forward from its commit list several years ago, but Smilanic committed to Quinnipiac instead. He started this season hot, but finished with two goals in the final 20 games.
  • USA Hockey has named its World Junior Championship staff for the under-20 tournament this winter. The head coach will be Quinnipiac's Rand Pecknold and assistants will be Dartmouth's Reid Cashman and Western Michigan's Pat Ferschweiler.
  • Zach Driscoll won his first pro start last weekend, stopping 38 of 41 shots for Toledo in the ECHL. Start No. 2 will come Wednesday night against Fort Wayne.
  • East Grand Forks Senior High and UND grad Tucker Poolman is likely done for the year with an upper-body injury. Poolman is in his first season with the Vancouver Canucks. He has three seasons left on his four-year, $10-million deal.
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.
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