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MEN'S HOCKEY: UND has found success despite CHL de-commits

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MEN'S HOCKEY: UND has found success despite CHL de-commits
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From 2011 to the end of last season, UND has lost more players and recruits to Canadian major juniors than any program in the country.

UND has lost six, Boston University and Michigan have lost five and Miami has lost four.

Start examining how those lost players have affected those teams, it is clear that the UND coaching staff has done a remarkable job in managing them, changing on the fly and getting things to work.

Boston University posted its worst season in 51 years by going .343 in 2013-14.

The Terriers went from .604 (first-round NCAA loss) to .564 to .343 in the last three years. Boston University’s program hasn’t been annually strong in the last decade (the Terriers haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since the 2009 national championship), but the last time they had a season as bad as 2013-14, Jack Parker was in high school.

After making the NCAA tournament for 21 consecutive years, Michigan has missed the NCAAs each of the last two seasons.

For a while, it seemed that the Wolverines would never miss the NCAA tournament. But then they started getting hit with recruits leaving for the Ontario Hockey League, most notably goaltender John Gibson, and all of the sudden Michigan missed the NCAA tournament in 2013. Then, it happened again in 2014.

After posting eight straight .600-plus seasons, Miami had a .434 winning percentage, finished in last place in its conference and missed the NCAAs for the first time in nearly a decade.

The RedHawks took a couple of hits defensively with Connor Murphy and Pat Sieloff leaving for major juniors. The blue line became a weakness that not even an offensively explosive team could make up for.

UND, on the other hand, has been able to maintain a winning percentage of at least .600 every year and has made, at minimum the NCAA regional final. This season, it went to the NCAA Frozen Four, too.

UND’s senior class was one of only four (Boston College, Union and Denver the others) that made the NCAAs every season of their careers. UND’s seniors never went one-and-done in the NCAAs, either — the only group in the country that could say that.

Two of the CHL departures haven’t played a factor yet — Ryan Gropp and Brendan Lemieux weren’t expected to come this fall. But others could have been major players.

Why has UND been able to navigate the murky waters of CHL de-commits better than its peers?

Three reasons stand out.

1. The staff has done a terrific job developing teams

Remember what you thought of last year’s team in November? By the end of the year, it was one of the top five teams in the country. It was a completely different team.

Two years earlier, when UND started 4-7-1 and couldn’t fill out a full lineup in the second half of the year, once again it became one of the nation’s top teams. That’s been a trait of UND hockey teams in the last 10 years. And it has continued, even in years where adversity is high and overall skill level isn’t as high.

2. The right players were in place

A lot of credit for the strong finishes goes to the leaders and the captains. Mario Lamoureux really set a tone a few years ago that the players have followed since. Andrew MacWilliam, Dillon Simpson and Stephane Pattyn are others that have played large roles. Their skills off the ice were almost as important as their skills on the ice.

3. The staff has known where to go for replacements

It’s funny the way things work sometimes. Connor Gaarder was J.T. Miller’s replacement. After UND’s loss to St. Lawrence and lengthy team meeting that followed, Gaarder was the No. 1 star of the game the next night with a goal and an assist. When UND had a must-win game vs. Western Michigan in order to get into the NCAAs, Gaarder scored the first two goals of the game and was once again the No. 1 star. When the regional final was in double overtime, it was Gaarder who scored and sent UND to the Frozen Four. He was a huge factor in this season.

Considering what has happened to other teams that have sustained similar major junior losses, the coaching staff’s biggest achievement over the last few years has been maintaining the high level of play and results when other powerhouses have not.

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Brad Elliott Schlossman
Schlossman is in his 11th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2014, he was named one of the top three beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.
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