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2018 UND College Hockey Preview: 'Experienced' defensive corps emerges

UND's Hayden Shaw (28) checks Denver's Liam Finlay (13) in the third period of the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff between the Fighting Hawks and Pioneers, March 17, 2017 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

UND has one senior defenseman this season in Hayden Shaw.

In the Brad Berry era, that's a lot.

This is Berry's fourth year as the head coach at UND, and in those four years, he's only had two senior defensemen: Shaw and Gage Ausmus.

Every other one has turned pro before exhausting their eligibility.

Troy Stecher, Paul LaDue, Keaton Thompson, Tucker Poolman and Christian Wolanin—five of the six defensemen who played in the 2016 NCAA title game—all turned pro after three seasons at UND.

None of them were drafted in the top two rounds. They just developed faster than NHL teams expected and four of those five have already stepped into the NHL.

"Obviously, it's tough, because you want to have as many seniors as you can," Berry said. "You know as well as I do, when you have free agents and draft picks that are top-rated by NHL teams, they sometimes leave before their senior year."

So even though having just one senior defenseman doesn't seem like a lot, this will be Berry's most experienced defensive corps since his national championship team.

Shaw is a senior. Andrew Peski is a junior. So is captain Colton Poolman, who declined to chase NHL free agent offers during the offseason.

"It was huge (to get him back)," Berry said. "I know he led our 'D' in time on ice and a lot of different categories on the defensive end. We do some analytics, and he leads our team in positive puck touches every game. You can never have enough of those guys. He's dependable, hard-working, and he leads our group on the back end."

Sophomores Matt Kiersted, Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger got their feet wet as rookies last season.

And the two rookies—first-round draft pick Jacob Bernard-Docker and second-round pick Jonny Tychonick—come in with plenty of accolades.

"I think Jacob Bernard-Docker is a very solid, two-way defenseman," Berry said. "Just going through the first few weeks, you can see he's very, very good in all different parts of his game with the puck and without the puck. He's just a solid defenseman. He reminds me a little bit of Paul LaDue. He has good offensive ability, but he's very good defensive and very dependable.

"Jonny is an excellent skater, dynamic with the puck. He's a guy we can count on, eventually, to create offense for us and help join the rush for our forwards. They're two totally different types of defensemen."

Along with experience, UND also has a balanced defensive corps with four left-handed shots and four right-handed shots.

The last time UND had that was 2013-14.

The Fighting Hawks have been heavy on left-handed defensemen the last couple of years. Poolman, a lefty, played on the right side last season.

"I think we've got a nice blend of defensemen," Berry said. "This is the first time in a while we've had that right-left combo."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman 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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