KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Maybe you knew it from the start.
Maybe you had a hunch that this wasn't going to be any ordinary hockey season when UND made a statement by coming out with its black jerseys for the season-opening home game against Canisius, then hammering the Golden Griffins twice by a combined score of 13-1.
Maybe you realized it the next weekend when UND went toe-to-toe with a strong, veteran MSU-Mankato team on the road.
Maybe you weren't sold until this team went to Denver and won a series for the first time until 2003.
Maybe it was the overtime winner to sweep St. Cloud State or the nine-goal, record-setting thrashing of Minnesota in Mariucci.
But by the time UND scored its fourth touchdown of the season Saturday night in an 8-2 win to sweep Western Michigan at Lawson Ice Arena, there couldn't have been many doubts left: Seasons like this don't come around too often, even for a traditional powerhouse program like UND.
At what point did you become convinced that this UND hockey team was pretty good? (message me if other)— Brad Elliott Schlossman (@SchlossmanGF) December 9, 2019
How many teams have completed the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule with just one loss?
Since 1958, this is just the third team to do it.
The others were 1998-99 (12-1-1) and 2002-03 (16-1-1).
Fewest losses before Christmas since 1958
1 -- 2019 (14-1-2).
1 -- 2002 (16-1-1).
1 -- 1998 (12-1-1).
* UND had one or fewer losses before Christmas a few times in the 1940s and 1950s, when the team played far fewer games early in the season: 1957 (6-1-1), 1956 (7-1), 1952 (2-0), 1950 (5-1-1), 1949 (3-1-1), 1947 (2-1).
It is notable that the other two teams that finished the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule with one loss did not reach the NCAA Frozen Four. In 1998-99, UND was knocked off by Boston College in the regional final. The 2002-03 team, which closed the season 8-11-3, lost to a Chris Kunitz-led Ferris State team in the first round.
UND doesn't want that to happen this season.
In the locker room in Lawson Ice Arena, the team made a pact that they're not going to let off the gas pedal in the second half. Read the Herald's story about that here.
Some of the best teams in program history had more losses before Christmas, including the NCAA national championship teams. The 1958-59 team was 5-2-1, the 1962-63 team was 7-2, the 1979-80 team was 12-5, the 1981-82 team was 14-6, the 1986-87 Hrkac Circus team was 16-4, the 1996-97 team was 11-4-1, the 1999-00 team was 12-3-1 and the 2015-16 team was 16-2-2.
Judd Caulfield offers more scoring depth
Since Ralph Engelstad Arena opened in 2001, only three UND teams have finished the entire season with under 10 losses.
UND lost eight times in 2003-04, nine times in 2010-11 and six times in 2015-16.
This team will try to join that club, but this team has a far different makeup.
Those other three teams had a distinct, dominant top line that throttled opponents on a nightly basis. All three lines are recognized on a wall just outside UND's locker room -- Zach Parise, Brandon Bochenski and Brady Murray in 2003-04, Matt Frattin, Evan Trupp and Brad Malone in 2010-11 and Drake Caggiula, Nick Schmaltz and Brock Boeser in 2015-16.
This team does not have one line that dominates game in and game out, shift in and shift out.
This team has remarkable balance and it seems to be a different line or player scoring the key goals each night.
On Saturday, it was Grand Forks native and rookie winger Judd Caulfield, who had no career goals entering the night. He scored twice in the opening 10 minutes of the game, continuing his fast ascent in the first half of this season.
It has just added yet another weapon for the Fighting Hawks.
"He's growing," UND coach Brad Berry said. "He's growing his game. He's a big body. He's tough to handle. He skates well. He possesses pucks. When you get him on the ice and he's doing the right things with a player like (Shane) Pinto and a player like (Westin) Michaud, that's a pretty good line.
"We've got other good lines. We've got the (Collin) Adams line, we've got the (Jasper) Weatherby line, we've got the (Mark) Senden line. We can roll four lines and each line can make an impact or a difference each shift. That's a big deal."
For the first 11 games of the season, Caulfield was a scratch three times and either a fourth-liner or the extra skater eight times.
Berry moved him up to the second line with Pinto and Michaud for the last six games. Caulfield has five points in those six games.
"He's got his confidence right now," Michaud said. "He's been unbelievable. He jumped up with Shane Pinto and I, and I thought we had a really good weekend. I think the team had a really good weekend -- strong, checking Sioux hockey. I think that's been important here, just continuing to do everything right every single day."
Caulfield's first goal of the season came after defenseman Andrew Peski retrieved a puck from the neutral zone after his point shot was blocked. He got the puck to Caulfield, who hammered a shot just inside the blue line.
"It obviously was very exciting," Caulfield said of his first-career goal. "Peski made a nice play at the blue line. My linemates had some nice traffic out front to open up some space and I just kind of got a lucky shot and a lucky bounce and it went in."
His second goal came on a fortunate bounce. Jordan Kawaguchi's blast from the right circle hit Caulfield's skate and re-directed past Western Michigan goalie Brandon Bussi.
Depth reflected in goal leaders
UND's scoring depth is reflected in its top goal scorers. There are more guys with six-plus goals on the fourth line than the first line. All four lines have someone among the top goal-scorers.
8 -- Shane PInto (second line)
7 -- Jordan Kawaguchi (first line)
7 -- Westin Michaud (second line)
6 -- Dixon Bowen (fourth line)
6 -- Jasper Weatherby (fourth line)
6 -- Cole Smith (third line)
Other notes and comments
- Western Michigan coach Andy Murray lamented poor line changes on UND's first two goals. He said players shouldn't have gone for a line change when Peski had the puck in the neutral zone. That opened up space for Caulfield. He also said players had several chances to change before Weatherby's goal and didn't. It resulted in a shift around 1:10, tired legs and an odd-man rush for UND.
- UND's power play went 3-for-6 on Saturday, converting on both of its five-minute major power plays. The power play is now at 27.8 percent in conference games.
- Peski, who was the target of taunts from the students, continued his outstanding senior season and was a plus-4 on the weekend. He now ranks No. 2 in the nation in plus-minus at plus-15. Adams leads the nation at plus-16. Kawaguchi also is tied at plus-15.
- UND has chased the other team's starting goalie in five of 17 games this season.
- The fact that the Fighting Hawks have hit the seven-goal mark four times before Christmas is especially mind-boggling when you consider that the 2015-16 team only did it twice all season and the stacked 2010-11 team did it three times all season.
- UND won the faceoff battle 35-30 against the No. 1 faceoff team in the nation, Western Michigan, on Saturday night. Western Michigan's Paul Washe, best in the nation in draws entering the weekend, was held under .500 for the first time all season. He went 9-10. Weatherby was UND's hot hand, going 12-5.