The NCAA transfer portal is only a couple of years old, but there's a record number of men's hockey players in it this offseason.
UND has jumped in to add four players already -- forward Connor Ford from Bowling Green, defenseman Chris Jandric from Alaska Fairbanks, defenseman Brady Ferner from RPI and goaltender Zach Driscoll from Bemidji State.
The Fighting Hawks may not be done, either. There's a better-than-average chance that they'll add another forward from the portal by the time the players begin gathering in Grand Forks this summer.
Right now, the number stands at four, which is a lot for UND. That's especially the case when you consider the program added four transfers in an 18-year span from 2000-18.
There are two things to consider when analyzing this development.
No. 1: The transfer portal is here to stay.
It is going to be a fixture. With a few NCAA rules developments -- the assumption that the one-time transfer allowance without having to sit out will soon be passed, and the fact that 2020-21 didn't count against anyone's eligibility -- there are going to be a lot of players in the portal each offseason.
Schools will continue to jump at the opportunity to get an older, veteran and proven player out of the portal. Look at the impact it had for NCAA national champion UMass this season. In the NCAA regional final, Carson Gicewicz had a natural hat trick, including the game-winning goal, to send the Minutemen to the Frozen Four. They added Gicewicz from St. Lawrence last summer. In the Frozen Four semifinals, Garrett Wait scored the overtime winner. UMass added Wait from Minnesota last summer.
No. 2: This year is an anomaly for UND.
While UND will certainly head back to the transfer portal for players in the future, this year is an anomaly. You won't see them dive in to get this many players in a normal year.
The Fighting Hawks are losing at least 12 players from the 2020-21 team. That's the highest number of players UND has lost on a team in at least 20 years.
After the 2004-05 and 2010-11 seasons, UND had to replace 11 players.
Instead of bringing in all freshmen -- including some who probably aren't ready for college hockey yet -- the Fighting Hawks have been able to add players from the portal to allow their recruits more time to develop. They're still bringing in players who are ready -- Nick Portz and Jake Schmaltz will be two of them -- but others won't be put into a situation where they're going to fail by coming to college too early.
When you add these factors together, you can bet that UND will still go into the transfer portal to add players in the future, but it will rarely have an offseason like this.
Traditional recruiting -- adding freshmen to the roster -- will still be UND's main way of team-building.
Pinto, JBD getting close to debuts
Shane Pinto and Jacob Bernard-Docker could be close to making their NHL debuts.
The two former UND players joined the Ottawa Senators' full team practice for the first time Tuesday morning. Pinto and Bernard-Docker even led the Senators in their team stretch.
When will they make their NHL debuts?
Their next chance is 6 p.m. Wednesday against the Winnipeg Jets. After that, the Senators play at Montreal (3 p.m. Saturday) and at Calgary (8 p.m. Monday).
"Everyone will be involved -- Pierre (Dorion, general manager) and all the coaches -- as to that decision," coach D.J. Smith said. "I thought they both looked good today. They're skating. But we want to make sure we put them in the right situation. Is one practice enough? I don't know. We'll decide that. We have a game, then we have two practices, then we go on the road. Whether it's tomorrow or the next game or shortly thereafter, it will come soon enough."
Smith said it's possible they won't make their debuts in the same game.
"The guys have been great of welcoming me and Jacob," Pinto said. "I feel good. I feel comfortable and I feel ready to go. When my time does come, I have to be ready, be locked in, and I'm excited for it."
Pinto and Bernard-Docker had skated by themselves over the weekend.
"Obviously, everything is pretty new for me," Bernard-Docker said. "I'm coming in, just trying to soak it all in and figure it out on the way. Everyone is doing a really good job steering me in the right direction and helping me out with everything."
Bernard-Docker said he spend his week of quarantine trying to get ahead on school.
Pinto was asked if the week of quarantine helped him get over the five overtime loss to Minnesota Duluth in the regional championship game.
"No, honestly, it will always be there, it will always sting," Pinto said. "I've got to move on now. Obviously, I'm here with the Senators and I'm fully invested in them, but there's always going to be a little part of me that stings losing that game."
UND players sweep monthly NCHC honors
UND players won all of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's monthly honors for March.
Collin Adams was named the NCHC player of the month. He tied for the national lead with 11 points in March. He had seven points in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Fargo Regional. Adams, a senior, has signed with the New York Islanders.
UND swept the player of the month awards for the season. Four different players won it in four different months. Jordan Kawaguchi won it in December, Shane Pinto won it in January, Jasper Weatherby in February and Adams in March/April.
Riese Gaber won the NCHC's rookie of the month honor. He led all NCHC rookies with five points and three goals in March. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.
Adam Scheel won the NCHC's goaltender of the month honor. He posted a .937 save percentage and a 1.55 goals-against average. Scheel won the NCHC's goalie of the month honor in January, February and March. Scheel, a junior, signed with the Dallas Stars after the season.
On top of that UND transfer Zach Driscoll of Bemidji State won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's goalie of the month honor for March. Driscoll had a .926 save percentage and a 1.91 goals-against average in March, leading the Beavers to the NCAA regional final.
Jackson Keane makes pro debut
Former UND forward Jackson Keane made his professional debut Friday night for the Wheeling (W.Va.) Nailers in the ECHL.
Keane, of Winnipeg, had one shot on goal for Wheeling in a 3-2 shootout loss to South Carolina.
Keane signed a pro deal after three seasons at UND -- the NCAA took one away because he started full-time college classes early in his junior hockey career -- and tallied five goals and 14 points in 72 games.
Ausmus plays two NTDP games
East Grand Forks Senior High junior defenseman Trey Ausmus was invited to play a pair of games with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program over the weekend.
Ausmus, who helped the Green Wave to the Minnesota state Class A semifinals, suited up for the U.S. Under-17 team in a series against the United States Hockey League's Green Bay Gamblers in Plymouth, Mich. The Gamblers won the games 5-4 and 5-2.
The Ausmus family is no stranger to the NTDP. Trey's older brother, Gage, played two seasons there with the U.S. Under-17 and U.S. Under-18 teams.
In prep hockey this season, Ausmus had 11 goals and 35 points in 23 games.
Three Bulldogs sign
Minnesota Duluth's top three scorers have all signed NHL contracts.
Senior Nick Swaney signed with the Minnesota Wild on Sunday, while junior Jackson Cates (Philadelphia Flyers) and junior Cole Koepke (Tampa Bay Lightning) both signed Tuesday.
Jackson, an undrafted free agent, signed with the team that has the rights to his brother, Noah. The Flyers also are expected to try to sign Noah. Swaney and Koepke were both draft picks.
Cates and Koepke were the fifth and sixth non-seniors to sign NHL deals from the NCHC this offseason.
Colorado College's Josiah Slavin (Chicago Blackhawks) and UND's Shane Pinto (Ottawa Senators), Adam Scheel (Dallas Stars) and Jacob Bernard-Docker (Ottawa Senators) all previously signed.
Latest transfer portal entries
Wisconsin sophomore D Shay Donovan (0-0--0), UMass senior F Philip Lagunov (4-2--6), Boston College freshman D Jack Agnew (0-0--0), Merrimack junior D Tyler Heidt (0-0--0), Canisius sophomore D John Stampohar (DNP), Canisius sophomore F MacGregor Sinclair (DNP).
For a full list of transfer portal entries and transfer moves, go here: The Herald's 2021 men's college hockey transfer board