Zach Driscoll makes a save against Niagara. (Photo Credit: Eric J. Burton)

3 Things, North Dakota vs. Niagara

On Saturday night, the University of North Dakota hockey team put the finishing touches on a series sweep against their non-conference opponent Niagara University. It was a team-first effort as UND won the game 4-0 and expanded their record to 31-2 against Atlantic Hockey foes.

“Good two wins,” UND head coach Brad Berry said. “Good team building. Two wins to keep building and going the right way with our team. In the first period, (we faced a) little bit of adversity with a determined team coming at us. We weren’t our best in the first period and I think everybody would agree with that. Again, it’s due to a very well-coached team and a team that played with relentlessness the whole weekend and they pushed us they gave us a push.”

Here are three things that stood out in UND’s non-conference win against the Niagara Purple Eagles.

Jake Schmaltz Scores Two More

The UND hockey team has a rich and storied history. All you have to do is wander the halls of the Ralph Engelstad Arena to reminisce about years past. UND is a program that has produced 106 NHL players. Fast forward to the 2021-22 season, another UND hockey player is beginning to make his mark at UND.

After two games, freshman forward Jake Schmaltz is already making a name for himself. Like his two cousins before him, Schmaltz scored a goal in his first game. Schmaltz wasn’t satisfied. He scored two more goals in his second game to join some elite company. Schmaltz became the first UND hockey player since Drew Stafford (2003-04) to score a goal in each of his first two games. The McFarland, Wisconsin scored an even-strength goal and added another goal on the power play to lead UND to a 4-0 victory.

“That’s pretty cool,” Schmaltz said. “I don’t think I can be compared to Drew Stafford, but it’s super cool to be mentioned with a guy like that, but he was a helluva player. I probably shouldn’t be compared to him yet.”

Schmaltz took it all in stride and gave props to his linemates.

“Just my linemates, they make it easy for me,” Schmaltz said. “We just try to work hard and have fun and control we control and the rest will come. Just playing hard working with those guys and the rest will come.”

Zach Driscoll Shines

After the 2020-21 season, UND lost both of their goalies (NHL and Transfer Portal). That meant that the Fighting Hawks didn’t have a goaltender with college hockey experience. UND went to the NCAA transfer portal and signed former BSU goalie Zach Driscoll. Before coming to UND, The Apple Valley, Minnesota native had 10 career shutouts. On Saturday night, Driscoll recorded his first shutout wearing a UND uniform. With the shutout on Saturday night, he recorded the 11th shutout of his collegiate career.

Looking at Driscolls numbers, he brings a lot of college hockey experience. Driscoll has played in 102 games (52-35-12, 2.19 GAA, and has a .920 career save percentage).

Saturday after the game, coach Berry was very appreciative of his goaltender.

“First of all he’s an outstanding person,” Berry said. “Just a (hard) worker, but also the experience he has. He’s played college hockey for a number of years he’s seen a lot of different teams, a lot of different situations. There’s nothing that can replace experience. Anytime you bring in a new goaltender it takes a little bit of time. It’s nice to know that he’s got a big body of work that’s it gives him the confidence to make those saves early in the game.”

Listening to Driscoll talk, he’s definitely a team-first guy. When asked about his performance he credited his teammates in front of him.

“Obviously, that feels good, individually, but that doesn’t happen without a team in front of us,” Driscoll said. “Special teams were awesome. The powerplay answered, and the penalty killed its job. The chances they did have the most from the outside was a team effort for sure.”

Power Play Takes Flight

During the offseason, UND lost a lot of its offensive firepower. With those losses, you’d expect their special teams’ play to drop off. In the series against Niagra, the Fighting Hawks were 3/6 on the man advantage.

“I think when we had some power plays, I think that’s when we got some momentum back and happened to capitalize on one of them and got us going,” Berry said. “I think it’s a situation where special teams are going to be huge throughout the rest of the year, and the power play the penalty kill won us the game tonight.”

Sounds like the UND players are taking ownership of their special teams’ play.

“They’re experienced guys and just trying to find spots for each one of those guys on each unit,” Berry said. I” think they’re doing a good job. We’ve been together since the beginning of September. They’ve been bonding together since July and getting to know each other. They care about each other, and when we’re not on the ice with them, they’re talking about powerplay, and they’re working on it together without the coaches.”