Friday rundown: A 10,000-foot view of the UND hockey season
A few teams had to replace a lot of NHL signees in the offseason. Here's a comparison of how they're doing this season.
GRAND FORKS — It was early January when the tweets and emails started coming in.
They had a similar theme: This UND hockey team and season is doomed. The Fighting Hawks don't have it.
What made those tweets and emails fascinating is that UND was in first place at the time. First place. In the hardest league in the country.
In all the years of covering sports, I've never seen anything like it — a fan base ready to throw the towel on a first-place team. In trying to figure out why, I came to one conclusion.
UND fans and media members that cover the team (myself included) too often only compare UND squads to those of the past — especially the recent past — and not other programs.
The Fighting Hawks just had two of their best seven seasons in program history in 2019-20 and 2020-21. They posted winning percentages better than .775 in back-to-back years for just the second time ever (the other was 1997-98 and 1998-99).
When you compare this year's team to the last two — the ones fresh in everyone's mind — it's understandable why the perception of this squad is what it is.
This year's team is not as good as the last two. They never were going to be. You don't lose over half your roster and come back the next year and have one of the greatest seasons ever at UND, which has had a lot of great seasons.
But that also doesn't mean this season is a lost cause. UND won five NCAA national championships with teams that had lower winning percentages than the last two seasons (1959, 1963, 1982, 1997 and 2000).
Instead of comparing this UND team to two of the best in program history, it can sometimes be best to zoom outside of Grand Forks, take the 10,000-foot view and look at college hockey's landscape as a whole.
You'll see an interesting snapshot and perhaps gain a different perspective on this year's UND team.
During last offseason, UND lost eight players to NHL contracts. That was, by far, the most of any program. It's more than double every program in the nation outside of two — Boston College (five) and Wisconsin (four).
Last season, UND, Boston College and Wisconsin all had great teams.
UND won the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Wisconsin won the Big Ten. Boston College won Hockey East. They were all No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Not surprisingly, the three programs — all similar in profile as college hockey traditional powerhouses — lost more NHL talent than anyone. Here's where they sit right now:
1. Wisconsin (four NHL signees) has lost six-straight games. It is 8-19-3, ahead of just one team in the Big Ten standings. It is No. 37 in the Pairwise Rankings, one spot behind Canisius, with a .317 PWR point percentage.
2. Boston College (five NHL signees) is on a 10-game winless streak, which is the longest since Boston College's program began in 1917. The Eagles are No. 34 in the Pairwise, one spot behind Lake Superior State and one ahead of Sacred Heart. The Eagles have a .445 PWR point percentage and are in eighth in Hockey East.
3. North Dakota (eight NHL signees) is No. 13 in the Pairwise Rankings with a .607 PWR point percentage. The Fighting Hawks are in second place in the NCHC, a league that would have five NCAA tournament teams if it began today.
|Team||NHL losses||PWR||PWR %||Standings|
This puts into perspective the job UND's coaches did re-tooling the roster. While Boston College and Wisconsin are reeling right now, UND is right back in the mix.
The Fighting Hawks won't finish with one of the best winning percentages in school history, but everything else is still possible for this team. That had to be the goal coming into the season — finish in the top half of a challenging league, get to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, get into the NCAA tournament and see what happens.
That's exactly where UND sits with four weeks left of the regular season.
One of the reasons UND has been able to jump right back in the mix this season is the coaches hit on the transfers.
Connor Ford has been especially clutch for the Fighting Hawks — on and off the ice . Ashton Calder, meanwhile, is nearing a milestone. He's four points shy of 100 for his college career.
Chris Jandric has been a top-four defenseman all season. Brady Ferner has been a steady presence on the back end, though UND may have to play without him this weekend . Goalie Zach Driscoll has allowed one five-on-five goal in each of the last three weekends.
Tale of the tape
|3.15 (20th)||Offense||2.42 (44th)|
|2.78 (29th)||Defense||3.08 (37th)|
|22.7 (16th)||Power play||16.8 (40th)|
|78.2 (43rd)||Penalty kill||74.2 (52nd)|
|54.7 (4th)||Faceoffs||46.3 (51st)|
|.886 (51st)||Goaltending||.897 (37th)|
National rank in parenthesis
The focus: Hunter McKown
Colorado College sophomore forward Hunter McKown, who lived with UND’s Jake Sanderson when they were teammates with the U.S. Under-18 Team, is emerging as a big-time threat for the Tigers. McKown has six goals and 10 points in the last 10 games for Colorado College. Nine of the 10 points have come at even-strength, too. The San Jose, Calif., product had two goals and three points last Saturday against Western Michigan.
"He's attacking the game," Colorado College coach Kris Mayotte said. "He knows how to protect pucks. He knows how to be a 6-2 guy. He knows how to attack. He's willing to hang onto pucks longer. He's willing to possess pucks. And then when he gets the chance, he can create time and space for himself when he holds it for three to five seconds. He always wanted to have that time and space immediately. He wasn't willing to work for it a little more. Now, he's working for it, he's getting to good areas, he's building that confidence that you only get through hard work and preparation. I give him a ton of credit, because he's taking big steps."
The pick to click: Jackson Kunz
With a shorthanded lineup, UND will need some players to step into larger roles and help provide some offense. Kunz is a player who can do that. He was a goal-scorer at Green Bay in the USHL last season and will eventually become that at UND. Like other power forwards who came before him here — Chris VandeVelde, Brad Malone, Jasper Weatherby — it will take some time, but he can still chip in some big goals down the stretch. Kunz has two goals so far this year. Both have come on the road — at Bemidji State and at St. Cloud State. Don't be surprised if he gets his first in The Ralph this weekend.
The call: Split
Colorado College has actually been better on the road than in its new home of Ed Robson Arena. A sampling of road games for the Tigers this season: They beat Boston College in Boston, shut out both Minnesota Duluth and Omaha and swept last-place Miami. This weekend, the Tigers will have a prime opportunity to end a seven-game losing streak in Ralph Engelstad Arena against a shorthanded UND squad. Colorado College has not been swept on the road all year.
Friday: CC 2, UND 1
Saturday: UND 4, CC 0