Thirteen games into the 2022-23 season, the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team isn’t meeting expectations. After winning a third National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular season title in a row, the Fighting Hawks have fallen on hard times. Through 13 games, the Hawks are 5-6-2 and 2-3-1 NCHC and are chugging along at a .462 clip.
That’s not a typical UND season. So, what’s going on?
The month of November has been a mixed bag. Through six games, UND has gone 2-3-1 and is sitting in the bottom half of the NCHC standings. There is a lot of ground to make up if the Hawks want to win a fourth NCHC title in a row.
Friday after pounding the Miami RedHawks 7-1, UND fans’ expectations were high. A sweep seemed like a logical result, but it wasn’t meant to be. The RedHawks would race to a 3-0 lead before the Hawks would awaken. In the second period, UND would score three goals in 10:31 to tie the game. At the 14:34 mark of the third period, Miami forward Jack Clement would score the game-winning goal to secure a 4-3 win for the RedHawks.
Three Top-Six Forwards Aren’t Producing
Where is UND struggling? Three of UND’s top-six forwards from last season are underperforming. Two of them have been almost invisible. These are three top-six players that a season ago scored (27g-38a—65pts) combined. Through 13 games, this same trio has scored (6g-5a—11pts).
When you put it on paper, it makes sense why UND isn’t winning more games: last season, the trio of players in question: Jake Schmaltz (8-g-16a—24pts). Matteo Contantini (8g-13a—21pts) and Judd Caulfield (11g-9a—20pts) provided a lot of scoring punch for the UND lineup.
This year Schmaltz has scored (3g-4a—7pts), and to date, he has one multi-point game. His classmate Contantini has been a healthy scratch in two games. In most games, he’s been hardly noticeable scoring a single assist in 11 games. The final piece of the equation, Caulfield was held scoreless through the first eight games of the season. Recently, Caulfield has scored three goals in the last five games. All three players should be contributing to the offense on a weekly basis. They will need to be better if UND is to have a successful season.
Not Scoring Five-on-Five
First, UND’s special team’s play has been really good. Scoring five-on-five has been an issue. Let’s break this down further. Through 13 games, UND has scored 48 goals, which ranks ninth nationally. Nineteen of those 48 goals have been scored on the power play. That’s not a misprint, UND has scored almost 40 percent of their goals on the man advantage. Where would this team be without their power play that’s ranked fourth nationally? Their penalty kill is also tied for sixth nationally, killing 86% of the opponent’s power plays.
Freshman forward Jackson Blake has been a staple on the power play. Through 13 games, he’s the team’s third-leading scorer (7g-8a—15pts). Thirteen of those 15 points have been scored on the man advantage. Two of his seven goals have been scored at even strength. Blake is going to need to contribute to the offense five-on-five.
— North Dakota MHockey (@UNDmhockey) November 20, 2022
Goaltending and Defense Struggling Early
Again, the offense hasn’t been the problem, the Hawks are scoring enough goals to win hockey games. The defense and goaltending have been UND’s, Achilles Heel. They’re struggling to keep the pucks out of their net. Currently, UND is ranked 57 nationally in save percentage. Only Stonehill, Holy Cross, Yale, Bentley, and Air Force are in worse shape. If UND wants to finish in the top half of the NCHC standings, they need to be better in the net.
So far, neither UND goalie has established themselves as the go-to guy. Here’s the goalie’s stat line: Drew DeRidder (3-3-1, 2.95 GAA, and a .891 save percentage), also has one shutout. Albeit it was against Holy Cross. DeRidder played a factor in UND getting a win and an overtime loss against the Minnesota Golden Gophers back in October. Jakob Hellsten (2-3-1, 2.86 GAA and a .866 save percentage). The Hawks goalies and defensemen need to tighten up defensively and have a save percentage of about .915 if they’re going to want to be successful.
How did we get here? There’s a lot of blame to go around. It’s not all goaltending, UND’s top defense pairing Tyler Kleven and Ethan Frisch is a combined minus-14. Junior d-man Cooper Moore has also struggled defensively and is currently a minus-six. This is an experienced d-corp, not a single defenseman on this team is a freshman. They know they have to play better.
What Needs to be Done?
The players know what needs to be done, it’s a team effort and they will need to play as a team and clean up the little things that cause pucks to end up in the back of their net. They need to play a full 60-minute game and be harder on pucks.
“It seems like a recurring theme here, not a full 60,” d-man Ethan Frisch said.
Later in the Saturday post-game, “We’re not getting our box outs, which has usually been a staple of ours. We’ve got to figure that out,” Frisch said.
“Not playing with that pride on the crest on the front, Louis Jamernik said. “Yes, it’s frustrating.”
What will the Hawks need to do this week against Bemidji State?
“Just playing with desperation from the start… we’re good, Jamernik said. “Right from the start, if we play with desperation, hungry as I said, the chip on our shoulder will be fine.”