Coming into the 2022-03 season, the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team held high expectations. The Fighting Hawks brought in four highly skilled freshmen that were expected to help bolster the offense. So far, freshman forward Jackson Blake has proven to be a good addition to the lineup. Through 10 games, Blake has scored four goals and 10 points. He has scored nine of his 10 points were scored on the power play. The other three freshmen in his class have modest contributions and are starting to become a fixture in the UND lineup.
This season, special teams haven’t been an issue. UND’s power play is ranked fifth in the nation scoring 30 percent of their power plays. UND’s penalty kill has also been good, they’re tied for fifth nationally, killing 89.7 percent of their opponent’s power plays. Friday against the high-powered Denver, UND killed 6-of-6 of the Pioneers power plays. As I mentioned special teams haven’t been a concern.
UND’s biggest problem, scoring 5-on-5 and holding leads in the third period. UND is also not getting timely contributions from the top-six players that played big roles in the past.
Though 10 games, sophomore forwards Matteo Constantini and Jake Schmaltz have six points combined. Last season, Constantini scored eight goals and 21 points, and his classmate Schmaltz had eight goals and 24 points. This season, both have struggled to put points on the board. Schmaltz has scored three goals and five points. He has been held pointless three games in a row. It’s been a disappointing season for Constantini, he’s been a healthy scratch in two of UND’s first 10 games and hasn’t recorded a point in the past four games. A season ago, he had four goals and eight points through 10 games.
These two aren’t the only players struggling. There are others. During the first 10 games of the season, senior forward Judd Calfield has been almost invisible. After an impressive junior season where he scored 11 goals and 20 points, the Grand Forks native entered the 2022-23 season with high expectations. Through 10 games, he hasn’t been in on a lot of scoring plays. he’s scored a single five-on-five goal.
There’s No Panic
In the post-game conference, coach Brad Berry was asked if the lack of scoring by his top-six forwards is an area of concern.
“I think it’s a situation where it is… the habits and details of trying to play in the offensive zone,” Berry said. “Teams like Denver and Omaha they play the game tight, and there’s not a lot of time and space. You keep advancing pucks whether it’s through a direct pass — an indirect play — a flip; or whatever that is and try to get pucks in the offensive zone. When you do get (the puck) there, you have to be harder on pucks and remain in possession of the puck. I thought we had a few one-and-dones tonight where they came back the other way. They’re a good transition team, and we must ensure that we get pucks behind them and are harder in the offensive zone.”
There doesn’t seem to be any panic in the room, it’s about getting back to basics and playing UND hockey.
“Yeah, we’re close, I do feel we’re close,” Berry said. “I give Denver credit they won the game tonight, but sometimes we beat ourselves, situations where games in the third period are up for grabs and sometimes we give up a goal at inopportune times, maybe beating ourselves a little bit instead of playing the percentages and playing those situations where you can’t have a chance to play in the offensive zone.”
“I don’t think we’re far off at all,” UND captain Mark Senden said. “I think we’re right there.”
“I think just bringing speed through the neutral zone here, getting it into the offensive zone, and just surrounding pucks getting that second man first on pucks, senior defenseman Chris Jandric said. “If you chip it in, get that second man around it low high or getting it to the net. I think we have to simplify our game a little more.”
Following Friday’s loss, some in the UND fanbase are getting restless. The UND coaching staff isn’t ready to push the panic button. There are a few areas the Hawks need to clean up, and they will make the appropriate adjustments to right the ship. Obviously, losing to Denver doesn’t sit well with the fans, but in reality, it’s still early, but the fans are running out of patience.
*As I finish writing this post, UND is trailing the Denver Pioneers 2-1 in game two of the series.