The UND men's hockey team is off to a terrific start in National Collegiate Hockey Conference play.

It is 4-0 in the league for the first time since 2015-16, when it went on to win the program's eighth NCAA national championship. The Fighting Hawks sit atop the standings in the NCHC, where they're hoping to win a third-straight Penrose Cup.

But now the gauntlet begins.

UND plays No. 4 Minnesota Duluth this weekend. Then, it hosts No. 7 Minnesota next weekend. Then it travels to No. 2 St. Cloud State the following week.

"When you get into the NCHC, it doesn't matter who you are, whether it's home or road, you've got to play a particular brand of hockey that you usually don't see around the country," UND coach Brad Berry said. "And every team plays it in our league. The games are tight. And you have to find ways to win games."

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Interestingly enough, this is Minnesota Duluth's first trip to Grand Forks in three seasons.

The Bulldogs did not come to Grand Forks in 2019-20. They also did not in 2020-21 because of the pandemic-altered schedule.

The only Bulldogs who have played UND in Ralph Engelstad Arena are Noah Cates, Tanner Laderoute, Kobe Roth, Koby Bender, Matt Anderson and Hunter Lellig.

Of course, Friday night's series opener will be the first meeting between the teams since their five overtime game in the NCAA regional final last March. But UND has had so much roster turnover that most players on the team were not part of that game.

In fact, only a third of this year's UND roster (nine of 27) played in that game: Riese Gaber, Judd Caulfield, Gavin Hain, Louis Jamernik, Brendan Budy, Jake Sanderson, Tyler Kleven, Ethan Frisch and Carson Albrecht.

"I think we're hungry," Gaber said. "Obviously, we have a lot of momentum right now. We're feeling good about our game. So, I think we've got to keep doing the things we've been doing. Obviously, for a lot of us, last year sits in the back of our minds and it's not a good feeling. So, we're going to come ready."

It's also anybody's guess on exactly who will be available this weekend.

Influenza has been going through NCHC locker rooms in recent weeks. Miami dealt with it two weeks ago when it played at Omaha. Western Michigan didn't dress a full lineup last Saturday night at Denver. UND has dealt with it some this week, too.

Line charts are usually posted two hours before the game.

The Duluth News Tribune reported that forwards Luke Loheit and Kyler Kleven are expected to be available for this weekend’s series against UND. Loheit has been out since Oct. 22. Kleven has been out since Nov. 5.

The Bulldogs are expected to be without goalie Zach Stejskal. Defenseman Connor Kelley also missed last Saturday's game and it's unknown whether he will play this weekend.

Here are a few other notes heading into this weekend:

1. UND is expected to be missing one player this weekend with an injury. Freshman forward Jackson Kunz, who was injured in Saturday's game at Miami, is doubtful for the Bulldog series. Kunz, a draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, has one goal and one assist in nine games this season. His line was excellent last weekend in Oxford.

2. Minnesota Duluth has Kyler Kleven from Moorhead. UND has Tyler Kleven from Fargo. Believe it or not, they're not related. They are friends, though.

3. Sanderson is the NCHC defenseman of the week after tallying six points last week against Miami in Oxford, Ohio. The last UND defenseman to tally six points in a single weekend was Chay Genoway, who did it in November 2008 against Cornell.

4. This is Hockey Fights Cancer weekend in Ralph Engelstad Arena. There will be some special ceremonies and events going on around the rink to raise money to fight cancer.

5. UND's new alternate home white jerseys were a huge hit at the Sioux Shop in Ralph Engelstad Arena. Only extra smalls and double extra smalls are left. It could be until next fall until the Sioux Shop can get another shipment.

6. Former UND women’s associate coach Peter Elander has led Denmark to the Olympic Games for the first time ever. Denmark qualified last week. The star player and leading scorer for the Danes is former UND forward Josefine Jakobsen, who had four points in three qualification games.

7. Omaha will continue to be shorthanded for this weekend’s series at Alaska. Starting goalie Isaiah Saville sustained an injury last weekend and is doubtful for this weekend, according to The Gateway newspaper. Omaha played last weekend without forward Chayse Primeau, forward Matt Miller, forward Martin Sundberg, defenseman Jonny Tychonick and defenseman Jason Smallidge.

Tale of the tape

UND

Record: 8-3

Ranking: 6

Offense: 3.82

Defense: 2.55

Power play: 28.2

Penalty kill: 80.0

Team goaltending: .888

MINN. DULUTH

Record: 7-2-1

Ranking: 4

Offense: 2.80

Defense: 1.80

Power play: 17.1

Penalty kill: 86.5

Team goaltending: .928

The focus

Minnesota Duluth started the season with a goalie rotation, playing sophomore Zach Stejskal on Friday nights and junior Ryan Fanti on Saturday nights. But Stejskal suffered a lower-body injury and has been out since mid-October. That’s been no problem, though. Fanti is 6-1-1 with a 1.36 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage for the Bulldogs. He comes into the series having posted three consecutive shutouts. His scoreless streak is at 186:26.

Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) stops a shot on goal from Colorado College forward Matthew Gleason (15) on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.  
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) stops a shot on goal from Colorado College forward Matthew Gleason (15) on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The pick to click

UND senior captain Mark Senden has been excellent in a defensive role this season. The points haven't come for him yet, but when players play well consistently, they eventually come. Senden has played well enough to earn more points than he has, so don't be surprised if he gets rewarded soon.

North Dakota senior Mark Senden (19) reaches for the puck in the first period against Bemidji State on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Sanford Center in Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey / Forum News Service)
North Dakota senior Mark Senden (19) reaches for the puck in the first period against Bemidji State on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Sanford Center in Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey / Forum News Service)

The call

UND and Minnesota Duluth played four periods without scoring a goal in their last meeting. If you look at recent meetings between these two teams, there’s a pattern: low-scoring, one-goal games. The last six finished 3-2 in five overtimes, 2-1, 2-2, 3-2, 7-4 and 3-2. There was one anomaly in there, but expect these games to be low-scoring, physical, tight-checking affairs.

Friday: Minnesota Duluth 2, UND 1

Saturday: UND 3, Minnesota Duluth 2