The awards are rolling in for the UND hockey team, giving fans at least a modicum of satisfaction after a sudden and disheartening end to the season.
Brad Berry this week won the Spencer Penrose Award as the nation’s top hockey coach, chosen by the American Hockey Coaches Association. Berry actually tied for the award with Cornell coach Mike Schafer, but it’s a prestigious honor nonetheless.
It’s the second tie for the award in its 70 years. And despite UND’s incredible success on the national hockey scene – eight national titles overall – it’s just the fourth time a UND coach has won the award. Gino Gasparini won it in 1987 and Dean Blais won in 1997 and 2001.
Good for Berry, who this year had the team on the cusp of another historic season. The Fighting Hawks were 26-5-4 and seemed to be on a roll as the regular season ended. They were the top-ranked team in the Pairwise Rankings and favored by Las Vegas casinos to win the NCAA title.
Notably, they were 18-1 at home. That kind of home-ice success has never happened before.
And then the coronavirus pandemic hit, canceling the postseason. Hearing the news, which came March 12, was a punch in the gut for team members and fans.
Yet in the month since, postseason awards are helping soothe the loss and provide further confirmation that this team was indeed special.
Berry’s award came Tuesday.
Last week, UND junior Jordan Kawaguchi was announced as one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the nation’s best player. Only two UND players – Tony Hrkac in 1987 and Ryan Duncan in 2007 – have won it, and Kawaguchi is just the fifth UND player since the early 1990s to be a Top 3 finalist.
Kawaguchi already has been named the nation’s top player by the hockey publication U.S. College Hockey Online.
UND had National Collegiate Hockey Conference awards, too, including Shane Pinto, NCHC rookie of the year; Colton Poolman, NCHC defensive defenseman of the year; Kawaguchi, NCHC forward of the year; and Berry, who won NCHC Herb Brooks Coach of the Year.
Cole Smith and Matt Kiersted were finalists for NCHC defensive forward of the year and offensive defenseman of the year, respectively.
Of course, UND players, fans and pretty much an entire state and region would rather the Fighting Hawks had been able to verify their talent and potential with a run for the national title this month. It’s just not to be.
The long list of awards and postseason honors for this year’s team will have to be their – and our – consolation prize after the postseason was abruptly canceled.
Thus the question: What could have been?
Certainly, great things.
This team will not be forgotten. Its regular-season success, along with its unique end and numerous awards, will forever engrain the 2019-20 team into local lore. This team will be talked about for years, and that’s a special honor few teams achieve.
A toast to this season’s UND hockey players and coaches. Thank you for this unforgettable season and experience.