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UND looking for right fit at second-line center

The UND coaching staff had visions this year of a 1-2 punch at center with Tyson Jost and Rhett Gardner.

But just five days into the offseason, that idea was dashed.

Jost signed a three-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche, becoming UND’s first freshman NHL signing since Ed Belfour in 1987, opening the door for a number of players to take over a top-two center role.

Tonight’s exhibition against the University of Manitoba (7:07 p.m., Ralph Engelstad Arena) will be the first experiment in learning who may be a good fit there.

The top candidates are Ohio State transfer and junior Nick Jones and sophomore Ludvig Hoff. Jones played center for the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League last season, while Hoff played a bottom-six centerman role for UND.

Joel Janatuinen and rookie Grant Mismash have experience at center, they’ll likely play tonight at wing.

“We want to try to implement some guys who can play the middle,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “Grant Mismash played up the middle at Shattuck. He didn’t at the National Program last year, but he has experience playing there. We’ll experiment there.

“I think we’ve got some pretty good options there. We’ve got some very good depth up the middle.”

Johnny Simonson and Dixon Bowen also are experienced centermen for the Fighting Hawks and could play up the middle on the third or fourth lines.

Berry said that the exhibition will be good for “getting some information” on line combinations and different roles for players.

“We’re very open-minded,” Berry said. “The biggest thing is making sure you have the right chemistry together. Sometimes, you look at lines and sometimes it hits you right away and you see it. Sometimes, you have to let it go through a few weeks here to see how things transpire.”

The Fighting Hawks plan to play seven of their eight defensemen (Gabe Bast is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and isn’t expected back until the middle of October) and dress all three goalies tonight.

The coaching staff has 15 available forwards, but probably won’t dress all of them.

“We have some decisions to make there,” Berry said.

After the exhibition game, UND will have six days to get ready for the regular-season opener at Alaska Anchorage.

“Execution is probably going to be a little rusty, because we haven’t played at a high level against another team,” Berry said. “We’ve scrimmaged a little bit, but execution is probably going to take a little bit. We want to see compete and intensity. Those are staples of North Dakota hockey. We’ve seen a lot of it early on, in the little time we’ve had to work with our group.”

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer 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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