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Jake Sanderson might return for this weekend's playoff series against Colorado College

The Fighting Hawks are anticipating a much deeper lineup for the best-of-three set against the Tigers.

UND Cornell 4.jpg
UND's Jake Sanderson and Cornell's Zach Tupker work for control of the puck in the third period Friday, January 7, 2022. Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — Jake Sanderson has shed his no contact jersey.

He's a full participant in practice again.

The UND standout defenseman, who hasn't played for the Fighting Hawks since January because of an upper-body injury sustained in the 2022 Winter Olympics, might make his return to the lineup this weekend for UND's best-of-three playoff series against Colorado College.

"There's a very good chance," UND coach Brad Berry said. "We just got done at practice today, our Wednesday practice. He was involved — in Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — in every single drill. So, I think there's a very good chance he'll be in."

He's not the only one.

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Leading scorer Riese Gaber and top-pair defenseman Ethan Frisch, who both practiced all of last week but were held out against Omaha, will be in the lineup barring any late-week changes.

"I was here last week and I told you they'd be in and they weren't (against Omaha)," Berry said. "But I can say, probably with 100 percent certainty, that both of those guys will be in."

Their returns will be a big lift for a UND team that rolled down the stretch to win the Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference champions despite missing so many key players.

Sanderson, one of the country's most talented players, only suited up in 10 of 24 NCHC games this season. He missed games due to an illness, an injury, the Olympics and another injury. He did not play in any of the four regular-season meetings against Colorado College.

He provides UND not only one of the most dynamic offensive players in the country — he has 24 points in 21 games — but also a shutdown defensive presence on the back end.

Gaber missed the last five games due to an injury he suffered crashing into the boards on Feb. 18 at Minnesota Duluth. Gaber leads the team with 14 goals and 35 points. He's been particularly effective playing the right flank on the power play.

Frisch missed the last three games due to an injury he suffered crashing into the boards on Feb. 25 against Western Michigan. Frisch played big minutes for the Fighting Hawks without Sanderson and has become a force on the power play. The former Moorhead High player is fourth on the team in goals with nine.

"I've been practicing all week, so I'll be ready," Frisch said. "I feel really good. I've had a good week-and-a-half of practice and I'm feeling really good heading into the weekend."

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Frisch, an alternate captain, said it was tough to sit out last weekend against the Mavericks when UND clinched the Penrose Cup on an overtime goal by Tyler Kleven on Friday.

"It's not fun watching," Frisch said. "The guys have been playing great, but being up in the stands. . . you like to be on the ice, especially in those critical situations. Not super fun for me, but excited to be back with the group and hope to just add to what they've been doing."

UND will need to juggle some line combinations to get Gaber back in his role, but Berry said the changes won't be dramatic.

"It hasn't been wholesale changes of throwing different lines together," Berry said. "We still have some tandems together — two guys playing on the same line. We've obviously added Gaber to one of our top lines here. So, it's a situation where there is familiarity with a couple guys on a line.

"We went through the last six weeks of the season with guys bouncing around playing with everybody. I don't think that's going to be an issue. I think it's more about how we have to play as a team — our identity and structure within our game — rather than the continuity of the lines."

The Fighting Hawks will remain without alternate captain Gavin Hain, who suffered a leg injury on Jan. 7 against Cornell and has missed the last 15 games. His return this season is beginning to appear unlikely.

UND (22-12-1) and Colorado College (9-22-3, 6-17-1) will play a best-of-three series with a trip to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center on the line.

No matter what happens in the league playoffs, UND is a lock to be in the NCAA tournament again this season.

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"It's a new season," Berry said. "Everybody starts at zero. It's a fresh slate for everybody. That's what the playoffs are. Guys are excited. They work all year to get to this point. Their body of work establishes where they are in the league standings, and now it's game on."

Colorado College at No. 5 North Dakota

When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday. If necessary, 6:07 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.
TV: Midco Sports Network.
Stream: NCHC.tv.
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).

NCHC injury update

UND: F Riese Gaber (returning), D Ethan Frisch (returning), D Jake Sanderson (probable), F Gavin Hain (out, leg).
Colorado College: Tyler Coffey (returning)
Denver: D Antti Tuomisto (week-to-week, upper body), D Sean Behrens (week-to-week, undisclosed).
Miami: F Michael Regush (week-to-week, undisclosed), F Joe Cassetti (day-to-day, undisclosed), D Dylan Moulton (week-to-week, lower body), G Logan Neaton (out).
Western Michigan: None known.
Omaha: D Jake Harrison (out, upper body).
St. Cloud State: D Seamus Donohue (day-to-day, undisclosed).
Minnesota Duluth: None known.

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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