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Men's hockey: Second half set to begin

The calendar has flipped over. Everyone knows what that means for the UND men's hockey team. The second-half surge has become an annual ritual for the Sioux under sixth-year coach Dave Hakstol. During his first two years as head coach, the surges...

The calendar has flipped over.

Everyone knows what that means for the UND men's hockey team.

The second-half surge has become an annual ritual for the Sioux under sixth-year coach Dave Hakstol. During his first two years as head coach, the surges began midway through the second half and went all the way to the NCAA Frozen Four.

More recently, Jan. 1 has been the key date.

During the past three seasons, the Sioux have a combined record of 27-27-3 (.500 winning percentage) prior to Jan. 1 and a 49-13-10 (.750) mark after the New Year.

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The coaching staff emphasizes improvement from start to finish and they've been getting it. They've also been able to put together the right line combinations and their team has learned to win games in all sorts of different ways.

That's been the problem early this season. The Sioux are 1-6 in one-goal games. And for the fourth straight season, they have nine wins on Jan. 1 (although they have fewer losses than the previous three years).

During the next three months, UND will have a chance to prove that it can once again put things together at the right time of the season. There are five reasons to think it may happen again:

1. Team health

Usually, teams are banged up and plagued with injuries when the season winds down. The past few years, UND has certainly been included in that group.

But they've already battled a bout of the flu and all three of its seniors have been out of the lineup at some point in the first half. Captain Chay Genoway, arguably the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's best player, has missed the last nine games.

It is possible that this team could be healthier later in the season than they have been early?

2. Increased production

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Several players have potential to score a lot more than they did in the first half.

A couple of freshmen -- Mike Cichy and Corban Knight -- will surely surpass the combined four points they had in the first half.

Veterans Brett Hextall and Jason Gregoire started to heat up before Christmas break and Hakstol has said that he thinks the team's scoring leaders, Danny Kristo and Evan Trupp, are capable of expanding on their first halves.

That could make for a dangerous and deep team.

3. Depth

Speaking of the team's depth, the early season injuries have forced nearly everyone on the roster into the lineup. All of them have showed that they are ready for the college game.

Corey Fienhage has been solid in place of Genoway. Brett Bruneteau and Brent Davidson have both filled in at times.

Depth has been a key for the Sioux during their runs and it appears they have it again this season. Even if there are injuries along the stretch run, there is enough talent on the roster to do some damage.

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4. World Junior factor

Kristo will miss this weekend's action because he's in Saskatchewan with the U.S. World Junior team.

If UND's past experiences with the World Juniors are any indication, the Sioux will be getting a better player back from the tournament.

Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie and Taylor Chorney are among UND's recent participants. They all went on scoring runs upon their returns from the tournament.

So, while the prestigious under-20 tournament may make for a tired player initially, that soon wears off and the team gets a battle-tested player who just competed in an intense, playoff atmosphere.

5. Frattin's addition

On Tuesday, UND added a player who scored 13 goals and 25 points a year ago.

Matt Frattin, back from his indefinite suspension from the team for a pair of alcohol-related run-ins with police, appears to be a new man.

The players in the locker room said there is a buzz this week because of Frattin's return. If he can pick up where he left off last season, Frattin could provide an instant spark. He's a dynamic scoring threat, who will add to the team's depth.

Reach Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 129; or send e-mail to bschlossman@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: COLLEGE HOCKEY
Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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