“You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets,” Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The New Year is almost upon us. To some, the new year can be seen as a reset or a new start. In 2023, the UND hockey team is looking to improve its current conference standing and Pairwise Rankings.
This past week, I was running some errands and listening to the UND Hockey Podcast, and the host Brad Schlossman was discussing UND’s current Pairwise ranking. Moving ahead to the new year, the University of North Dakota hockey team has one heck of a mountain to climb to make the NCAA tourney. It’s not going to be easy. However, it’s not out of reach.
“Right now, you have to get in the top 14 of the pairwise,” Schlossman said. “The CCHA has nobody in the top 16. Atlantic Hockey does not, either. I don’t know if RIT is going to be able to get high enough. I don’t know if anyone in the CCHA is. Right now, you’re looking at getting into the top 14, at a minimum. That means no other upsets in the other leagues to get in. Number two, the NCHC is not as good as it has been. They’re not playing a top-10 pairwise team every weekend anymore, and that’s going to make it a tall hill to climb in the second half.”
On Wednesday, the UND hockey team held their weekly press conference, and I asked head coach Brad Berry if he felt like their backs were against the wall.
“I don’t know if our backs are against the wall,” Berry said. “I think there is there’s going to be some urgency and desperation as far as knowing that we have to play our best every game, but that’s what we try to do every game anyways. I think the good thing is playing against a good Western team on the road, where it’s a tough environment to play in, and that we had success playing the right way. Now we’re playing at home. We have two nonconference games, which are huge in the pairwise, and then we get back into NCHC play.”
On Wednesday, I didn’t sense any panic emanating from the UND locker room. There seemed to be a sense of renewed energy. I asked the sophomore forward Jake Schmaltz and junior defenseman Cooper Moore if they look at the Pairwise Rankings. Their responses were interesting.
“I don’t understand all the analytics behind it,” Moore said. “I look at it, but I don’t understand what’s behind it. Everyone knows where we are, but I wouldn’t say it’s like, what’s this team doing this weekend? What’s that team doing this weekend? But we know where we are. We know where we stand, and our goal is always to be in that top 16 Because we want to make the tournament.”
“I don’t look at it a lot,” Schmaltz said. “I try to look at it every weekend. All you can do; is who we are playing next weekend and what can we do to get two wins. Not getting too far ahead of ourselves. One game at a time and being prepared for each and every game.”
While UND has a tall hill to climb, second-half runs aren’t out of the norm for the UND hockey team. Last season, UND lost four straight games to start 2022. From there, the Hawks went on a 10-2-0 run and finished first in the NCHC standings. They would win their first-round NCHC playoff series against the Colorado College Tigers before losing the final two games of the season.
Home Sweet Home
After being on the road for a few weekends, the Hawks begin a seven-game home stand. This weekend, the UND hockey team takes on the U-18 in an exhibition game. Next weekend, the Hawks take on first-year team Lindenwood in a crucial two-game non-conference series. Former Fighting Sioux defenseman Rick Zombo leads Lindenwood. If you haven’t heard this podcast, Jess Myers of the Rink Live interviewed Zombo at the beginning of the 2022-23 season (you can listen to that interview here).